How I “won” NaNoWriMo 2018

Today is the 23rd of November, 2018 and I have officially “won” NaNoWriMo. Well, I actually did it yesterday on the 22nd, when I passed the coveted 50,000 word mark.

Today, the 23rd I am sitting at just under 53,000 words.


So, how does it feel to win NaNoWriMo again? Well, it feels great, but that’s only on paper right now.

What do I mean by that?

I mean, I haven’t really “won” NaNoWriMo yet. Yes, I’ve passed the 50K and it was cause for a bit of celebration yesterday. But, my personal goal this year is 70K words. At this moment, I still need around 17,000 words to reach that goal.

Will I reach it and feel like a real winner? Of course. I have seven days left and I only need to average less than 2500 words a day to reach it. I’ve written over 10K words over the past three days and may add another 1000 before I knock off for the night.

So, how did I do it and how can you?

Let me share five “secrets” to winning NaNoWriMo. Though this is coming near the end of the challenge, you may still find some use from these secrets.

1. Know what you’re going to write long before the beginning of NaNoWriMo

There have been a couple of Camp NaNoWriMo’s that I started without a clear idea at the beginning of the month and they ended up being abysmal failures.

I had my idea in mind by the middle of October and spent the rest of the month fleshing out the story. It wasn’t something I sat down and hammered at four or five hours a day. I would just keep it in mind as I was working on another novel at that time and every time an idea popped into my head for the challenge novel, I’d stick it in my outline somewhere.

2. That nasty word: Outline

I am a firm believer in knowing where your story is going before you ever start. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to have every scene plotted out before you start. I hardly ever do. But, I will have a good portion of the scenes in mind when November 1st rolls around.

Sometime around the 27th of October, I will start to take what I’ve come up with and stick it into my Timeline program. That is how I outline. I stick a flag on the timeline somewhere, with a note for a scene synopsis attached to it. Then I can move the scenes around easier than those writers that like to use bulletin boards and index cards. And, I have a nice, graphical representation of the story from beginning to end.

Is the timeline finished and fully realized at the start of NaNoWriMo? No, not even close, but I have a good idea where to start and during the month of November, that timeline program is open almost 100% of the time, so I can switch to it and make any additions and adjustments I need to.

By the time I reach the halfway point of the month, the timeline is probably close to 90-95% done, leaving room to make any changes I need to.

3. The outline is NEVER set in stone

The only thing set in stone, or at least, wet concrete, is the beginning and the end scenes. I want to know how the story is going to begin and I most definitely want to know how it ends. I may even write the last scene first. I don’t do that a lot, but I have done it.

If scenes need to be moved, rewritten or deleted to make the story work, the outline should never constrain you from doing what is needed. But you still need to have some sort of a map for the story to follow.

I know I will take some heat from those that call themselves “pantsers,” but that’s okay. They can write the way they see fit. I will just say that I’ve read a few novels where I would get about halfway through and close the book. I’d do it because it felt like the writer had no clue where the story was going and they would just start meandering, like they were trying to find their way back to road that was their story. Those kind of stories bore me and I’m sure they bore a lot of other readers.

4. Keep track of your progress

I have a spreadsheet set up, complete with a graph that gives me all the information I need at a glance, when checking my progress. At the top, I put the starting word count, which this month was zero. Under that I put my target word count, which is 70,000. I put down how many days are in the period ahead of me and for November that would be 30. The spreadsheet then creates a table with thirty rows and about six columns. Each day, I put the total number of words my novel stands at in one column. Then the table calculates a few numbers and tells me how many words I wrote that day, how many words I should be at on that particular day and tells me how many words ahead or behind I am.


There is also a cool graph I inserted that shows my progress for each day and a trend line showing where I need to be. If my progress bars are above that line, I’m a happy camper. If they fall below it, I know I need to work a little harder to get back there.

Keeping track of your progress is paramount. If you’re one of those writers that turns off your word counter and just writes for as long as you feel like it, you’ll come to the halfway point or one week to go and find you aren’t even close to being where you need to be. As Jim Rohn used to say, “How are you doing in the challenge? Let’s check the numbers!”

5. Write a story that excites you

That should be a no-brainer. If the story you’re writing feels like a chore to sit down and hammer out, then you’re doing it wrong. You should be chomping at the bit to get to the keyboard and start pouring words out of your soul, to see where the story is going. You should be laying awake in bed at night, having a hard time falling asleep because you have scenes running through your head, one after another.

This is probably the number one secret to “winning” NaNoWriMo. Be excited about the story you are telling. I’m sitting at the point of my novel, where I am entering the last few scenes where all hell is going to break loose and my main character is going to have to face her toughest challenge and maybe even lose her life, or her sanity, before she comes out the other side. I can’t wait to see what happens and I’ll probably even write another couple thousand words this evening before I crawl exhausted to the bed.

Bonus Secret: Make your writing time sacred

This is sometimes the hardest thing to control, but it can be done. Figure out where your time to write is going to come from and defend that time against all attacks. And those attacks will come.

Around the 15th of this month, my word count fell below the trend line and I was beginning to feel like it was going to be one of those months I wouldn’t hit my goal. My writing time was attacked! But, I can’t complain because it was the kind of attack I can put up with. We celebrated my mother’s 80th birthday and for a few days she and my dad were in town, making writing time a little less important. Obviously there are attacks that need to be surrendered to and doing so should be done happily.

As for a normal day, my sweetie works during the afternoon and early evening. I’m retired, so I don’t have to go anywhere for my “job.” But, like some of you, I can find thousands of “oooooo shiny” things to catch my attention. Obviously the internet is the worst attacker of my time. And it needs to be beat into submission.

A couple of years ago, I found a program called Cold Turkey that can be set to lock you out of certain programs and websites for a certain amount of time each day. I have it set to lock things up when Honey Bunny leaves for work and it stays locked for about seven hours. During that time, my “job” is writer.

Sometimes that wasn’t enough. Sometimes I would find other things to occupy my time on the internet or on my computer, when I should have been writing. But, I found out about a week ago that Cold Turkey had come out with a new program, just for writers. Start that program, tell it you’re going to write XXX number of words or write for a certain amount of time and click Start.


The Cold Turkey Writer window opens and you can’t do ANYTHING else until you hit your goal. You can’t get to any other programs, you can’t check your email, you can’t even look at the clock at the bottom of the screen because CTW takes up the whole screen. It’s a bastard of a program, but I liked it so much after testing it for a couple of days, I spent the money and bought the Pro version.

Winning NaNoWriMo is nothing more than telling yourself that you’re going to do it and then doing everything you need to do to accomplish it. That may sound like something that’s difficult in your situation, but I’m sure if you sat down and were really honest with yourself, you’d find ways to get the words out.

I hope these tips are helpful to you and I hope you find success in your quest to win the November challenge. Let me know what your secrets are in the comments below. I promise, I won’t tell anyone.


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