Author Topic: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.  (Read 72 times)

Offline Gyppo

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I'm probably not playing this year, but for anyone tackling it for the first time here's a 'reprint' of my magazine article I wrote and sold several years back about the whole NANO experience.  I got three and half first draft novels out of doing it this way.

Gyppo (Who used to hang out here a lot and is pleased to see there's many new names.)

PS:  If you're one of those people who object to 'rules' then remember these are given as guidelines, not orders.  Use and adapt as relevant to yourself.


   The NaNoWriMo novel in a month challenge is both adventure and education.  Fifty thousand words (at least) in thirty days.  A nightmare to some and a doddle to others used to getting lots of words on paper in a short time.

   At the end you'll have a first draft, not a completed novel.  But you will be 50,000 words away from where you started and, importantly, you will know you can do it.  It will never seem quite as daunting again.  You will also know more about yourself as a writer.

   You can plan and research in advance.  Or just wing it if you're an adrenaline fuelled writer.

   Here's a bunch of tips to make November easier, more enjoyable, and more productive, and the link to the NaNo website where you can register.


   Many writers drop out simply because their bodies can't cope with the demands of writing every day.  Once you dread sitting at the keyboard because of aches and pains you're heading for failure.   So get 'writing fit' by using the computer more regularly in October if you're a sporadic writer.

   1)  If you don't normally knock out at least 2000 words a day get some practice in otherwise your body will react to the unusual physical demands by shutting down.  Neck, shoulders, back, wrists, and fingers become stiff and sore.  Physical pain interferes with your brain.

     If you're used to them the physical demands aren't a problem, unless you sit glued to your seat for several hours at a stretch.

   2)  Get off your bum for a while, stroll around and loosen up your joints.  Before it starts to hurt.  Maybe even take a walk outside.  I'm not  insisting you interact with 'outside' whilst in a creative fervour.  Especially if you're writing a first person story where you're a killer.  The boundaries can become blurred at times.

   3)  Get a comfortable seat.  Younger bodies are more flexible and tolerant of bad posture than mine, but a month of it will make you suffer.

   4)  Drink regularly.  I'm not suggesting an alcoholic haze, just plenty of liquids.   Physically the brain doesn't like being dehydrated and can play tricks on you.

   5)  Food.  Ideally you won't eat at the keyboard, but I know you will.  Avoid crumbly foods that litter the keys.  Sugary coffee and tea will gum up the keyboard as they dry.  If you spill food or drink stop writing and turn the board upside down to shake off or drain any surplus immediately.  Then wipe with a moist cloth.  You can do this with a laptop too, just don't bang it so hard.  Ignore this and by the end of the month, if not before, your keyboard will stop working.

   6)  Adjust the brightness - and possibly colour - of your computer screen as needed, otherwise your eyeballs will feel like fried eggs by the end of the first week, and be about as useful for seeing.  I like black type on a mild grey background.

   7)  Font:  Use any font and size you find comfortable.  It's easily changed later to suit a publisher's demands.  One of the benefits of modern processors.  If your eyes are happy with 16 point Dom Casual then use it.  If you don't know how to change the defaults, find the help menu, (usually f1), and learn.

   8)  This free utility can help enormously.  It adjusts screen brightness according to the time of day.  It doesn't suit all systems or machines, but works on most.  Allow at least a week to get used to it.  Your eyes will thank you and you'll feel less tired after a long session.

   When you write sporadically none of the above really becomes a problem.  Full time writers, (which you will be in November), need to get the little things right.  The difference in comfort with the screen set up to suit your own eyes is amazing, and can allow you to put in the occasional 6-10,000 word day when things are zipping along and you don't want to stop.

   9)  Never try to master a new programme or different processor during Nano month.  Stick with something familiar.

   10)  Go offline before you start.  The world won't come to a grinding halt if you're not connected.  Truly.

   Twice a day is enough.  Midday and evening works quite well.  Anyone desperate to contact you will phone.  Even an email saying you've been fired gets no worse for being ignored for a few hours.

   Nano is only thirty days.   A mere 720 hours.  Doesn't sound so much when you think of it in hours, does it?

   The Internet is addictive.  Just trade it for another addiction for November.  Writing.

   11)  If you're thinking of buying a new keyboard do it now, giving it time to become familiar.  Keep the old one for back-up in case of food or drink accidents.


   12)  A writer's brain is a tricky beast.  It has to be to come up with wonderful ideas.  Sometimes we can trick it into working our way.

   13)  Getting ahead of the average word count in the first week allows valuable 'wriggle room' later if Real Life intrudes.  If you get a third done in the first week it feels positively liberating.

   Think in terms of 2000 words a day.  This gives you twenty five days.  Which allows you five spare days in case of domestic disasters.  If a really good day puts you even more ahead this buffer zone becomes very reassuring.

To semi-quote Rudyard Kipling's If...

"If you can fill the unforgiving minute,
 with sixty second's worth of distance run.
 Yours is the world and everything that's in it,
 and Nano will be a piece of cake, Old Son."

(2,592,000 seconds to play with.)

   14)  In the typewriter days a spur to success was the diminishing pile of blank sheets on one side of the typewriter and the growing pile of filled pages on the other.  A growing word count on the screen lacks this physical presence.

   Write the day's word count and cumulative total on a Post It note.  Stick it to the wall where you can see it.  Mine hangs alongside the year planner.

   Stick each day's note to the bottom of the previous one so you have a growing 'tail' as a physical reminder and prompt.  You may need Sellotape to stop it pulling free under its own weight around day twenty.

   Every day, when you first sit down to write, you'll see the growing tail and feel inspired.  You could just use a long paper strip and write the numbers, but the little ritual of adding a new bit each night also helps you switch off until the next time ;-)  It won't work for everyone, but if it does, you'll like it.

   15)  Writing rubbish?  Does it matter if you write any old rubbish to make the word count?

   Just filling pages with utter nonsense will meet the total, but you won't have done more than exercise your fingers.  You could cut and paste 'I'm doing Nano this year' ten thousand times.  Or write a short programme to automate this.  The verification process won't detect your self-cheating.  But where's the benefit in that?

   However. . .  If you write nonsense for the first hundred words each day, rather than looking at a blank screen and brainwashing yourself into believing you can't write, you will find something rather wonderful happening.

   Your subconscious rebels against the mindless nonsense and you'll find useful stuff pouring from your fingertips.  It may take a few sessions before you learn to trust your subconscious, but it will deliver.  Experienced writers know a few minutes of finger exercise at the keyboard summons the brain.

   As long as the rubbish leads to better stuff don't be afraid to write it.  See it as clearing/preparing the workspace before starting a job.  Just as manure fertilises gardens so a little helping of written crap may fertilise your imagination.

   I sometimes feel there is a pressure switch in my bum which triggers the full works as soon as I settle in front of my machine.  It also tends to turn off outside worries, but that may be the fruit of many years at the keyboard.

   When writing by hand I definitely think more clearly with a pen or pencil in my hand.  A quick twiddle or a doodle on the pad seems to unlock extra circuits in my brain.


   16)  Fire up your word processing programme first thing and leave it on all day, with your Nano document minimised.  Plus a spare document open for research notes and reminders.  Laptop users will have to compromise here. Whenever the spirit moves you just click and get writing again.   Even a slow computer will handle this easily with all the 'webby stuff' turned off.

   17)  All good processors now have an auto-save function.  Find it and set for five minutes or less.  You won't notice it working in small chunks like that, even on a slow machine.  If there's a power cut you'll be able to remember the last few minute's words.

   18)  Backup at the end of every day onto a thumb drive or another hard drive.  Buy yourself a new thumb drive for Nano.  They're cheap enough.  Wear it on a cord around your neck.  (There's a bit of psychology in this too.)

   19)  When you truly need online research set your timer for fifteen minutes.  If you can't find what you need in quarter of an hour either your search parameters are too wide, or you're being sidetracked too easily.  Probably the latter.  Web wandering is fun, but it's not writing, is it?

   If  a lot of reading needs doing cut and paste a copy into that spare document you have open - you have remembered that trick, haven't you? - so you can read it later off-line and not be tempted into following spurious links.

   20)  After a few days you'll know if you're a slogger or sprinter.  If the latter set your timer for short blocks of time and challenge yourself to write as much as possible in each block.  Then repeat.  For some people this reaps enormous benefits.  Give it a try, then use or discard.

   21)  Feel free to write scenes out of sequence if you're not a meticulous planner.  If you get stuck switch to another scene.

   Avoid going back and tinkering with what you've already written.  This doesn't mean you can't go back to add a scene you skipped earlier.  Just don't get hung up on perfection.

   You fix the sequence and continuity errors later.  I suggest numbering the scenes and allowing each one its own file, or allow one file per day.  You'll probably have around 120 - 200 'scenes' in your novel  These are not chapter breaks at this point, just handy divisions.

   22)  Never write it all as one long continuous document.  One tired moment could delete the whole thing.

   23)  If a section needs more research add a note to this effect, in a contrasting colour, and press on.  Momentum is important.

   24)  Doubts.  Having doubts half or three quarters of the way through is normal.  It's a long way from failure, so just crack on.

   25)   Get your family on-side before you start.  It helps enormously.  If you're the one who does the cleaning and other chores do an extra thorough job late in October and let yourself relax a bit for the next month.  Most visitors won't even notice.  See the dusty shelves as a badge of office.

   26)  Expect to go slightly mad and lose touch a little with reality.  Some nights the characters won't let you sleep.  But they'll usually back off for a few hours if you make notes.

   27)  Expect friends to look at you in bewilderment when you talk about these new people in your life as if they're real, because to you they are.   You'll have lodgers in your head for thirty days.  And probably long after too.

   28)  After the deadline leave them alone until at least January before you trouble them again.   Distance provides clarity when rewriting the rough first draft.

   29)  Write at least two thousand words more than you need, before scrambling and verifying your work - explanation on the Nano website -  because the NaNo word counter may differ slightly from yours.

   30)  Verify early if you can, in the last week if you've hit the 25 day target, before the site gets overloaded.


   Amongst all the above remember to enjoy yourself.  See NaNo as an adventure, a journey of discovery for both yourself and your characters.  Live through their triumphs and disasters with them.

   At the end you get a certificate.  Print it out and hang it on your wall.

   Best wishes.
« Last Edit: Yesterday at 03:26:41 PM by Gyppo »
My website is currently having a holiday, but will return like the $6,000,000 man.  Bigger, stronger, etc.

In the meantime, why not take pity on a starving author and visit my book sales page at

Offline Mark T

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Re: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.
« Reply #1 on: October 19, 2018, 05:12:01 AM »

Thank you for posting this, Gyppo. Sounds tough but some wise advice for those brave enough of heart to take part.

Offline JanTetstone

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Re: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.
« Reply #2 on: October 19, 2018, 08:21:32 AM »
Thank you Gyppo. There's a lot  of helpful information in your post.      jt

Offline DGSquared

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Re: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.
« Reply #3 on: October 19, 2018, 08:33:54 AM »
Hi Gyppo,

Thank you for the advice.

I'm considering taking the plunge this year. I hope the family can forgive me. ;)

It's a pleasure to see familiar faces in my favorite places.
Actually, it's more of a pleasure to see my favorite people in familiar places. :-*

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." -Groucho Marx

A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every passerby leaves a mark. -Chinese proverb

Blondesplosion! ~Deb

Offline Mark T

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Re: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.
« Reply #4 on: October 19, 2018, 08:45:14 AM »

It's nice to see you here too, Deb.  :)

Offline JanTetstone

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Re: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.
« Reply #5 on: October 19, 2018, 09:17:02 AM »
It's nice to see you here too, Deb.  :)

I second that....