My Top 10 NaNoWriMo Survival Kit Items
If you haven’t heard of it before, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month— which takes place every November.
The goal? Write a novel in a month!
…Needless to say, that can be absolutely terrifying.
[ this is probably where we’d find Violet panicking and flailing and running around in fear, honestly ]
I know it well, for sure. My first NaNoWriMo was a sketchy mess with a dull plot (which at the time I was totally infatuated with) and dull characters. I was young and I had no idea how anything worked, and up until that point I’d been exclusively writing fanfiction. Hah.
Miraculously enough, I somehow manage to scrap together enough words to get in 2 thousand words under my goal (…which I then may or may not have edited down, just so I could “win”. Oops.)
Somehow, though? I loved it enough that I’ve done it ever since, every single year since 2012.
(In fact, I recommend it dearly! NaNoWriMo has helped me so much as a writer. But that will come more in an upcoming post! 👀)
It’s my 6th year now!
NaNoWriMo isn’t a scary, impossible challenge for me anymore. It’s a challenge, sure, but each year I grow more accustomed with the ins and outs.
Maybe it was the unknowns that were scary.
[ Or maybe it was the fact that, wHOA? 50k? in oNE MONTH? How would I ever survive? ]
Who knows. Maybe that’s come with time, but MAYBE it’s come with the fact that I’ve grown a steady set of support items to help carry me through the month– stuff I know I can depend on!
[ Because honestly, I’m not sure what else would get me through ]
And since these have helped me out, I thought they might help YOU out, too!
#1: A PLAN
Or, maybe, you know, none at all.
Seems a little obvious, right? Obviously, you want to know what you’re doing. And if it’s your first NaNo… you might not know.
A good tip is to know what you’re writing and treat the month like it’s nothing different.
Which might sound hard, but it’s no different than any other month– NaNo simply tends to be a reason for people to sit down and write the stories that they don’t usually make the time for.
So, if you’re a planner, figure out your story beforehand! (Now is a perfect time, it’s prep month.)
And if you’re a panster, know what you need to get going. Find the inspiration you need, and get excited about the idea of a story you’re going to write soon.
The point I want to make is to know how you write and set yourself up for success!
The absolute last thing you want to do, going into NaNoWriMo, is have no idea how to do it. Especially if it’s your first time. So I recommend that you figure out your writing style, if you haven’t already, and set yourself up for success– don’t go in expecting the magic to happen on its own.
NaNoWriMo doesn’t provide the magic– the existence of a month devoted to writing stories (unfortunately) doesn’t provide the magic we wish it did, and very very few of us can just magically pound out a story from scratch.
We have to make the magic ourselves!
Because there are few things better than finishing a plot arc knowing you’ll get a piece of candy.
Another big tip I have is to have incentive. Have a reason to write the chapter, or finish that arc, or do the thing!
NaNoWriMo can cause us to lose sight. Once the initial excitement dies down, some of us might feel like we’re trudging in sludge.
[ Hmm, I wonder where I’ve heard that before– oh wait, it’s me during the third week! ]
But, one awesome thing to do is to reward yourself!
For me, at least, that’s food. Waiting for me at the end of NaNoWriMo this year, is a frozen slice of birthday cake (my absolute favourite kind). Last year, I had a piece of frozen red velvet cake waiting for me. (The freezer works wonders– thank you freezer.)
Somehow, knowing one of my favourite foods is waiting for me makes me want to write more. As well as other things– like the episode of a favourite TV show. Or telling myself that if I finished an arc early and worked to get a free day, I could binge watch that show I’ve been wanting to.
We all work differently! If incentives work for you, by all means consider them!
- If you’ve been waiting to watch a show, maybe save an episode for each finished plot arc / section you get through.
- If you know cookies are your favourite, then maybe bake up a batch before the month starts and tell yourself you can eat one every so many words you get through.
The possibilities are endless! Just make sure that you follow the rules!!!, and that you don’t reward yourself too often.
Prizes have to stay that– magical rewards. If you ate a piece of candy every chapter you finish, but you wrote one or two chapters in a day, the incentive to keep writing those chapters might disappear as the month goes on. Plus… that’s an awful lot of candy. I’m not judging at all, my pals. You just gotta take care of yourself and your health, too!
#3: BACKUP INSPIRATION
Because if you’re like me, you’ll need it.
NaNoWriMo is infamous for making us use our brains to the fullest– to be inspired to the fullest degree, to pour out stories in the biggest and best capacity we can!
But no one is immune to the villainous behavior of our favourite pal, Writer’s Block™
[ I’m even gonna give it a trademark ]
If you’ve written any story ever, you probably know what I’m talking about. Crawls up on us, scares us from a corner we didn’t think they were hiding, and stunts our story’s progress as easy and fast as the push of a button.
For times like these, we need backup inspiration. Aces hidden up our sleeves, for when our foe, Writer’s Block™, sneaks up with their own ace up their sleeve.
Pinterest boards are fantastic for this! Before NaNo, you can go and look at other people’s writing inspiration boards, and then curate your own. Or you can simply browse endlessly (hahaha, oh how I know how addictive Pinterest can be). Pinterest is a big, wide, wonderful place of inspiration waiting to be discovered!
Another idea is to keep a list of ideas, as you discover them. It’s a good practice to write down a story idea when you get it– even if you think it’s dumb–, and to keep them all in one place. That way, if you’re stuck, or you feel like your story is just really not doing it for you, you can find that strange idea you wrote down once and use it against Writer’s Block™ before it’s too late!
Regardless, know how you get inspired. Know what kinds of things inspire you– whether that’s images, quotes, mysterious photos of people, shutterstock, pinterest, reading your own favourite novels over again, poems, etc!
#4: GOOD HEALTH
Because if you’re like me, you forget.
This one sounds boring, doesn’t it? Like the thing your mom added to your exciting list of things to do, that you’re dreading because it caught you off guard.
Well, my friends. If we don’t take good care of ourselves, how are we going to be able to write stories with our biggest, fullest brains?
[ The answer to that is that we can’t ]
I’m going to live up to my full Mom friend duties here, and tell you that you have to take care of yourself. If you get sick partway through NaNo, how are you going to finish? Of course, some can, that’s totally coolio. But that’s really, really not the point, and you can’t expect your brain to perform at full capacity if your body is under the weather.
I don’t know about you, but when I get sick, I feel like doing nothing and moping around on the couch until I feel better again.
[ Oops ]
So! You gotta take care of yourself to the fullest, all before and all during
and, really, all the time.
That might mean getting maybe getting to bed a little earlier than you normally do, so that you have more energy to write more the next day. Or getting in an extra fruit and vegetable in your meals, so that your body can do its job better!
I’m no great example, here– I often forget to drink water and eat food when I write, and tell myself I’ll get it later. (But then, I forget, until my stomach is growling uncontrollably and my brain is literally running on mush.)
So, my friend, I’m telling you right here and now: take care of yourself as you write. For example:
- Bring a glass of water with you when you write, and promise to drink it by the time you finish writing.
- Set specific eating times, and stick to them. Eat at the same time, and eat food that will sustain you.
- Draw a reminder on the back of your hand to take an eyeball break every 30 minutes, or set a timer.
These might seem like chores, but trust me when I say you’ll be thanking me in the long run!
#5: A WRITING SPACE
Because nothing isn’t made better with cozy, snuggley blankets and pillows.
I don’t know about you, but I love forts. I always have, ever since I was little.
For me, NaNo is the perfect time to break out one.
I know that we don’t all have the ability to make forts for ourselves, but having a designated writing space for November helps me a lot.
Even if that means wrapping a blanket around your shoulders like a superhero, or burrowing under some pillows on your bed with your laptop, having a space just for writing (or the feeling of something just for November) can help you a lot too!
I recommend constructing forts, if you can. I have a history of making one every year. Even if it’s just throwing a blanket over your bed posts, it’s mysterious, fun, and having a refreshed space to write is super helpful.
Recruit as many pillows and blankets as you can to your cause. And if you can’t convince them, if they’re not available to you, do your own thing. Maybe wear a certain sweater when you’re in a writing mood, and take it off when you’re done writing. Or, a certain hat and fuzzy socks.
Even changing your desktop wallpaper and mixing things up in a little way can help.
Plus… what isn’t fun about having a writing fort?
The answer, I can say from experience, is nothing: there is absolutely nothing not fun about having a fort for writing your novel in during NaNoWriMo. Seriously. Build a fort!
Because we might potentially own one too many of them anyway.
I don’t know about you, but I kind of have a thing for collecting journals.
I can’t really help it. I have a tub on my shelf of journals from years past, collecting dust with their empty pages.
What better a use than during NaNo, when we need to maintain excitement about our stories?
If you’ve got them, use one to your advantage! Use it to hand-write out your character sheets, your world info, and really anything exciting about the story you’re writing! By getting excited about our stories, it’s scientifically proven (okay, maybe just by me) that we have a slightly easier (and more fun!) time writing them.
Plus, keeping a writing journal in general has its perks. Writing down stray bits of inspiration, or dreams you have, or little thoughts or observations you make can be really helpful during NaNo.
[ I have less room to talk and am a bad example, as keeping a writing journal has been something I forgot about, but it has its perks ]
If you don’t have extra journals (which is totally fine– I might be the only one with this strange obsession), it’s still worth it to write stuff down! Keep a log, keep a paper by your bedside. Write down ideas that come to you, or dreams you can remember.
You never know when this might come in handy!
I don’t know about you, but it’s is a necessity.
Some of us can’t have it when we write– that’s totally fine.
But if you’re me, you need background music while you write. It’s pretty much crucial to my existence.
[ I’m literally listening to music as I write this post– Gee, by SNSD, if you’re curious ]
Music has a lot of perks with writing!
Even if you can’t listen to music while you write, you can create a novel playlist! That can help with story excitement. Or maybe character playlists– those are a blast to make, if my experiences have been any consolation.
For me, music keeps my brain going. Silence is definitely needed for certain scenes, but most times out of ten, I need something playing in my ears to keep my creativity rolling.
Figure out what works best for you before NaNo— if you can’t write to music, don’t!
If you do like to write to music, figure out what kind works for you– whether that’s classics, peppy bubblegum pop, hip hop, or music with no words at all.
Besides, when your story isn’t going as smoothly as you’d like, there can be music to turn to– and it can always be inspirational! You never know what taking a break to listen to a song someone recommended to you might do for your inspiration levels!
[ Okay, maybe I’m the only one who loves music this much. Tone it down, Violet! ]
Word warring probably saved my NaNoWriMo, because it got me to the finish line.
It sounds kind of basic, and maybe expected, right?
You actually never know how helpful it could be! Support, for me, is a very, very basic part of my NaNoWriMo experience.
For me, this has meant countless word wars, word crawls, novel discussions, and inspiration discoveries I never would have been able to conjure up on my own! I have a lot of my word count, every year, thanks to word wars and sprints (another term for it)!
Word wars are (probably) one of the most important things!
[ For me, anyway. They’re a part of my soul even when it’s not NaNo! ]
There are people to support you! I, for one, am definitely here and up for word warring, chatting about your story, etc, if you don’t have other people to chat with!
Word wars, if you don’t know what they are already, are basically that: you and another person (or two, or three), set a specific amount of time and both go and write your own stories. At the end, you count up what you wrote, and then you tell the other person the number you got. Whoever wrote more words in their novel wins the “war”!
It’s totally honor system, because you don’t actually share the writing– but something about racing other people writing really boosts me along, personally!
Support during NaNo can be super critical for getting your word count up– and even if you might not be one for being social, doing something such as word warring with someone on the NaNoWriMo website is as simple as posting a time and then a number once you’re done : )
And talking about your novel with other people excited about their novels is super uplifting. You get to see so many cool stories in the works, plus get to share your own, and the communities on both NaNoWriMo sites are awesome!
[ Trust me, I’ve been on both sites, and I cling to them every single NaNo ]
Because there actually can be a such thing as too much novel.
As a panster, getting stuck can be common for me.
Picking myself up and moving the story forward can be… well, pretty exhausting sometimes. Maybe the story’s losing fuel, or maybe I’ve just thought so much about what’s happening that my brain sorta just…
*makes vague hand gesture* Turns into mush spaghetti.
[ Mush spaghetti with browned butter and mizithra, because we need some flavour of course ]
Breaks are really important!
We need them for our eyes, too, because if we stare at the computer too long, we might injure our eyes.
[ Says the girl who still needs to take more eyeball breaks *slow glance towards my mom* ]
But I’m serious.
Breaks can do a lot for us! Not only are we taking care of ourselves by taking them, but they can also help your brain.
Taking a simple 5 minutes to go jam out to music in your room (even if it’s just you closing the door, plug earbuds into your phone/mp3 player, then bopping around) can help you out!
I, for one, like walks outside. I need to take more of those (reminder #1 for Violet: take more walks). Walking outside in nature can really help clear your mind, as well as are very healthy for you.
Coming back to your novel with a more fresh slate is really valuable, and sometimes we need that in order to keep going. Plus, sitting at the computer all day on a free day can damage our eyes if we’re not careful!
[ Again, I have little room to talk, but I am potentially starting to see negative effects on my eyes from my computer usage, so I urge you to please oh please take care of your eyes! ]
#10: PARTING WAYS WITH YOUR INNER EDITOR (temporarily)
Why it pays to set him loose for a month.
For me, my inner editor resembles that of a little goblin on my shoulder. He likes to criticise my word choices, tell me I’m not wordy enough, and insist my plot has nothing of real worth.
I do know I’m not alone in this: our inner editors are ruthless, mean, and treat us grimly.
My #1 piece of advice for NaNoWriMo, and the best ace up my sleeve, is to set your inner editor free.
Really, open the back door to your brain and let him step outside. Let him sniff the grass, observe the trees, stare up at the sky. Tell him it will be good for him.
Then promptly lock the door and any other way of getting into your brain.
Our inner editors hold us back, with NaNoWriMo. We get slowed down, we struggle, we trudge through mud that feels like quicksand. And most of the time, it’s because of our inner editors.
The best thing you can do is lock him out, and promise him that you’ll meet with him again soon. After all, our inner editors can serve a great purpose: editing. But editing isn’t synonymous with writing, now is it?
Give yourself the freedom to write something that sucks.
That sounds pretty harsh– and it kind of is.
But if you give yourself the room to make mistakes, the knowledge that yes, some of it will suck, but that’s okay because you’re doing an awesome thing, you’ll not have as hard a time.
Hey, I mean: sometimes we have to write sucky things to get to the great things. I know that one all too well.
So if you say farewell to your inner editor for a month, tell him that you’ll totally unlock the door for a month, then keep your promise and keep it closed until then: you’ll be setting yourself up for success.
I know that sounds impossible, because our inner editors are such big parts of us that it’s hard to shut them away.
But! I urge you to google a big, shiny button, give it a good stare, close your eyes, then press your computer screen.
That probably sounds silly, but give it a try. Sometimes we need to be silly to get things done.
And if you hear your editor calling through the window, yelling that your writing still “sucks”, then notice it and close the blinds. And put on some noise-cancelling headphones.
You’ll be better off in the long run.
*sweats* And there you have it! A big, long, comprehensive list of basically everything that keeps me living during NaNo. So I have to ask,
What’s in YOUR NaNoWriMo Survival Kit?
Are you doing NaNo this year? EXCITED? Not so excited? Talk to me, I promise I don’t bite! I want to hear all about it : )