Nanowritetips: 30 Writing Tips Inspired by NaNoWriMo

Throughout November I posted craft, structural, and speed writing tips on Twitter and Tumblr to aid those at work on a novel. Now that National Novel Writing Month is over, I present the complete list:

  1. Hook readers from the very first sentence. Keep them hooked with questions, tension, character, fascination, stakes.
  2. Don’t frontload with information. The story should move: start with action, and then quietly weave background throughout the opening chapters.
  3. “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” –Kurt Vonnegut
  4. Fewer words pack greater punch.
  5. In high school, my writing class had to describe the sound of snow being stepped on without using the word crunch. Best answer? “Like a camel licking a cactus.” I STILL remember it. Lesson learned: when describing things, make vivid and unusual comparisons.
  6. Verbs and nouns over adjectives. Was it sour, or did it kick like a mule?
  7. If you want to get the story out, say goodbye to your delete key.
  8. Highlight and use placeholders for details you haven’t figured out yet. You can come back to them in revisions.
  9. The first draft is just for you. Don’t worry about plot holes, inconsistencies, weak prose, wrong accents. Just write.
  10. Getting away from the screen (for a shower, laundry, walk, etc.) is a great way to reach solutions when you get stuck.
  11. What’s on the line? There should be negative consequences if your protagonist doesn’t get what he/she wants.
  12. When worried about bending the rules or doing something unconventional in your story, remember this: “When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing. This is great. People who know what they are doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can.” —Neil Gaiman in his 2012 Keynote Address, aka the Make Good Art speech
  13. Write in the active, not passive voice. “Pandora opened the box.” Not “The box was opened by Pandora.”
  14. “End each chapter on a cliff.” See Writer’s Digest for more.
  15. Say things as directly as possible. (See: fewer words, tip #4)
  16. Things to avoid: clichés. Adverbs. Gratuitous exclamation points. Drugs. That boy your momma warned you about.
  17. Every sentence has a rhythm. Mind them, and arrange and vary to make music. Read This sentence has five words for more.
  18. Increase the stakes as the story progresses to keep readers turning pages.
  19. It’s easier to edit plop than nothing.
  20. Sensory details make vivid, sometimes lasting impressions. (See: “camel licking a cactus,” tip #5.)
  21. “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” –Elmore Leonard
  22. Word count slump? Try writing in bursts. Timed sessions of 45 minutes – 1 hour are manageable and bring focus.
  23. Hold the reader’s attention. Things that don’t: excessive description, asides, internal thought, showing of research.
  24. Simple is best.
  25. Every scene, line, and word should serve a purpose.
  26. Short sentences heighten tension.
  27. Dialogue can also be used to imply what’s happening and things that aren’t being said.
  28. “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.” –Stephen King
  29. Things that illicit a physical reaction from readers—laughter, tears, a wrinkled nose—are usually signs of a job well done.
  30. “The only universal rule is to write. Get it done, and do what works for you.” –Anne Rice

Feel free to add your own in the comments!

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16 thoughts on “Nanowritetips: 30 Writing Tips Inspired by NaNoWriMo

  1. Excellent tips Julie. Can’t argue with many of them. However as I’ve found, NaNo is not the occasion to absorb writing advice. In my case it is just eyeballs out writing i.e. #19 & 30. Certainly your list is a ‘must bookmark’.
    Apart from #28. Maybe you could expand on this sometime. In regular writing I’d use a thesaurus regularly to avoid repeating the same nouns or adjectives. Though no doubt Mr King has a bigger brain than me 🙂

    • Not gonna lie, I have Thesaurus.com in my toolbar! But I do think King’s point is excellent in terms of the first word one you think of usually being the right one. I’ve definitely experienced occasions where all the words I tried to replace one word with fell short because they were not the intuitive word. Sometimes a little extra creative legwork (paring down the overused word in other places, for example) can eliminate the issue!

    • Hahaha, I knew that one would be contentious! Like I’ve just said to Roy, I’m a bit of a hypocrite on that myself since Thesaurus.com is right in my toolbar, but I like King’s point for suggesting the intuitive word is the right one, because that is what I have usually found in my writing.

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