I spent some time today learning more about NaNoWriMo, including sifting through their member forums looking for beginner tips and suggestions. Fortunately there’s a ton of advice from other writers who’ve done NaNoWriMo many times before.

I was curious how many people who sign up for NanoWriMo each year actually succeed at writing at least 50,000 words during the month of November. The completion percentage is different each year, but it seems to average around 15%. That lands within my expectations.

When it comes to 30-day challenges, I find that the early game is key. I usually win or lose the challenge before I even begin Day 1. How I frame the commitment matters. I have to get my mind right before I start, so I’m investing in that now for NaNoWriMo.

Here are some useful frames that have served me well over the years, which I’m also adapting to gear up for NaNoWriMo, which starts in less than two weeks.

  • Once I commit to the challenge, it’s a done deal that I’ll do all 30 days. There is no quitting except for some kind of critical emergency like a health crisis.
  • If 15% of people typically finish NaNoWriMo successfully, I see myself as a member of that 15% before we even begin. Even though this is my first NaNoWriMo and my first novel, I can mentally put myself in that top 15% now. That’s a decision, not a prediction.
  • Most 30-day challenges get difficult at some point, usually between days 6 and 15. The initial motivation will die off, and the finish line will still seem far away. It’s wise to expect this to happen and to pre-commit to enduring through that tough period.
  • It’s one day at a time. Do the daily actions, and the 30-day result will be achieved. In this case the daily commitment is to write at least 1667 words per day for 30 days. A daily commitment is easier to follow than a monthly one that allows wiggle room day by day. So I’m not looking at having 500-word days and making up for them with 3000-word days. I think the daily framing is easier. Then I can’t fall behind. A lot of people failed NaNoWriMo by using the framing that it was okay to fall behind and do extra writing to make up for it later in the month. So my framing is that falling behind on even one day’s quota is not an option, but exceeding it is okay. And exceeding the daily average doesn’t reduce the daily average for the upcoming days.
  • It’s best to focus on the core challenge, which is to write. The challenge isn’t to re-read, to edit, to research, or to plan – just to write. Many NaNoWriMo participants noted that it’s best to edit later and just get the first draft written, even if it’s ugly. Many also noted the trap of getting stuck in unnecessary research that killed their word count.
  • I’ll gain a lifetime memory from my first NaNoWriMo. That memory will be mine for decades. It’s clear that I want to look back on my first NaNoWriMo and remember that I made it to 50K words and succeeded. I don’t want the lifetime memory of failing or quitting.

Regarding that last point, I saw lots of references regarding how real these memories are for previous NaNoWriMo participants. They remember their past events, noting which ones were successes and which were failures. They remember why they failed and what derailed them.

Sometimes my best source of motivation comes from reminding myself that I’m creating a lifetime memory no matter what. Whatever happens in November, it’s either a gift or curse for my future self – for the rest of his life. When it’s only day 10 and motivation is low, it can be empowering to remind myself that I have a choice: I can give my future self the memory of pushing through to success, or I can curse him with the memory of quitting and making excuses. I can give him the memory of being in the 15% or the 85%, and that’s going to affect him indefinitely.

Writing 50K words in November is a done deal. No other framing makes sense. I will not curse my future self with the lifetime memory of failing my first NaNoWriMo. I’m going to gift him with the memory of an experience he will cherish for decades.

Do whatever it takes to give your future self some extra smiles. Soon enough those smiles will be yours.