Just Be Awful: Tips for NaNoWriMo Success

by Christine Hennebury

Once upon a time, I thought that National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) was about writing a novel. It seems that way, given that the point of it appears to be writing 50,000 words in a month. But, here’s the thing, as far as I am concerned, NaNoWriMo is actually about getting over any obstacles on your path to finishing a writing project.


There are a lot of preconceived notions about writing floating around out there. Those ideas about good writing and good writers tend to get in our way. We fill our brains with judgements about our word and story skills before we even put fingers to keyboard. The result is stories untold, words unwritten, ideas unshared and I can’t stand the thought of that.

Enter writing challenges like NaNoWriMo (or the 10 Minute Novelists 365 Club). These challenges set out to get you to do something that seems impossible. NaNoWriMo wants you to produce 50,000 words in 30 days. 365 Club wants you to write daily for a year.

 Either way, though, the point is the same – the organizers want you to get past all your mental obstacles to your writing. They want you to challenge yourself to take your creativity seriously by dedicating regular time to it.

Yes, the numbers are huge and the repetition is daunting, but it can be done. And, even if you don’t meet your initial target, you still get more writing done than ever before. So, really, there is no downside.


Set The Quality Bar Low


I’m not suggesting this is easy. Our obstacles to our writing are real, whether they are tangible or internal. If you have tangible obstacles – childcare, commitments, work projects – you will need to have a close look at your schedule and carve out tiny pieces of time. If your obstacles are internal (thinking patterns or writing blocks etc.), you will need to find a way to set those aside for now so you can keep the bar low.  Since, in the case of NaNoWriMo, the word count is set for you, keeping the bar low means accepting lower quality words.


I know, that seems horrible.  You are trying to be a GOOD writer.  But, if you consider that the greater goal is to help you break past mental barriers to your work, you can let yourself away with it for now.  Instead of trying to keep to your usual standards, the ones that keep you writing slowly or not at all, accept that your victory is in the number of words and write some glorious awfulness. You can revise awful writing but you cannot revise a blank page.


Once you are free from the constraints of writing well, it is easier to write more. Here are some quality-free ways to add to your manuscript and boost your word count. I dare you to try them.


1) Describe Every Single Thing


You will definitely cut this out in your revision but, for now, describe everything that you can see with your mind’s eye. Show us every expression on your characters’ faces. Tell us every detail in the room. List recipe ingredients. Double up on descriptions if you need to or describe everything from each character’s point of view. Tell us about the weather, and not just from today. This descriptions don’t have to be good or interesting, they are filler and they are practice, that’s all.


2)  Monologue Like a Villain


Having  your characters explain their motivation in great detail is useful in more that one way.  Not only will you get more words out of their reasoning but you may discover new information about your characters. Let them discuss why they are doing what they are doing. Have them justify every action. Have them wonder about things. You may end up letting them ramble a bit, but those words count.


3) Start A Dialogue


Let your characters get chatty with each other. Put them in a coffee shop or on a bus and let them have small talk. Or let them ask questions about events or information from the past. Say everything aloud first if you need to and then get it down. It doesn’t have to be the least bit relevant to the plot and its only purpose is elevating your word count so you can have them say all kinds of nonsense.


4) Get Into Boring Routines


Your characters have routines and schedules, and you should start writing about them. Your depiction of Mel’s toothbrushing routine may hold a clue to her other strange behaviour.  Or, it might just add a few words to your project. Either way, those routine details are handy.


It may seem like a waste of time to write words that you know you are unlikely to keep. However, I ask you to remember  that those words are not your final product, they  are just stepping stones in the development of your story.  You might as well pile those stones as high as possible so you can climb over any obstacles in your way.



Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her hand. Luckily, her skills have improved since then. Christine makes up stories, shares stories, and coaches other people who are working on stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Find out more about her  at  or visit her on Facebook .