Productivity Writing

How to stay on track during NaNoWriMo

By FocusMe Team on 15 November 2020

How to stay on track during NaNoWriMo

Wondering how on earth you’re going to hit 50,000 words by the end of November? Read on for our top writing hacks

Forget Bonfire Night, or even the fact we’re just weeks away from the official start of the festive season: for many people, November is becoming the most important month of the year for an entirely different reason. National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) sees writers pit themselves against the calendar, as they attempt to put an astounding 50,000 words onto paper in just 30 days.

If you’re attempting to ‘win’ NaNo this month by hitting this (often elusive) target, you may already be wondering what you’ve let yourself in for (*cue that fourth double-shot latte as you try to stay focused*).

After all, the pressure of the blank page can be debilitating – so much so that you keep finding other tasks you just have to do, or scrolling mindlessly on social media – anything in order to avoid the dreaded white abyss.

Of course, if it’s all going to schedule, then keep doing what you’re doing. But if, like many, you fear you may be heading down the same path as Jack Nicholson in The Shining (and let’s be honest, no-one wants that), then read on, as we reveal our top tips to help you nail NaNo this year…


1 Make a plan

In NaNo speak, you’re either a Planner (someone who has done the prep work prior to 1st November) or a Pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants, relishing the freedom of the blank page). So when we say ‘make a plan’, we don’t mean you have to have mapped out your storyline to within an inch of its life – after all, this might not be your bag. All we mean is it’s a good idea to know what those 50,000 words breaks down into. Broadly speaking, it’s going to mean jotting down 1,667 words a day. Know you’re not going to be able to write on Saturdays? Then this is going to equate to more like 1,923 words on the days you can write. Some days you might write a little less, some a little more. But knowing roughly how much you’re going to have to get down daily is a good starting place. Missed a week entirely already? It might seem that all is lost but take a deep breath and don’t panic – just do the maths, figure out your daily total as of right now, and hit the ground running once more. You can do it!


2 Find a routine that works for you

A routine is a great way to turn your passion for writing into a habit, so figure out the times of day your writing flows most freely and stick with it daily. Many people find writing in the morning to be the most effective – after all, it’s the time of day where you’ll likely be feeling most refreshed. Whenever you decide to write, try not to be too rigid with your plans, or you might unwittingly stress yourself out if you have to rearrange. Remember, we all have to deal with distractions and disruptions once in a while – your kid gets ill, you’re asked to work an extra shift, you fancy a night off in favour of a glass of wine and a date with Netflix.


As author and mental health advocate Matt Haig famously tweeted, ‘Get a routine baggy enough to live in.’ This advice works for life – and it works for writing, too.

3 Write little and often

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we all had a solid block of time we could dedicate to creative writing each day? Sadly, real life often doesn’t work that way. But rather than sighing into your laptop and declaring you just don’t have the hours, this is where utilising marginal time comes into play – those small pockets of time that wrap around all your other commitments and chores. It could mean writing in the 15 minutes before your kids get up in the morning, or while they do their homework, or in-between work Zoom meetings. Before you know it, those 10- or 15-minute sessions will have added up to a decent chunk of writing and your 1,667 words will be committed to paper before you even realise!

Even if you do get the chance to write in solid stretches, remember that taking regular breaks is highly beneficial. If you find yourself staring at a blank page in despair, don’t stay there for too long – get up, boil the kettle, or head outside for a breath of fresh air or a short walk. The movement will do you good, and chances are your ideas will start to flow freely once more with a short change of scene.


4 Minimise distractions

Be honest: who hasn’t sat down to a writing session, popped online to research a few facts, decided to check in with their local NaNo group on Facebook and then found themselves, 45 minutes later, scrolling through their cousin’s boyfriend’s holiday photos wondering WHERE all the time went?? Yes, social media is a vortex and it’s easy to get sucked in. If this sounds like you (*guiltily raises hand*), it’s time to minimise your online distractions.

Turning off your alerts and notifications can really help. And if you don’t feel you can crack this with willpower alone, a Productivity App, such as FocusMe, can prove invaluable at keeping your attention where it’s needed, and away from time-sucking websites and apps (we’re looking at you, Instagram).

5 Dive in anywhere

Stuck on a particular chapter or scene? Not sure how to get your main character from one place to the next? Don’t waste time fretting about it; simply dive in somewhere else – somewhere where you do have a clearer idea of how your plot is going to unfold. Perhaps write your final scene, or the moment your story reaches its climax. Maybe you have the perfect conversation between two characters mapped out in your head, but you’re not sure exactly where they are or what’s led them together. Don’t worry too much about the details – just get that dialogue down on paper. You never know, jumping around and writing your key scenes may just help the rest of your novel fall perfectly into place.

6 Create a writing space

We know your best ideas will probably come to you when you’re out and about, and that perhaps your favourite scenes will have started life scribbled onto the backs of receipts you’ve found scrunched in your pocket. But despite that, there’s something to be said about having a dedicated writing space to help creativity flow. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – you don’t need a studio or an entire room set aside. But is there a corner of a room or a favourite armchair that you feel most at home in? Might this be the place where creativity flows most freely? Try to ensure it remains clutter free – banish that pile of dirty clothes to the laundry basket and put those used mugs in the dishwasher. And consider placing a houseplant nearby – a 2013 study conducted at the University of Exeter found that working in the proximity of plants helps to aid creativity, boost productivity and improve wellbeing by up to 47 per cent!

7 Don’t be a perfectionist

Let’s make this clear: NaNo is not the time for perfection. Yes, you might usually like to read and rewrite your work, editing and adjusting as you go. And obviously this is great… under normal circumstances.


8 Enjoy the process!

Don’t forget, even though the deadline of 30th November and the 50,000 word count might be making tiny red sirens flash inside your brain, the creative process is meant to be enjoyable. And with the way 2020 has gone, we could all do with a little creativity and fun in our lives right now. So by all means aim high, but don’t forget that the enjoyment doesn’t lie solely in hitting your target. Do your best to stay in the moment, savour the creative process and relish the fact you’re bringing your imagination to life on the page in front of you.