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Welcome Kat Cantrell

Top Ten Things I Learned from Participating in NaNo Last Year

First off, thanks Patricia for having me here! I’m super excited to be blogging today about the things I learned from doing National Novel Writing Month  last year. It was my first time to participate and as November is right around the corner, the topic is timely.

The best part: the book I wrote during NaNo is a finalist in the Mills & Boon New Voices contest! (If you have a moment to go vote for me, so I can move on to the next round in the competition, I would greatly appreciate it. It requires painless and free registration.)

On to the list!

1. The key to having a great NaNo experience is preparation. I know you pantsers are cringing, but it’s 50,000 words in a month. If you regularly suffer from writer’s block or stare at the screen a lot, it’s critical to have a plan. I follow Alex Sokoloff’s NaNo Prep Series and let me tell you, it is made of the awesome.

2. Set daily word count goals. If you don’t meet your goal one day, do extra the next day to make up. You do not want to get behind, trust me. I use a simple spreadsheet to track. If you’d like a copy, email me at katcantrell – at – rocketmail (dot) com.

3. To properly gauge the word count goal, take 50,000 and divide by the number of days you can realistically write, which is NOT always 30. Don’t forget, a major US holiday falls in the latter third of NaNo. I thought that meant extra time to write. Not so much with the husband and kids home.

4. Sometimes you have to get creative to meet the word count goal. I added a gratuitous dog which has now been removed. You may steal this idea. 

5. Turn off the editor. This one is super hard for me because I’m convinced the story is terrible and will never amount to anything, even as I’m typing the words. I read a quote and I wish I could credit it but don’t remember the source – “The mind can only do one thing well at a time. Create now. Analyze later.” Each activity uses a different side of the brain and to do them at the same time is to invite catastrophe. Let your creative side do its job and let the editor side have its day in December.

6. On that note – make notes. On a separate piece of paper, in the margins using the comment feature, in a text file, wherever. That way, while writing chapter four you won’t forget the brilliant idea you had about that thing in chapter two and you won’t lose your forward momentum. If you realize you need to research something, put in a comment, or stick a note in the manuscript itself, like xxresearchxx so you can do a search for it after you’re done. Do NOT click on that blue e which signifies the evil of the internet or you will be lost for an hour, happily surfing away and calling it research.

7. Do take breaks. I know it seems counterintuitive, but you need to rest, even for ten minutes. This keeps your eyes from freaking out and your butt from going tingly. Walk around the kitchen or the block. Drink some water. Then sit back down and dive in again.

8. Write with a buddy. I love doing writing sprints when I’m challenging myself to reach daily word count goals. I drop into a web-chat with my accountability partners to do 20 minute sprints. There are lots of established places where writers meet to do sprints, but it’s easy and free to create your own with Chatzy.

9. Do not TELL people it’s called NaNo. It’s too difficult to explain that it’s not a group of Mork & Mindy fans. I said I was participating in a writing challenge to write a whole book in a month. Most people’s eyes glazed over by the word “challenge” and I had to repeat the part where I wasn’t available for XX thing they were asking me to do/say/help with/come to.

10. Let me clarify – don’t do anything extra this month. This is not the time to volunteer for something at your kid’s school or to decide you should make everyone’s Christmas presents this year. NOTHING EXTRA.

Good luck with NaNo this year! If you aren’t participating, don’t despair, all of these tips can be used any month of the year, as long as you’re chasing that elusive thing called writing.

Thanks again for having me here, Patricia!

Kat Cantrell grew up enthralled with Star Wars, Buck Rogers and Starblazers, and read her first Harlequin in the third grade, which gave birth to a life-long obsession with the infinite beyond and eternal romance. What else would make sense but to combine the two? She suffers from genre ADD to this day and writes both contemporary and science fiction romance, and lives happily ever after in North Texas with a fantastic husband and two kids.

Kat is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Dallas Area local affiliate chapter and the specialty chapter Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal.


Hi Patricia, I'm here via Romance Divas.

Great post, Kat. I'll have the most trouble with #1 and #10.

Maybe I'll print this out and tape it to my chest so I'll have it in mind all day, every day. :)

I probably won't follow the actual NaNo rules, since I'm 5K into a new MS, but it's still a great motivator, and I'd love to get swept up into the frenzy.

Two more days, right? :D
Kat Cantrell said…
Hi Morgan - I was thinking of you when I wrote #10 LOL. If you're not going to follow the actual NaNo rules, there's a thread on RD for Rodiwrimo which is more flexible(like nanowrimo but more pink). I signed up for it since I'm still editing The List.

And yes, Tuesday is the day...cross your fingers. :)
Sasha Devlin said…
I'm a NaNo addict of sorts -- I've done it every year since I've known about it, and have a pretty good "win" record -- and these are excellent tips.

I will also suggest that if you meet your Daily Word Count goal and the muse/time is willing, keep going. I live for padding the word count in the first week because something will inevitably come up.

The other thing I do is I create a separate doc for each day. I've found this is the only way to keep me from going over what I previously wrote and getting maudlin. ;)

Good Luck and Happy Writing!
Kat Cantrell said…
Sasha, these are excellent additions to the list! I love them. Thanks for coming by and giving us more NaNo greatness. <3
That's a really helpful list of things fro NaNo. I've adopted a habit suggested by another participant of inserting a # in front of whatever is giving a twitchy feeling: the secondary character who's haircolor I can't remember, the landmark building I need to research, whatever part I know isn't going to work. Then I'm able to just keep writing, without getting sidetracked with research.

Thanks, too, Sasha. I really like the idea of starting a fresh document daily to prevent myself from being tempted to spend writitng time editing.
Kat Cantrell said…
Thanks for stopping by Julia! The # sign is a great idea - anything to keep the words flowing, especially through the middle...Good luck this year.

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