Every November, hundreds of thousands of brave authors accept the challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days for NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. For many people, NaNoWriMo is the perfect opportunity to start their first book, and even earn awards and prizes from sponsors while doing it.

1) Flesh Out Your Ideas

Anyone can have an idea for a book, but there’s a big difference between an idea and a compelling story. It’s up to you as the author to transform a premise into an evocative and rewarding story. Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can do this:

What is your message? Be able to define what you want to reveal to your audience during the course of your story. If there’s not a point, chances are you don’t have enough ideas in play to make a story just yet. Make sure you create a setting and characters that will give you a platform to reveal your message.

For each of your characters, do yourself a favor and write out a 4-page character treatment. Be sure to explain who each character is, what motivates them, and what kind of world or mentality they operate in, and any other details about the character that will help you predict your character’s behaviors. The more familiar you are with your character, the easier it will be to write them into scenes. Always think about where you want your character’s development arc to end.

Many new authors forget to use a good story and well-constructed characters to illuminate the world they live in. Your characters should be able to react to the realities, social constructs, and tone of the setting. Make sure you enjoy writing about your setting, but not more than you love telling a good story.

2) Take Notes

Inspiration rarely comes when you want it. Some of your best ideas are bound to come to you while you’re doing something else entirely. Make sure you carry a notebook and a pen with you everywhere this month so you can jot down ideas, words, phrases, sentences, or anything else that comes to mind. You can never guarantee exactly where you’ll be when that earth-shattering idea decides to turn up.

If you have a smartphone or tablet, apps like Evernote can help you collect your thoughts so you can revisit them and flesh them out later.

3) Create an Outline For Your Novel

It’s usually easier to write when you know where you want your story to go. Storyboarding or outlining your novel can help you organize your ideas and carve out the best plot that enhances the journey of your characters and your message.

Although professional writers may use applications like Scrivener or Storyist to organize their novels and screenplays, you can use literally anything you want. Good ol’ fashioned paper, .doc files, or index cards. Outlines can help give your novel several important things, such as structure, pacing, and most importantly, a beginning and an end in mind. Always ask yourself what kind of implications a certain plot line would mean for your character’s development, and if it offers the kind of resolution your character or audience needs.

If you use a tool like Scrivener or even something as simple as a set of index cards to build your novel outline, you can move around your scenes or side plots more easily, add extra scenes, or change out an idea more easily. This can be especially beneficial if you are debating between several different ideas and want to compare or modify the way they affect the story flow. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself “What if… ?”

4) Stop Worrying About Editing

Put down that Thesaurus and the Chicago AP Style Guide and back away slowly. Do yourself a favor and save editing until the very end, or you’ll drive yourself mental. Some writers even suggest disabling editing tools like spell check in order to remain focused.

It’s very easy to get discouraged when something doesn’t sound just right, but National Novel Writing Month isn’t about writing the perfect book. It’s about creating AND finishing the best book you can write in 30 days. Don’t ever let a little nitpicking get in the way of your ability to sit down to write.

Remember: November is for writing your novel. December is for serious editing and copy editing. It’s more important to get your ideas and thoughts down in sequence before you go back to refine your work.

5) Set Aside Time To Write Daily

30 days to complete a novel leaves very little wiggle room for distractions. Leave yourself at least 2-4 hours a day to write. If you can’t focus, find a quiet place where you can. It may take a lot of sacrifices and adjustments to your usual daily rituals or social obligations, but it’s ultimately worth it.

Get in the habit of writing for a few hours a day, every day. This way, if you fall behind, you have ample time to buckle down and catch up. If you come out ahead, don’t stop writing just because you can. Stick with it and keep writing anyways.

What separates a hobbyist from an author is having the discipline to write, no matter how inspired you’re feeling.

6) Sleep On It

Like most of us, it’s likely you still have to keep up the facade of being a functional human being during the month of November. One who has to pay bills and go to work. Not only does sleep deprivation turn you into a highly unpleasant jerk who might drowsily walk directly into oncoming traffic, but it also makes you a less effective writer.

Studies show people who are lacking sleep have a much harder time recalling words or remembering what they just read. Scientifically speaking, your brain is better able to come up with new creative solutions to difficult problems when it gets enough sleep.

It takes a lot of discipline to write, and just as much to know when to take a step back and recharge. Coming back to an idea when you’re refreshed is one of the best ways to beat even the toughest writer’s block.

7) Keep a Daily Word Count Goal

Most paper tradeback novels must be at least 50,000 words to be picked up by a publisher, and it just happens to be the word-length limit for NaNoWriMo. Plan to write more than that because when it does come time to edit, you may find yourself condensing words, cutting out entire scenes and thinning out your work to make it better.

To complete your story by the deadline, you’ll need to write about 1,700 words a day. Keep a calendar handy to help you measure exactly how many words you’ve written.

If you write by hand or typewriter, take the time to transcribe your story into an electronic file at least once a week. You’ll need to submit it online to be eligible for any of the awards or prizes.

8) Take Advantage Of Inspiration

Some days will be harder than others. Some days, the words will practically write themselves and some days, the words will trickle out of you. Write anyways. Be sure to take advantage of the moments you are inspired and DON’T STOP WRITING.

If you’re lucky enough to feel inspired, don’t squander it. Ride it out for all it’s worth. If you can’t sleep because you have so many ideas in your head, do yourself a favor. Get up and start writing.

9) Don’t Panic

You didn’t decide to participate in NaNoWriMo because it would be easy. You did it because you’ve always wanted to write a novel. Even if you fall behind, don’t let yourself get discouraged – it only slows down your word count. Making excuses just puts you further behind. Instead, liberate all of those ideas in your head by putting your nose to the grindstone and writing.

NaNoWriMo requires a lot of time and discipline, but at the very end, you’re going to have your very own finished book or something pretty damn close. You can only fail at writing if you quit.

Don’t give up. Keep writing.

Worst Case Scenario:

If November 30 rolls around and you still haven’t finished, don’t stop writing. You have written the better part of a novel, which is more than most people will ever accomplish. You owe it to yourself to finish it. Once it’s completed, you can still submit your manuscript to an agent or explore self-publishing avenues like CreateSpace, Smashwords, or Lulu. If your finished story ends up being shorter than 50,000 words, you can still self-publish it as a novella.

Happy writing!

Every November, hundreds of thousands of brave authors accept the challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days for NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. For many people, NaNoWriMo is the perfect opportunity to start their first book, and even earn awards and prizes from sponsors while doing it.

Here are a few tips to help you finish your book: