Use NaNoWriMo to Meet Your Nonfiction Writing Goals

NaNoWriMo CrestHave you met your writing goals for the year? No motivation, no writing routine? It’s almost the end of the year – are you thinking, “Why bother now?”

No more excuses. Now is the perfect time. And meeting your goals, getting motivated, and starting a writing routine are perfect reasons to try National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year. Join hundreds of thousands of writers who dive into a writing frenzy beginning November 1st with the goal of finishing a 50,000-word draft by midnight on the 30th.

“But…but I’m not writing a novel,” you say.

No problem.

Be a Rebel

Don’t let the term “rebel” scare you off. Some rules just beg to be broken. According to WikiWriMo.org:

A NaNo Rebel is a NaNoWriMo participant who chooses to write something besides a novel of at least 50,000 words from scratch in November. Some NaNo rebels choose to continue a novel…while others wander into the worlds of nonfiction, video games, scripts, and academic writing.

Use NaNoWriMo to suit your project. Memoir. How-to book. Personal essays. A year of blog posts. If you have one or more nonfiction projects you’ve been busting to start or finish, then becoming a NaNo Rebel is for you. Writing 50,000 words in 30 days is a huge accomplishment and one to be proud of, even if it’s not the draft of a novel as NaNo was originally intended.

Joining NaNoWriMo is Easy, and Free

Sign up here, define your novel (as a Rebel, ignore the term “novel”), and start writing on November 1st. Whether you reach 50K words or not, you are eligible for sponsor offers as a participant, such as Scrivener at 20% off. If you want to be eligible for winner offers (50% off Scrivener, for example), validate the word count of your “novel” by November 30th.

Along with perks at the end, you’ll get plenty of encouragement along the way with pep talks, writing resources, forums, and virtual write-ins. And you’ll have the chance to meet other participants and attend “real” write-in events (check out your region for these).

Two Undisputed Rules

Whether you win NaNoWriMo the traditional way by writing the draft of a novel or by going the Rebel route and breaking the rules, follow these two unofficial rules to reach your goal:

  • Just Write (to watch your word count soar), and
  • Don’t Stop to Edit. The goal is a first draft in thirty days. You’ll have plenty of time to edit later.

Still on the Fence?

  • Find out more about NaNoWriMo on this page, including its nonprofit status, mission statement, and a list of published WriMos.
  • Check out this NaNo forum for Rebels.

Be a Rebel – finish the draft of your nonfiction project this year!


If November doesn’t work for you, plan to join Camp NaNoWriMo in April and/or July (see “Accomplish Your Writing Goals with Camp NaNoWriMo“).

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12 Tips to Topple Writer’s Block

KeyBreaksChain2Writing a novel belongs to that category of thing – like surviving the Hunger Games, and eating an entire large pizza by yourself – that appears to be impossible but actually isn’t….Being a novelist is a matter of keeping at it, day after day, just putting words after other words. It’s a war of inches, where the hardest part is keeping your nerve. ~ Lev Grossman

Sometimes we writers slam into a wall and can’t figure out how to scale it and keep running and dodging through the rest of the obstacle course to reach the final scene. Sometimes the ideas stop coming. Or the words that find their way onto the page shrivel up and die before the ink is dry. Maybe we don’t know the characters well enough. Somewhere between the lines, we’ve lost the passion for the story. Whatever the reason is, it’s a real thing. And it happens to most writers sooner or later.

Whether you’re trying to finish a first draft on your own or are involved in a large-scale endeavor like National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) where word count is paramount, you’ve got to find a way to keep going.

There are a lot of techniques that can be used to bust through writer’s block but many of them involve not writing, like taking a break to draw a map of your setting or design your book’s cover, or hashing out your problems with a writer friend or group. Or switching to a different project altogether. These are all good ideas, but the following list of tips is focused on keeping you writing on your current work in progress – the one that’s actually giving you grief.

  1. Write a scene in long hand – it means transcribing it onto a computer file later, but it could be just enough of a change to help break through the wall.
  2. Write a scene from a different point of view character, even one you haven’t used yet or thought to use at all – a secondary character, a love interest, the antagonist, the protagonist’s dog, the biggest maple in the forest.
  3. Write flashbacks – here’s a way to dig deeper into your characters, where they came from and what shaped their lives.
  4. If you’ve written yourself into a corner, determine where that errant branch began to grow and start writing again from that point. But don’t throw the old stuff away, it may be useful in the future.
  5. Switch your point of view style and rewrite a scene or two – first person instead of third, third person instead of first.
  6. If you can’t decide how a scene should play out or your story should end – pick one way and write it, then go back and write another, decide later which one works the best.
  7. Write out of order – who says you have to write chronologically? If you’ve got a scene in your head that’s vivid, write that one no matter where in the storyline it’s supposed to happen.
  8. Play with a scene that doesn’t feel quite right, and you may just find the perfect way to move forward. As they say, sometimes the best way to move forward is to rewrite the past! ~ Rochelle Melander
  9. Write an entire monologue with your main character if you have to. Spend a chapter just exploring the life story of an antagonist. Write a scene with nothing but dialogue between your hero and your villain. Write a steamy love scene between your favorite couple. They don’t have to be scenes in chronological order. They don’t even have to end up in your book. But they will help you to keep going. ~ Marie Lu, NaNo Pep Talk, Nov. 21, 2013
  10. Switch into a telling mode if you need to. This allows you to “tell” the story. You can then go back in and convert it to showing/action based scenes later but being able to “tell” helps you keep moving forward. ~ Robin LaFevers
  11. Without stopping, give your characters a reason to change. Incite them into action. ….you’ve got to keep them moving and the tension must be taut, so drop bombs. Problem after problem. Anything and everything….Nothing short of potential death. And then, you and your characters must have a way to get out of the story. Solve their dilemma logically. Sure, twists and turns to ramp up tension, but aliens can’t land out of the blue with an antidote. ~ Susan Arden
  12. Pull out that book of writing exercises – and do them with your cast of NaNo characters. Who knows, maybe you’ll find the secret ingredient your story was missing?  ~ Rochelle Melander

If any of these suggestions can help you break through the wall or help you understand a character better or where the story should really be going, it will be worth the time spent deviating from “the plan.” And if you’re participating in NaNo, it gives you the benefit of adding to that golden goal of writing 50 K words towards the first draft of a novel.

What techniques help you bust through the dreaded writer’s block?

Support Your Favorite Writer

Help and SupportIn honor of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and all my fellow writers in the world, I want to make an appeal to those who know and/or love a writer – please be patient, kind, and supportive. Writing is hard work.

People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing. That you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones about and come down in the morning with a story. But it isn’t like that. You sit in the back with a typewriter and you work. That’s all there is to it. ~ Harlan Ellison

Fiction writing is a complicated endeavor that takes both logic and creativity. The logical bit of brain arranges sentences into paragraphs into chapters, evaluates consistency, studies and amasses research, edits and critiques. The creative part of the writer’s mind builds complicated plots and subplots, constructs believable characters and motives, creates whole new worlds or presents the known world in a whole new way, and produces flowing verse. Somehow everything fits together in the end and keeps the reader engaged.

I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again. ~ Oscar Wilde

Non-writers may not know that their writer-friends sweat over nearly every word choice in their manuscripts. So many words, so many similar meanings. What will evoke the right emotion, set the desired mood? Too simple, too obscure, cliché? And then there’s the feel and the cadence of words strung together that must be considered.

Creative people are a lot like tigers. We do a lot of what looks like laying around and warming our bellies in the sunshine. Yet, what we’re really doing is powering up because, once we go after that first draft, those words can be more elusive than a gazelle that’s doping. ~ Kristen Lamb

The next time you observe your writer-spouse communing with the sky or lounging in bed longer than you think she should or staring at the computer screen without seeming to do anything in particular, realize creativity is still at work even when there’s no proof of it. Mulling over plot points, following a character through a scene, envisioning a setting or a world – these invisible story-building exercises engage a writer’s imagination long before the entire story makes it onto the page.

I think the writing journey is one of fits and starts . . . good days and bad days . . . times where you know you’ve nailed it and times when you wonder what ever made you think you can write. This is normal! This is why everyone always says it’s a tough road. Half the battle is dealing with your own mental and emotional responses to your situation. ~ Rachelle Gardner

Every writer I know, and many multi-published veterans I’ve heard speak, suffer from self-doubt to some degree regarding their writing. One writer might excel with setting and developing mood but struggles with character development. Another writes multi-faceted characters and awesome settings, yet he can’t come up with a storyline that goes the distance. Writers want their stories to shine, but the stories don’t always live up to a writer’s hopes and expectations. It could be a skewed perspective or perfectionism at work. It might be fear of failure. Or it could be that the writer simply needs to spend more time on his craft, or the current project, to reach that magical place of “It is Done.” Whatever the reason for doubt, the struggle is real.

The truth is, writing is hard work.

So please be kind to your writer friends and family members, especially those working on first drafts, whether under a self-imposed deadline like NaNoWriMo or that of a publisher. Encourage these writers when they doubt themselves and their abilities. Offer to help with errands. Bring them chocolate chip cookies for sustenance. And remember, supporting your local writer could mean the difference between ending up as a serial killer or a hero in her next novel.

10 Great Writing Tips (Not Just for NaNoWriMo)

TypingButton2The Internet abounds with writing advice, and especially every year right before National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) beings on November 1. I have my own advice for mastering time and using the pantser or plotter methods to plan your novel, but I’ve also compiled a short list of great tips to use for any writing project, not just NaNoWriMo.

1.  Feed the Subconscious, Fuel the Muse

“We must fill our creative well before we write, or we have nothing to draw from….Too many writers fail to finish NaNo because they haven’t fueled up properly….Often a lot of the subplots or cool twists and turns come from all the stuff we fed the muse ahead of time….My recommendation before writing ANY book is total immersion…fluff and filler [can be] avoided if the writer [has] more research to draw from…The more facts, images, and stories (even news stories) we have in our head, the richer the work and the easier to give our writing texture.” ~ Kristen Lamb

2.  Star in Your Story

“Even when you plan your hero down to the fingernails, the persona, the effect of the backstory and the general nature and energy of the character doesn’t fully emerge until you bring him/her alive in your pages. Unless the hero is you. If you allow yourself to star in your NaNoWriMo story…you’ll find yourself knowing more about your hero than you ever will otherwise. Literally put yourself into the skin of your hero and vicariously experience — and then translate into words — the journey you’ve created.” ~ Larry Brooks, Storyfix

3.  Don’t Worry About Chronology

“Write the scene or chapter you really want to write today. Who says you have to write the darn thing in order? Nobody. That’s who.” ~ Christina Katz, The Prosperous Writer

4.  Use a Timer

“Your inner procrastinator may try to convince you otherwise, but there are only so many hours in November. Spend your time wisely by using a timer (we like e.ggtimer.com). Set it for thirty minutes and see how many words you can write. Take a five-minute break. Then, set it for another thirty minutes and see if you can beat your word count from last time.” ~ Joe Bunting, The Write Practice

5.  Don’t Forget to Fall in Love…with Your Story

“One way to move toward [falling in love with your story]…is to build this project around an idea — a concept, a character, a theme, or something that happened to you or you wish would happen to you — that’s worth a few pints of your blood and sweat…[an idea] big enough, exciting enough, to be the one thing that drives you toward doing this right. An idea you can’t get out of your head. An idea that you’d read if someone else wrote about it. Make your NaNoWriMo novel about that. Nothing less. Don’t settle. Honor the craft, honor your time, honor your dream…It’s like a relationship…they’re hard at times, and when it is, only if the other person is worth it will you proceed forward productively, and with a chance at bliss. Love your story….That’s the only way it will ever love you back.” ~ Larry Brooks, Storyfix

6.  Know Your Protagonist

“The protagonist’s internal misbelief must already exist before the plot kicks into action. Every protagonist must enter already wanting something very badly, and with an inner issue — fear, fatal flaw, wound, misbelief — that keeps her from getting it. You must know these before you start to write because they define what the story will be about….The protagonist’s worldview is the lens through which she’ll see, experience, and evaluate everything that happens, beginning on the very first page. So if you don’t know what her worldview is going [into the story] — and, as important, what specific events created it — how will you know how she’ll react to anything? Or what things mean to her? Or what your plot must force her to realize?” ~  Lisa Cron, Writer Unboxed

7.  Take a Break and Share the Confusion

“You’ll be amazed at how many story problems and dead ends you can overcome simply by telling your story, in sequence, to someone who can keep quiet enough to allow you to encounter your own roadblock.” ~ Larry Brooks, Storyfix

8.  Enjoy the Writing Ride

“Whatever you are writing, whether you ‘win’ or not, you are learning things about your creative capacities and they are worth their weight in gold. Walk away with a clearer understanding of what makes your creativity hum, and you will definitely win.” ~ Christina Katz, The Prosperous Writer

9.  Have Word Count Boosters Handy

NaNoWriMo is all about word count, making sure you get that 50K first draft finished. But even if you’re working on a “normal” project, you might find yourself stuck at some point. Try giving some of the following ideas a go — even if you’re not focused on word count.

“Writer’s block is something writers handle all the time, but when you’re on a deadline, you can’t really afford to lose any time staring at a screen. Having some word count boosters handy can be a really great way to add a few hundred words and/or get your creative juices flowing. This can be as simple as adding a new character or having your main character realize it was all a dream. Or it can be as complicated as adding a plot twist or a new point of view (maybe from your antagonist or your supporting character’s point of view — the choice is up to you!). Remember you can always go back and edit or cut these things out once NaNoWriMo’s over. You don’t have to keep everything you write.” ~ The Magic Violinist, The Write Practice

10.  Write Your Own 10 Commandments

I was looking through the NaNoWriMo forums and came across “Your 10 Commandments for NaNo” in NaNo Tips & Strategies/Reaching 50,000! The idea is to write down the “things that you promise to do or not do during the month of November. You can [write] them in the ‘Thou Shalt Not’ language, or in normal English.” Your own ten commandments can be easily adapted to any writing project. Here’s the first thread in the forum, from Olafsta:

  1. Thou Shalt Not win until Thou writes [50,000] words.
  2. Thou Shalt write every day within Thy month of November.
  3. Thou Shalt not let thy grades decrease during Thy NaNo.
  4. Thou Shalt value writing over sleep during thy Weekends.
  5. Thou Shalt not visit thy NaNoWriMo Forums at all during thy November unless thou is fully caught up on thy word count. Thy only exception is for thou word wars/sprints.
  6. Thou shalt not give up until thy November is over.
  7. Thou shalt not become a rebel.
  8. After every half hour of writing, thou must do 25 pushups and 25 situps before continuing to write.
  9. Thou shalt show at least some attention to thy family/friends.
  10. Thou shalt not visit any other forums during thy November aside from thy NaNoWriMo Forums.
  11. If Thou decides to not follow one of these commandments, thou shall do 50 pushups and 50 situps whilst wearing only thy undergarments. It must be done within thy 24 hours of the breaking. If done late and/or clothed, it must be doubled. If thy breaks the commandments twice within any 72 hour period, thy shall also skip lunch on the school day immediately following the most recent breaking. If lunch is eaten on that school day, thy must then skip lunch for two school days in a row as soon as is possible.

What tips can you add to the list? What are your 10 Commandments for Writing?