Motivational tools for NaNoWriMo

At the end of November, having an entire (or entirely new) novel to your name is enough of a reward and motivation all by itself. Nonetheless, here are a few things that helped me get through last year’s marathon and might give you that extra shove, too.

1: Chocolate

Or any assorted candy, really. Last year, for every five hundred words, I broke off a brick from my favorite chocolate bar and savored it slowly as I mulled over what to do with my next five hundred words. This served to set up a reward system in my head, and made it much easier for me to reach my daily goal because it felt like I was writing in small chunks rather than forcing out my sixteen hundred in one go. This also encouraged me, once I reached my word goal, to push myself a little farther to get that last piece of chocolate. A fair warning though, this takes a considerable amount of self-control.


Chocolate is great, but any treat will do the trick. Try adjusting the word goal to suit your own needs… and desires.

2: Sound

No, not music, Sound. I’ve talked with a lot of NaNos that say they can’t work at home to save their lives, and they need the quiet hubbub of a cafe or library to keep them going. And I admit, there is something about being in public that keeps you from being overly distracted. That’s why the internet has given us the magic of Coffitivity.

Nothing makes you feel like writing more than an atmosphere that says “I spend 200 bucks every month on Starbucks.”

Another thing I love listening to while writing is recordings of thunderstorms. Just go to Youtube and you’ll find hundreds of them, with lengths suited to every writer’s needs. The sounds of steady rain, added to music, can really accent the emotion of whatever you might be listening to. I find this very helpful when I need to write a something particularly heart-wrenching. Thunderstorms practically generate adverbs.

3: Hiding

Okay, so I wouldn’t employ this tactic every time you pause to jot down a clever one-liner. But last year I went down to the basement and hid in the closet in the storage room in order to write. My reasoning? I had in-laws in town. A lot of them. Sometimes, you don’t need to physically hide, but rather find a way to separate yourself from the mental and emotional insanity of life. I’m still waiting for someone to teach me that one. But in all seriousness, you need to be willing to lock yourself away if that’s what it takes, and finish this novel even at the cost of your dignity.

4: Totems

I’m sure most NaNoWriMos are familiar with the old viking helmet that’s been on our logo for a few years now. Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, spoke about how he would sometimes wear a viking helmet when he needed to steel himself and work through a difficult passage. A totem is basically an object you set up only when you’re writing, and it’s meant to make your brain realize that now is the time to write, NOT the time to memorize the lyrics of that Phantom of the Opera song that’s been stuck in your head, but you just can’t get down all the words yet. Really, a totem could be anything, from a stick of burning incense to that weird rock you found last week. Or you could even go Christ Baty and pick out a piece of apparel.

Viking helmets used at the Office of Letters and Light. OLL members offer their viking helmets up in order to pass a motion.


5: Your inner editor

Last year, my inner editor was a huge help to me. Whenever I was feeling discouraged, he would rub his hands together and, while chuckling darkly, say “Yes, continue to write like a fourth grader. My, my, what fun we will having revising this.”

Okay, so I don’t actually hear voices in my head except for Monday mornings. But my point remains. When you’re writing, revel in the fact that your writing is sloppy, poorly planned and pretty much worthless. The fun is getting to go back and make your novel into something worthwhile. But, in the meantime, simply put those words onto the page and be confident that you’re going to come back and fix it later. This part is mostly having trust and confidence in yourself, just like you have confidence today that in a month and a half you’ll have a full novel no matter what the cost.

6: Donate

No, I wasn’t paid to suggest you donate to NaNoWriMo. I also confess that I’ve yet to do it myself. Nonetheless, statistics show (vague statistics that I’ve only heard mentioned and never actually seen) that donors have a higher success rate than those who don’t donate. The idea is that once you’ve donated, you’re more invested in NaNoWriMo and your project, and you have a greater appreciation for the big picture of NaNo, not just your own project. So, uh, here’s a button for that.


I actually plan on donating myself this year, and would encourage everyone with a few extra dollars to do so as well. After all, the only reason you heard about NaNoWriMo was because of the early donations and sacrifices made years and years ago. And if you use the NaNo website, you get a little angel halo around your profile picture, which is way cooler than it sounds.

Hopefully, some of these ideas will help get you guys through the coming November. Just because your family and friends aren’t on board doesn’t mean you’re all alone. In fact, you should be getting the most help from, well, yourself.

We don’t describe things anymore.

‘Words cannot describe…’

I know you’ve heard this phrase before. Hell, you’ve probably used it a few times. I know I have.

I hate this phrase because it’s a blatant lie. Words are powerful and descriptive beyond what we’ve even accomplished with them so far. It’s one thing to use this in everyday speech, but to used this phrase in any piece of creative literature is a serious crime. We are writers. Our job is to describe things. We need to reach into the mortar between the bricks and show our readers the texture, we need to illustrate the way each cherry blossom falls to the ground, we need to take them to Venice and let them smell it for themselves.

In fact, I rarely see that in writing these days, either published or personal. For the most part, artists seem to describe things in vague, simple ways. Words like ‘amazingly, extremely, incredibly, unbelievably, fantastic, unimaginable (unimaginable? Really?)’

The list goes on and on, and sometimes they get a little more creative and use words like ‘breathtaking’ and ‘riveting’. These words are the constant victims of hyperbole, and are used far too often to excuse the writer from actually describing something. Most of the time, when I read something more ‘modern’ I am left with a very vague idea of what the artist was trying to say, with some generic images floating in my head as my brain struggles to understand what exactly was so ‘amazing’ about the scene sprawled out before the main character.

If Dante had really wanted to, he could have summed up Hell in one word. ‘Horrifying’. And that would actually be a pretty accurate summation of the place he created. But Dante decided instead to take us, circle by circle, torture my torture, down to the very bottom of hell.  Try to paint the Aurora Borealis, try to make the reader truly understand the awe they might feel if they actually saw a fleet of airships flying over the city.

Using the phrase ‘words cannot describe’ is an excuse for hyperbole. With enough time, with enough words and with enough imagination, you can describe anything.

Next time you write something, think of your reader as being blind, because they truly cannot see the world you’ve created in your head. If you want them to think it’s simply ‘incredible’ than tell them that, but the chances are much greater that you want them to understand why it’s incredible, and therefore you must describe to them, piece by piece, what your world looks like and how it works.