NaNoWri Writing tips by Zara West

Zara West’s NaNoWri Tips of the Day

~ Always Forward ~

The following writing tips are designed to help writers who are in the process of fast drafting their novels. Fast drafting is writing a set number of words in a set number of days such as what happens during National Novel Writing Month.

Getting Ready

Before you start fast drafting…

Know your genre. Read, read, read books similar to the one you are going to write. Writing a mystery? Read mysteries. Writing scifi. Read scifi. Here are more reasons to read: Why Writers Should Read   How to find these books? Go to a bookstore and figure out what shelf you book fits on. Read those books.

Have some sort of an outline prepared before you begin writing. Read more about that here: Fast Drafting Your Way to the End.

Know what will happen at the end – at least generally. This will keep you from getting too far off track as you write. Constantly ask yourself: If my characters do this, will it help them reach the ending I have imagined.

Daily Mental Set

Every day…

 Clear your writing space daily so there are no distractions i.e. no bills, undone work, or even interesting novels or how-to-write books within your field of vision.

Keep a note pad and pen beside your computer or in your writing space to jot down things you need to remember.

Do not read any fiction during fast drafting. It will cause you to compare your writing that that of a published author and make you feel defeated. Remember that a sloppy first draft is not a polished book.

Especially, do not look at any writing books or writing blogs. All that these will do is make you question everything you have just written, and you will lose the flow of your writing. Later, during the revision process you can use all the wonderful writing resources out there to help make your story better.

If you listen to music when you write, select a piece of music evocative of your story. When you sit down to write each day, play that piece first. Soon, just playing this piece will get your mental juices flowing.

Before writing anything, each day take a few minutes to visualize the scene in your mind, just like athletes visualize their performance in a sporting event.  Place yourself inside the setting. Move around and touch things. Imagine what smells, sights, tastes, and sounds surround you.

The Writing Process

As you write…

Never go back. Always go forward.

“There’s an old folk saying that goes: whenever you delete a sentence from your NaNoWriMo novel, a NaNoWriMo angel loses its wings and plummets, screaming, to the ground. Where it will likely require medical attention.”― Chris Baty

Find the state of flow. This requires you write fast. That is what will get you to the end. Type so fast that you are no longer thinking of the grammar or spelling. Just get the words down. Push yourself, and suddenly, you will find the words just pouring out. For me, the last third of the book just flies off my fingers I am so deep into the characters and story. When I hit the ending, it is full of emotion. You don’t get that if you are fussing around in the middle. Anything written can be fixed. But it has to be written first. Read more about flow here:  Discovering Flow 

Set a timer so you will not be distracted. During that time do nothing, absolutely  nothing, but write. Learn more about timers here: Word Trackers.

Reread the last two paragraphs you wrote the day before, and start writing.

Forgot something? Note it down on your pad, and keep writing. You will fix it in revision.

Do not delete. Changing a word or short sentence is fine. But do not delete paragraphs or scenes. Not sure about something, use the xing out tool or highlight it with the highlighting tool. You will fix it in the revision.

What you just wrote doesn’t fit where it is? Cut and paste it at the end of your current draft. Highlight it and go back to the scene you were working on.

Don’t know a fact. Mark that spot and write on. How to do this? Leave a space and highlight it with the highlighting tool. During revision these spots will stick out. Or insert a two letter combo like vm or qx that doesn’t occur in English.  During revision you can do a word find to bring up these spots.

Don’t know what to write next? Use the W-Plotting method to plan what comes next.


Words stop flowing?

When you get stuck or have a momentary writing block, pull out your pad and paper and think of at least 6-10 different bad or stupid or foolish choices the protagonist might next i.e. make a wrong turn, befriend the wrong person, ignore a clue, say the wrong thing, etc. Why do this? Brainstorming at least 6-10 new ideas gets the creative flow going. Brainstorming bad choices adds needed tension and conflict.

Successful Sprinting

Does it sometimes feel like what you write during a speed sprint is goobly gook? To end up with something that can be added right into your draft consider choosing a limited focus for the sprint.

 Write Description

Write a setting description or a character description or a dialogue or a dark moment or a moment of awe. You may end up writing more than you need for that place in the story. But hopefully later, you may find you can sprinkle the rest into other locations.

Write Deep Into A Character

You can also take a character who is giving you trouble and write a rant or emotional outburst. This worked best if you write it in first person present. If you decide to use this later, the tense can be changed during revision.

Write Action

Sprinting is ideal for capturing chase scenes and fight scenes or any moment of fast-paced action. These type of scenes call for short and incomplete sentences and plenty of emotion. Sprinting will help you accomplish that.

Why do sprint with a focus? It cuts down on the wandering off track problem. It also lets you go deeper into description, character or plot actions than you might if you were writing at your normal speed.


Your fast draft will be messy and full of errors.

That’s okay…

Everything can be fixed! In fact, once you have a beautifully written novel and you send it out to an agent or editor – and it’s accepted – they are going to make you change whole bunches of things anyway. I had to cut 20,000 words and 3 characters from one of my novels that is currently being considered by a publisher.

Looking for more writing tips?

Check out other posts on this blog and on my Zara West Romance web page.

Take an online course with me.

Be looking for my Fast Drafting Your Way to the End book being published next year.