Don’t Think–Write (How to keep your NaNo story going)

How’s everyone doing so far with NaNoWriMo? Last week I mentioned I was diving into NaNo somewhat unexpectedly, and the experience has been like eating pizza on the go–too rushed to thoroughly enjoy the experience, but super happy I get to do it at all.

WEEK ONE is usually the most energetic week of NaNo. Writers are still riding high, pummeling their notebooks or computer screens with word after word. We’re not really tired yet, and we probably haven’t yet reached a point where we’ve gotten stuck.National Novel Writing Month

Let’s keep it that way.

PANTSERS: It’s probably easier for pantsers to accept the fact that NaNo is all about quantity, not quality. This is a great time to let Muse take control and drive your story forward.

When you don’t know if you have enough story to write, I suggest putting in events that might help take the story into a different direction, twists that will help give you some more yardage. Extra details are good, too. Try including all 5 senses in each chapter you write–really dig deep with that sensory detail to make things jump off the page. Or screen.

Let Muse take your story in any direction she/he/it sees fit. Muse will offer possibilities you aren’t prepared for. Even if it’s something that doesn’t quite work in the story as it stands now, like 17th century pirates showing up in the middle of the Vietnam War (don’t ask). You might find it works after you’ve structured and outlined and figured out how the story is going to end.

Dialogue is great filler for those times you hit a dead zone. Sometimes my characters will talk about what they’re going to have for dinner, or about the weather, stupid stuff that real-life people really do talk about but has no place in a book! (Yes, that kind of dialogue MUST be edited out on the next draft, but with NaNo, we’re only concerned with putting down words.) The funny thing about pointless dialogue is that 9 times out of 10, it will reveal my next event or plot point that matters to the overall story goal.

Pantsers probably aren’t inclined to organize all of Muse’s ideas during these 30 days. And that’s okay.  Random ideas and characters such as 17th century pirates that show up during the Vietnam War (seriously–don’t ask) happen more often during a pantsed writing session than a planned one.


I learned long ago to never discount anything in the early stages of a story. So that I don’t lose track of all possibilities, I jot them down directly in my NaNo draft as they hit me. On any other occasion, I would use a scrap folder to store the overflow of ideas, but not during NaNo.

Bouncing between files can be a time sucker and a distraction. Just put them right into your rough draft (the other benefit to this is that they will apply to your word count! Bonus!!) I always highlight or asterisk the ideas that may (or may not) fit my NaNo novel. That way, when I go back and re-read (when NaNo is over, you eager beaver, you) the asterisked/highlighted ideas pop out at me, reminding me that that they are extra ideas that I might (or might not) be able to work in the story.

PLANNERS: Even the best plan will have a plot hole. It’s okay. Steer around it. Highlight it or asterisk it and make yourself a quick note that this particular area is problematic. You will have puh-lenty of time after November 30 to fix the problems in your story.

I know some writers micro-plan throughout NaNo—they’ll hit the pause button on the actual writing, do a little bit of work on the outline/structure, then go back to the WIP. I’m sure this works for some. If you find yourself getting too distracted with the micro-planning (like not going back to the challenge of writing 1,700 words a day) then my suggestion is to scrap the micro-planning and simply write.



Like the title of the post suggests: Don’t Think—Write! This is where so many writers get stuck with NaNo. I know, it goes against a planner’s blood to ignore plot holes or other structural/plausibility issues. After all, that’s why they planned in the first place—to avoid such demonic pitfalls.


Writing yourself one-line chapter plans can be helpful. Some of the chapter plans could say something like “Marcy and Brad go to the hospital to meet the victim”—something very basic, but enough to provide setting and character motivation and a chapter goal. Much of the time, as long as we know what the goal of a chapter is, then we know the direction of our story’s path. When we know the direction of our story’s path, then we know enough to write the next chapter

For those of us who have decided to use NaNo as a way of working on the quality (not concerned about word count), then focus on story goals that push your story forward. I give some examples here. Because the energy of NaNo is pretty contagious, it is easy to use other writers’ positive mojo to get your own work done. Use these 30 days to tackle that story that has been evading you all year. Dig deeper into the heinous villain to make readers see the sympathetic side to him/her. Write with joy, not stress, during this month. Feel your story building through developed characters and twisty plot lines without worrying how many words you’re scribbling down.

How y’all doing with your word count or story progress? Share in the comments below.

Have a writerly day!


30 thoughts on “Don’t Think–Write (How to keep your NaNo story going)

  1. Considering I was out of town over the weekend I’m not as bad off as I could be, but I’m certainly not where I *need* to be. And it’s hard. For someone with rewriteritiss, to block out that internal editor and just blast through is very, very, very hard. And we still have 22 days to go!


    • Wow! 3,800 words is a great day’s worth of writing. I love those surges. I think that’s pretty much what most writers encounter: a mixture of slow and hearty days. My journey is going well, thank you. I’m not focused on word count this year. Rather, I’m working on the structure of the second draft to my novel. Second drafts are my least favorite, so setting myself this challenge to complete the draft has helped me cope with it! Wishing you continued success with NaNo!


  2. I’m actually really enjoying not worrying about the word count with NaNo this time. I’m totally just using it as motivation to do some work on it every day. Because it’s a memoir that I’m working on, I know exactly what the story is already! So writer’s block isn’t an issue. A lot of my time on it is actually more around thinking what order I’ll tell things and what bits are worth including and what aren’t, and so if I don’t make much word progress some days, I know I’ve still made overall progress, and I’m cool with that!


    • That’s awesome news, Vanessa. And it sounds like you’ve already figured out what your expectations are and everything seems like it’s falling into place. The NaNo energy has really helped me move forward on my book too, and I’m not tracking words either, I’m all about structure, which isn’t as much fun as the engagement of characters. Using NaNo to help me deal with the structure feels like a good move so far!

      Liked by 1 person

    • And moving forward is all you’re after, so sounds like everything is working well for you JM. I’m using NaNo for motivation, too, and also to wrestle structure. So far, week one has been good!


    • I agree–I think we have to go through such trials and errors to find our own best process. How Writer 1 does it won’t necessarily work for Writer 2 or Writer 8. So important to keep finding new angles and avenues to try, lest we give up from the frustration of staying stuck.


  3. I’m so impressed that you’re writing for NaNo as well as writing a great post here to help everyone alone. I’m not participating in NaNo this year but learned so much from being part of it last year. And…I added some really good material for my book. I’m trying to write more on my own time, but NaNo definitely is a great kickstarter and encourager for writers. Keep it up! P.S. I wrote a review of your e-book Writer…Uninterrupted (for the Confident Writer). Really enjoyed it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love how writers keep telling me that they learn so much from NaNo–no matter what approach they take. Just goes to show us that setting ourselves writing challenges is one of the best ways to forge ahead.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and review, Pam! I’m glad you liked it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I think these tips can be used in any kind of writing project. I also think it helps to know what kind of approach we’re going to take before we tackle the project–pantsing, plotting, or plontsing. Once we know that, then we can set ourselves certain guidelines to keep us moving forward. Good luck on your stories!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m really doing badly this time around. Was slightly behind until I lost 2,000 words from my manuscript (using Scrivener that I adore – don’t know what went wrong). So just trying to do a few hundred words each day. But your advice is so valuable, nonethless!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s fun to read so many varied responses to this great post, Kate. I have always looked at NaNo as a way to practice writing every day, or to find out the best time of my day for me to do my writing. The wordcount always came second (probably because I’m naturally verbose), so to anyone struggling to meet count on Day 12, I’d say don’t worry: just let your fingers do some yammering. 🙂

    These are all good points…but I do take to task (just a bit) the one about seemingly-mundane dialogue. Yes, a lot of what we churn out in a first draft is filler or us finding our way, but sometimes it’s exactly those mundane conversations that help illustrate or illuminate a character’s motivations, or create contrast to what is going on beneath that ordinary surface. I don’t want to read that for every scene, because that would go nowhere. But in a slice-of-life drama or a budding romance, I feel like those moments can really flesh out those characters as people.

    Thanks for posting! Glad to hear you are still riding high!


    • Hey Mayumi! I’m glad I chose to use NaNo to push my writing forward. It’s been challenging–November is like one of the worst months to do something like this–but that is what makes success extra sweet!

      Thanks for your comment about mundane dialogue. I would argue that the kind of dialogue you’re talking about is decidedly not mundane. Conversations about things such as weather or grocery shopping that do double duty–illuminate character motivation, reveal subtext, push the plot forward, drop a clue, answer a question–is absolutely important and could be left in the story if used skillfully. (I say “skillfully” because you want dialogue like that to be seamless. I don’t think you want it sticking out unnaturally or awkwardly as it can undermine your intention of illuminating character motivation, for example.)

      I was referring to dialogue that gives us nothing in terms of substance or meaning. Dialogue that lies flat and does not urge the reader to reflect or ponder. Dialogue that really is only about the long traffic lights and never plays out later to show that is why the protag is late picking up his wife and she gets hit by a car trying to walk home. Dialogue like that is the filler stuff that, while it can help us in our rough drafts to just keep writing and find a plot thread to pick up, must be cut out upon the next draft.

      Thanks so much for taking time to add to the conversation–especially as we try to make this NaNo deadline!! Wishing you luck!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. When I write quickly, I find it useful to think that it doesn’t matter if it’s any good at this stage, I’m just telling myself the story – that usually gets me through any doubt or need to do anything but follow where the story leads me.


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