NaNoWriMo – How to survive 30 days and 50k

November is almost here. Also affectionately known as “Movember” or, for writers like me, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

But what does this mean? For the non-writers of the world, or for those new the the wagon and unfamiliar with this hallowed month, to take the words from NaNoWriMo’s page:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

Yikes! 50 thousand words in only one month?! Fear not, it can be done. Although this year would be my first actual attempt at joining in on NaNoWriMo, I’ve actually met this criteria many times over in my years of writing, so I know the impossible isn’t unacheivable.

So, before November 1st rolls around,  I think now would be an excellent time to think about assembling a NaNoWriMo “survival” kit.

Here are some ideas for what to include, my tried and true that have gotten me through many a writing-athon month and have proven not only successful but vital:

A game plan: While the idea is to only begin writing on the 1st of November, it would be within your best interests to have a plan in place so you actually know what you’re going to write. This could be anything from a rough one page outline or a list of plot points, character notes and breakdown. Whatever your method is, now is the time to gather your research and intel because there’s nothing more damaging to your creative flow then constantly having to break away from a scene to run to Google for answers. Don’t leave it all for day one, otherwise you might find yourself overwhelmed by the devious blank page.

Tools: You can’t hope to survive without access to a computer/ laptop during this writing jaunt, but in addition to that, you might want to consider other invaluable tools such as a notebook to keep track of anteing that may spring into your head when you’re not sitting behind the computer screen, pens and pencils, visual aids (pictures of places, rooms or people for creative reference), a good thesaurus, wrists braces (if you suffer from carpal tunnel) and plenty of bengay for sore muscles. Believe me, it’s going to happen.

Your Muse: This will vary from person to person. But anyone who’s an artist (as a muse is not exclusive only to writers) will have that thing that seems to act as a fount of inspiration. Your creative writing security blanket. Could be song lyrics, a sentimental photo, a treasured stuffed bear (or dog), even a particular person (which in my case is one of my dearest high school friends). Whatever it is, get your hands on it. Although, if its a person, see if they’re able to carve out some time to bounce your ideas off of them. Sometimes, even just knowing they’re there can make all the difference in your writing.

Food! Go shopping and stock up. Some writers have their ‘brain’ food, snacks and junkie treats that get them through creative lulls, whatever it is that works for you, make sure you have plenty of it. Don’t wait until the last minute to do your grocery run because I guarantee you’ll forget something, usually an important staple. So, make a list, look it over carefully, go through all your cupboards and pantry, look over your list again and make sure you’ve covered your bases.

After you’re done shopping, now is the time to meal prep. A handy little trick I learned during my fitness days. Spend a couple hours in the kitchen and prepare and cook your meals for the week in advance. This include portioning and sharing out meals into individual meal containers that way as you’re writing you can just grab, reheat and eat, saving you time away from the computer.

Caffeine: A no brainer, but you’d be surprised how easy it could be forget to stock up on key staples. So make sure you have plenty in your cupboards, or enough change laying around to keep the coffee flowing if you’re kicking back in a cafe like Starbucks for a change of environment in the 30 day stretch. And, if you’re writing from home but hate the taste of instant coffee, nows a good time to visit either Walmart or Sears and pick up an inexpensive single cup brewer like Nespresso. While it might seem like a bit of an extravagant purchase right now, it would quickly pay for its self by saving you from spending for expensive latte’s at Starbucks.

Water: With all the caffeine and sugar you’re sure to be consuming, make sure that you keep water close at hand and don’t forget to stay hydrated. Being overly caffeinated is about as bad as having no caffeine at all.

Music: For those who don’t write, this might sound strange but you’d be surprised how much music can help with the flow of creative thought and words. Well, the right music. And I’m not talking about Sia’s Chandelier (although I personally LOVE this song). Novels, like films, need a score or soundtrack. So I’ll revisit some flicks with music that made me feel something even without dialogue.

Some of my fave soundtracks are:

This scene broke my heart. My sister and I wept like babies because the music is just so powerful.

You can either download the music through iTunes or choose to create lists and listen to the tracks online through free websites such as YouTube, and depending on the mood of what you’re writing, create appropriate playlists to help inspire creative or enhance the mood of your writing in that scene.

Earplugs: If you’re not listening to music, I highly recommend you do your writing with ear plugs. You’d be surprised how distracting ambient noise can become, especially if you’re in a household or environment surrounded by activity and other people. Cancelling out the noise really helps you zero in and focus on what you’re writing, and prevents unnecessary and frustrating breaks in creative concentration.

You can find some inexpensive ones at Shoppers Drug Mart or Walmart in the pharmacy aisle. I personally prefer ones similar to these. They’re soft, mouldable to your ears and won’t lose shape or fall out, and the noise-cancellation quality is excellent.

Because it’s cold out, A sweater and warm socks. With the days getting longer and colder, it’s a good idea to make sure you layer yourself accordingly, especially if you’re writing outside of the home in places like a public library or Starbucks. The last thing you want is to freeze your butt off because the clouds suddenly swallowed up the sun, or the weatherman lied and that storm system decides to rear its ugly head after all.

An Alarm or Timer:  Some people find that writing under pressure works best for them, hence the timer. It forces your to adhere to a certain window of writing time and as the clock ticks down its a race between you and the dwindling second. For others, setting up an alarm on their phones to remind them that they’ve met the desired quotient for time for the day, but creates a sense of less urgency or stress. The difference between a poke and a slap, if you will. But whatever your preference, timing is a good idea to employ as it reminds you to carve out opportunities for breaks, to eat (because you need to eat) or to just close your eyes and regroup. By making time to step away and clear your head will prevent you for burning out. Remember, there’s 30 days. It’s important to pace yourself. Be the Tortoise. Not the Hare.

Seeing as this will be my first foray into NaNoWrimo, I can only hope that my above listed tried and trues prove to not only help me survive the 30 days and 50k marathon, but thrive!

I’ve showed you mine, now you show me yours. What’s in your NaNo kit?


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