• Linnea Archibald

Surviving the second half of NaNoWriMo (or any long writing project)

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), you’re nearly halfway done with your word count. For those who aren’t familiar, each November NaNoWriMo participants attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days (roughly 1,667 words a day) toward a novel-length manuscript. When this post is published on November 12, participants will have more than 20,000 words toward that goal.


At this point, you’re also entering, in my opinion, the most difficult stage of NaNoWriMo: The middle.


At the beginning of the month—say the first two weeks or so—you’re likely excited about your project and motivated to get your word count in each day. Basically, you’re running on the writer equivalent of adrenaline. After that energy begins to wane, however, you may find it harder and harder to complete your daily word count. Perhaps you’ve reached a point in your story you hadn’t fully fleshed out yet, or the plot point you thought would be perfect doesn’t feel right anymore, or the section of your plot you thought would take up the bulk of your words took only half that number to complete.


These middle weeks, in my experience, are when you’re most at risk of abandoning your goal or getting behind irreparably. It’s happened to me in the past and I’m sure it’ll happen to me again in the future.

Linnea is sitting on the floor in front of the couch with only the side of her face in view of the camera to show a sleeping dog on the couch behind her.
Hitting my 2020 NaNo word count with Hans' support

Last year, though, I managed to come up with a few tricks to get through the middle of the month and finish strong with 51,378 (messy) words. If you feel yourself beginning to lag, here are a few ideas to keep your motivation up.


Not participating in NaNoWriMo this year? You can still use these same tips on any big project you’re working on.


1. Keep your writing appointments and tell your people.

Don’t just assume you’ll “find time” in a day to write 1,667 words. Schedule time in advance—even if that just means you look at your schedule the night before and decide what time you’ll write. I suggest writing it down on your calendar (physical or digital) and setting a reminder alarm on your phone to ensure you can’t “forget” and miss your designated time.


Once you’ve chosen a time, tell your people about your appointment and ask them to check in on you. This could mean getting your family, partner, roommates, writing buddies, or close friends involved. Just pick someone who can check in on you and remind you that the basket of laundry, sink full of dishes, or extra episode of TV, can wait.


2. If you’re in a groove, keep writing and get ahead.

It’s likely you’ll have at least one day when the words just are not flowing and you can’t meet that word count in the time you have available to write. I find this issue to be especially prevalent on Thanksgiving and the day after. Because of this eventuality, I strongly suggest “banking” some extra words on the days that you are in a groove.


In my experience, when the words are flowing, you’ll end up writing more than you need to anyway. Even though the NaNoWriMo site includes a word count tracker, I like to keep track of my daily words in a notebook as well with a running count of how many “extra” words I wrote on any given day. Then, when I had a bad writing day, I knew how far under the 1,667-word goal I could fall before getting behind on my overall progress.

Two pieces of notebook paper with handwritten word counts for each day of November 2020.
My messily written daily total word count from NaNoWriMo 2020

3. Schedule designated “catch-up days.”

Even with a cushion from good days, it’s helpful to schedule a few “catch-up days” at regular intervals. I went ahead and scheduled mine at the beginning of the month and added them to the calendar right then, but you can add them in at any point.


Remember: the “catch-up days” are in addition to your regular word count for that day, so schedule a longer period on the days you intend to catch up. I found Saturday mornings worked best for me, but you may find a weeknight or early in the morning works better for you. The important thing is that your schedule your catch-up days, give yourself some extra time, and keep that appointment.


4. Reward yourself when you hit a milestone.

Listen, don’t underestimate the power of a reward system. Remember how exciting it was to get a sticker for doing something well in elementary school? The same principle applies to grown adults trying to write 50,000 words in one month.


Don’t make the mistake of thinking your reward has to be something expensive either. It can be as small as a square of chocolate, an episode of a show/a movie you’ve been wanting to watch, or even a nap (yeah, I’ve done it before). In the middle weeks of NaNoWriMo last year, I gave myself a little reward every day I completed my word count and reserved bigger rewards—a trip to the used bookstore usually does it for me—for milestones (e.g., 50%, 75%, etc.).


Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? What’s been the hardest part for you so far? Are you a planner or a pantser?


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