Tips for fast drafting during NaNo

It’s that time of the year again! All my favorite holidays fall during the last quarter of the year…Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and National Novel Writing Month.

In case you’re not familiar with NaNo, it’s when writers from all over the globe gather and attempt to write a novel — or at least 50,000 words — during the month of November. According to the stats on my profile on the NaNo website, I’ve been participating, more or less, since 2007 and have logged 328,385 words. Divide that by 50,000 and that’s almost six novels! Do I have six finished novels. LOL no. I’ve only actually “won” NaNo once, but that doesn’t stop me from trying every year. I love the comradery and energy of the month.

In 2020, I made it to 26,000 words during the month of NaNo and my goal this year is to surpass that and make it to 30,000. (I didn’t even break 1,000 words during 2021 NaNo, so we’re not going to talk about that.) I would still love to make it to the finish line of 50,000, but that’s going to be my stretch goal. 30,000 is going to be my nice, comfy, might-not-perish goal. 🙂

Now, on the main point of this rambling post! I wanted to share some of my strategies for fast drafting during the month of NaNoWriMo. The point of NaNo is not to write a perfect novel; it’s to get nitty-gritty words down on the page and worry about the rest later. So, here are my tips:

Write a blurb/synopsis

I find writing a blurb or a short synopsis to be a very helpful exercise to do before beginning any new project. It doesn’t have to be good, but it helps to narrow down your main character(s), the hook, and the stakes before you start. Consider it like a mini-map of your story.

Make an outline

Even if you consider yourself a pantser, I would still recommend making some sort of outline, even if you only do it for NaNo. Having an outline of major plot points helps me from getting stuck and having to brainstorm or backtrack while I’m in the middle of a fast draft. Your outline could be complicated or simple; it can merely be a list of possible scene ideas (I have one of these too). It can be pages or notes or a neatly organized beat sheet. Whatever system works for you and keeps you moving forward during the month.

Build community

Part of the fun of something like NaNo is the community! Writing can be an intensely solitary activity and it can get lonely, just you and your manuscript. To alleviate some of that, you can add buddies on the NaNo website and participate in local write-ins during the month. When you join the website, you are able to pick your local region and connect with other writers. You can also find other participants on social media and join challenges and sprints online for some extra accountability.

Announce your goals

Something I find especially motivating is peer pressure, LOL. This may not work for everyone, so YMMV, but I always find letting other people know what I’m up helps keep me motivated. You can announce your novel on the website, but also let your friends and family know, so they can cheer you on during the month!

Embrace a messy first draft

One of my favorite things to do during a fast draft is make my document a hot mess and embrace the chaos. I don’t want it to look like a novel, not yet. I use Google Docs to write my draft and I don’t separate the work into chapters. That doesn’t come until much later. Some people like to write in Comic Sans; I like to write in my messy doc, skipping scenes and making placeholder notes if I get stuck. Anything to make the writing feel less serious.

Stay mobile

Another reason I love Google Docs! It auto saves and is available to me instantly on another device, like my laptop or phone. I know we writers love our desks and accoutrement and accessories — I sure do — but the key to fast drafting is getting the words in — anywhere, any time, any place. Sometimes the conditions to write are not always perfect, but every word, every sentence makes a difference.

And now, for the grand finale, my last tip: no editing!

In my experience, editing while you’re trying to draft is like taking two steps back for every step forward. You want to keep moving forward during NaNo and save the editing for later. If you do need to make changes, you can make notes — either in your manuscript itself or wherever you like to keep your notes — so that you’ll remember when it’s time to edit. When it’s time to write, just write!

So, are you planning on participating in National Novel Writing Month this year? Are you shooting for the 50k win or some other goal?


2 thoughts on “Tips for fast drafting during NaNo

  1. Love the Google docs tip. I’ve been using it for about 6 months now. It allows me to write anywhere, especially at work where I can write for 5-10 minutes on a break and come back to it on the next.


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