A Scampering Peregrination Of NaNoWriMo Writing Tips

1. The first draft is for you. Subsequent drafts are for everybody else. So, write this one the way you want to. Do what thou wilt. Be selfish. Grab at the story with greedy paws.

2. ABI: Always Be Interesting. Not just to others — write what interests you.

3. If you feel yourself getting bored, change the story so that you aren’t. Motivate yourself through chaos, unpredictability, and interest. If your own interest in the story hits a wall: blow shit up. Go cuckoo bananapants. Surprise yourself.

4. It’s easier to write your word count earlier in the day than later. Early means it’s out of the way. Later means you’re racing against the clock. Racing against the clock makes for good fiction (OH MY GOD THE SQUIRREL IS GOING TO EXPLODE IF WE DON’T JIBBER THE JABBER IN TIME). It makes for unpleasant writing, however.

5. Be kind. Share. Talk. Engage in the community. Offer your own tips. Be the best version of yourself in the process and write the song that lives in the glitter-shellacked eerily-vibrating Music Box you call a ‘heart.’

6. Characters are everything. Focus on them. Characters make plot by doing things and saying things. Do not staple plot to the story. The plot grows inside the story based on the actions of interested and interesting characters. Story lives in how characters address (and fail to address) their problems. Plot is skeleton, not exoskeleton.

7. Give less of a shit. Relax. Ease off the stress stick, cowpoke. You’re not Superman saving a busload of precious orphans. You’re writing a novel. You can still give a shit — but set aside the baggage and expectations. You’re not Humanity’s Last Chance.

8. Don’t compare yourself to anybody else. You do you. Let them do them.

9. Don’t cheat on your story with another story. Don’t go porking another manuscript behind the WORDSHED. (See, it’s like woodshed — oh, hell, never mind.) Got another idea for a story? Of course you do. The test of a writer is staying on track. You’re committed. Married. Don’t cheat. Put a ring on it. Those other ideas can have their day: write down a quick logline or synopsis, then shut the notebook and get back to work.

10. Of course it’s work. Expect it to be. Let it be work.

11. Of course it feels like you’re lost. We all feel that way. You’re not alone. Nobody knows what the fuck they’re doing. We’re all pretending. We’re all our own imaginary friends lost in a realm of our own devising. It’s what makes this thing so weird and so exciting. Fuck it. Keep going.

12. Don’t worry about being original. Originality is overrated. The one thing that’s unique about your story is that you’re the one writing it. Your voice is the original thing.

13. You don’t chase your voice. You are your voice. Your voice is the way you speak, the way you think, the ideas you have. Your voice is the thing you find when you stop looking for it.

14. Need a throughline? An invisible thread on which to hang your tale? Consider theme. Theme is the argument your story is making. Theme is what your work is about. It’s what you’re trying to say. It’s what you believe. It’s what the story is telling people. Theme is a strand of spider silk. It can connect everything — the grand unification argument of storytelling.

15. Concentrate more on things happening in the story. Worry less about what happened. Stories are most engaging in the present and suggestive of the future. The past is useful, but can fast become a boat anchor or a full colostomy bag hanging too-heavy on the hip. The story is people saying things and people doing things. Explanations, expositions, backstory, internal monologuing: don’t be a narrative hoarder. Let go of as many details as you can.

16. Write down only those things that carry you — and the reader — to the next part of the story. Anything else is just gum sticking your boot (and theirs) to the sidewalk.

17. The three shits easy plot generator: characters want shit, so they do shit to get what they want, and then shit happens in the process. Motivation. Action. Consequence.

18. Every character believes herself to be the main character. Every character is the hero of her own story. That includes antagonists. That includes supporting characters. This belief held by all characters puts characters in contention with one another. And plot is created from the result.

19. Yes, it’s hard. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be awesome. Stop being afraid of difficult things.

20. Protect your writing time. Someone wants to take that away from you, you gotta do the Gandalf jam. Plant your feet. Slam your staff (note: not a euphemism for a penis) against the ground. THOU SHALT NOT PASS. Or, THOU SHALT NOT TAKE AWAY THE TIME I HAVE RESERVED FOR THIS TASK I CONSIDER IMPORTANT SO EAT A GIANT CHRISTMAS STOCKING CRAMMED WITH MIDDLE FINGERS YOU JERKY MCJERKERSON.

21. Consider the story’s stakes. What can be won or lost by the characters? The story is the characters betting on something. What happens if they bet too big? What happens if they lose the bet? How do the stakes of different characters oppose each other?

22. You are your own muse. You make your own motherfucking magic.

23. It’s okay if you fail as long as you learn something from it.

24. It’s also totally okay if NaNoWriMo isn’t for you. It wasn’t really for me. It’s not for a lot of people. Sometimes it fits. Sometimes it’s trying to headbutt a square peg into a circle hole. Sometimes it feels like you’re trying to cram an end-table up an asshole. Just because it isn’t for you doesn’t mean novel-writing isn’t for you. Draw your own map if the one you have in your hand doesn’t take you to the pirate’s treasure.

25. Fuck ‘em if they don’t believe in you. Your book isn’t a precious fairy. It needs nobody’s faith to fly. It doesn’t even need your faith right now. It just needs you to do the work. So: do the work.

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30 Days in the Word Mines: a series of daily tips, tricks, and thoughts to get you writing that story that squirms inside your viscera and longs to escape.

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30 Days in the Word Mines


  • I totally agree with all of the above, except for rule 9. Because I’d done the challenge before, I thought I would spice things up this year (making it the challenge) to write two books at the same time, which is something I haven’t been able to do before now. Yes it means double the word count everyday, and I have to switch my mind between stories, characters and plots. But it is challenging, so I am doing it. Consider me in a ménage rather than a marriage, lol

      • Yes it is so far lol. Up to day 5 and still meeting daily target. But it is hard switching between characters and plot lines and I do have to watch that I don’t get to tired because then my creativity goes out the window.

  • November 3, 2014 at 10:03 PM // Reply

    Ah, awesome. It seems like every time I feel like I’m floundering, internally bemoaning how unoriginal the stuff my imagination pukes out is, and I just want to give it up and quit – I’m reminded to shut that inner critic up in the most hilarious and perfect of ways. This was just what I needed, right when I needed it. Thank you, sir!

  • “Ease off the stress stick” is my new mantra. And I just blew up tomorrow’s writing plan because it was about backstory, so thanks for that. This is my third time doing Nanowrimo, and tips like these are helping make it way more fun than it’s been before. Thanks for the inspiration today, and always!

  • #25 made it to my list of inspirational quotes in my Moleskine!

    I’ve written 5.008 words so far. It’s hard but really, really fun. I think I’m losing a bit of fear already. One of the themes of the hopefully-some-day-a-novel is very close to me. I’m afraid that people might get hurt or offended for what I’m writing, but I’m just telling myself that no-one is going to read it, and even if they do and they feel hurt, well, then THEY SUCK!

    Also, I found myself writing a scene with a zombie, and I don’t even like them! It was truly unexpected and creepy. I could almost hear your voice saying SURPRISE YOURSELF. It was cool!

    30 Days in the Word Mines is being so helpful! :D

  • Man, Chuck, awesome and hilarious truths. And no sugarcoating. I love it. It’s 7:31pm and I’m going to go write right now and definitely make my own mofo magic. :)

  • What about the internal critic that continues to beat you over the head with “Oh my god, your writing sucks. You suck, why are you doing NaNo? Stop! Stop! STOP!” and you’re like “hey, you know… maybe you’re right?”

    Fighting your own internal critic is like the ever eternal fight of a snake versus a mongoose. …Actually, wait, that’s a bad example as the mongoose generally kills the snake to where the struggle ends. But you get what I’m getting at: What if, at the end of the month with 50,000 words… you just… think everything you wrote is crap and not worth the effort? Or even in the middle of the month? How do you fight that inertia or wave of destruction to finish it/think it is worthwhile to edit or hell even toss it out but think you were a success and OH YEAH LET’S DO ANOTHER?

    Something to write about, I guess…?

    • Doubt is an unruly beast and must be defeated in open combat.

      Sometimes, though, it’s right — and that’s okay. I wrote five or six books before BLACKBIRDS, and they were all pretty damn bad. It’s good to write bad books. We sometimes need to get bad books out of our system. You can learn a whole lot from writing a bad book!

      — c.

    • Chuck has some awesome advice about doubt in his writing books, especially some of the pep talks in his recent release 30 Days in the Word Mines.

      I also really enjoyed The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Download a sample and read it to see if you’re cup of tea, but I find it’s been a lifesaver for me. I have struggled A LOT with doubt, with a harsh inner critic through every step of the way. The thing to realize is that it never goes away, not really. It’s always waiting to spring on you in some form or another. Sometimes it sounds rationale: “Why are you writing about zombies? No one wants to read about zombies anymore.” and sometimes it’s just mean “You’re a terrible writer and everyone is going to laugh at you.” But even if you overcome one hurdle, something new will pop up. We expect it to go away. Like a prize fight, or a Good vs. Evil showdown. You beat Doubt and win! Yay! All the cake! Until it comes back in some other form.

      That’s normal. It’s just the way it works. It’s like getting to that level in Zelda and fighting a dark version of yourself. Doubt will always be there, it’s just a matter of working around it, not doing things that make it worse (like comparing yourself to other people), and ignoring it.

      Also, listen to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Tedtalk on the creative genius. She really nails the issues on the head.

      I hope this helped! Good luck!

  • Ha Ha! You’re awesome! I found this not only motivating, but instructive AND humorous. Once I got to #20, I didn’t stop either laughing or smiling. Thank you for taking the time to share these insights.

  • Brilliant. Just what I needed. Kept on target word-count so starting today (day 4) on just over 5,000 words. Using NaNoWriMo to create a first draft is incredibly liberating. Not sure my children’s novel will make it to 50,000 words though. May have to start on the draft for book 3 (did I tell you I’m writing a trilogy?) to make up the word count.

  • I agree that the past bogs down the story so I say write the past in the present tense. Show what happened. Jump around in time. If it’s important enough to include in the story it’s worth the effort to make the reader live it not only hear about it. I guess that’s the point, the reader should be living the entire story and hearing none of it.

  • 20. Peter Jackson should TOTALLY have made Sir Ian McKellan say that in his movie.

    These are all wise and inspirational words, Chuck – number 9 is why I’m NOT doing NaNoWriMo this year. Currently clawing towards the end of the Difficult Middle Phase of Draft Two of my w-i-p, and if you cheat at THAT point in the marriage it’s pretty much Game Over, so I’ve heard. So I’m applying the advice of this post to that instead, and it works just as sweet for that too.

    Thanks for the much-needed kick up the jacksie!

  • Nano’s first gift to me: A deadline that works for me. Nano’s second gift for me: The luck of hooking up with a writer’s blog who has a true gift for inspiring writers. Thanks for the inspiration. Dealing with kid with stomach flu and Nano. I needed you today and you delivered.

  • Wow! So spot on. Inspired me. I’m off to see the wizard – or rather the ghosts in the canyon. I’m going to finish this trilogy if its the last thing . . . I worry about. It doesn’t feel so daunting after reading this blog. Thank you.

  • You’re speaking my language! Love it. Keep posting and keep motivating…me in particular. :) BTW— you always make me laugh. Even when I don’t want to.

    Thanks for that.

  • After 3 days and only 2600 words I’m so glad to have found your post in my inbox! I’ve been struggling with my story and as I read your post it hit me: the struggle is the thing, man!

  • I;m not at all a fan on NaNo. I think it kills more careers in a year than it will help in fifty years. That said, if you’re gonna do it, then do it right. Take it seriously, don’t cheat, and realize that it’s better to fail with 25,000 good words than it is to succeed with 50,000 crappy words.

    I sort of agree with originality. I don;t believe it’s overrated at all. I believe it’s crucial. But I also believe true originality is the writer. If you’re just copying what other writers have done, you won’t be original. If you get yourself into the story, your ideas, your way of telling a story, your life experience, you will be original. It can still stink, but at least it stinks in an original way, and this matters.

  • The first two days I did good with word count, last night with the rush of things and a health problem ensnaring me, I only managed 819 words. This morning, I’ve barely done 300 so far. I just hate to write to a certain max of words, it makes me feel–like my tires are stuck in the mud. Thanks for your comment that Nano’s not for everyone. I think I do better when I write for me and less of a faker in writing to the word count. I feel so pompus reporting my daily words. Lol. I’m giving up on Nano, not the story.

  • Of course you couldn’t know this, but you help me more than even I can imagine. I am doing Nanowrimo and I look to your blog for continuing inspiration.

    So far (ok, small sample size, but still…) my word counts are fine each day. However, I continually struggle with the “so what?” phenomenon, so I have to amuse myself to ensure I might amuse others. Today’s blog helped a lot with that.

    • This “so what?” phenomenon you speak of, is all too familiar. It has pushed me into cornering myself in a storyline or two. That’s why I like Chuck’s blog, there is always a good slap in the face waiting to bring me out of the mundane.

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