My NaNoWriMo Survival Kit

Frighteningly, National Novel Writing Month is only two and a bit days away. Starting Monday at midnight, us NaNoWriMo scribblers have 30 days to get 50,000 words out of our over-caffeinated brains and into our word processing programs, preferably in some sort of coherent order. I’m using it as the ultimate deadline in my quest to finish my first draft of Novel No.2 this side of Christmas. And although my best-of-intentions NaNoWriMo prep work got bumped this week for some really good books I just had to read (and The Apprentice, both the TV3 and BBC versions), I have managed to assemble my NaNoWriMo Survival Kit.

1. A clicky pen

I do all my writing on computer (I don’t even write shopping lists) but I have to have a clicky pen to hand at all times. It helps me think. Plus the incessant clicking noise keeps everyone else away so it guarantees solitude, and should a book deal suddenly materialize, I have a pen to hand to sign it. Bonus!

2. Alison Well’s NaNoWriMo post

The internet is awash with blog posts, tweets and telegrams telling you everything to need to know about how to do/survive/ignore NaNoWriMo – and then some. Don’t bother reading those. Instead, just read this: Alison Well’s pre-NaNoWriMo post, “How To Do NaNoWriMo If You Don’t Have the Time.

3. My Mac

I love my computer, which is small and light enough to take anywhere, and has keys that don’t make an extremely annoying clacking noise when you hit them. I’m just going to have to cut the umbilical to my wireless internet connection or we won’t get anything done…

4. New music

I have something ridiculous like 2,000+ songs on my iTunes, but somehow I only ever end up listening to the same 50 or so. With them constantly on repeat, this can get pretty boring after a while and constantly pressing the Skip Forward button can really interfere with the old word count, so for some serious writing to get done, new music is required. This NaNoWriMo I shall be listening mostly to Speak Now by Taylor Swift, Battle Studies by John Mayer (as I haven’t burnt that out quite yet), No Line on the Horizon by U2 (skipping “Breathe” which I have worn out already) and whatever songs from the new Take That album I can, um, source online.

5. More coffee than I can feasibly drink in November

It was a lucky coincidence that I got to go coffee-shopping in the States recently, and brought home four bags – and four blends – to last me through the entire NaNoWriMo slog. Tip: now is not the time to try a new espresso blend. Stick to mild mediums. Coffee-drinking is pretty much essential to my writing, and if I’m drinking a lot of it then I don’t want that horrible coffee aftertaste that sticks around after a really strong cup. Medium weaker blends are best for prolonged bursts of creativity, trust me. (And yes, it’s in my fridge. Opened bags of coffee stay fresh longer this way.)

6. My novel’s “bible”

Here’s how I keep track of what I’m writing: I take a ream of A4 paper and count out as many pages as I have chapters or scenes. My novel is also divided into sections, so I print out a title page for each of these. I also make a fancy cover using some clip art. Then I take all my notes (printed out on A4 too), put the chapters/scenes separated by their section title pages behind them, put the cover on the front and bind the whole thing using a large bulldog clip. It then becomes a “book” I can flick through, but because it’s only held together by a clip I can add to or subtract from it at any time. When a chapter/scene is written, I scribble a summary of it on its relevant page, and write any notes that have arisen out of it (i.e. “Kevin mentions Tom; this needs to be addressed the next time Kevin appears”) on the page representing the chapter ahead that the note refers to. Then when it comes to start a new chapter, I simply open its corresponding page in the “bible” and all the notes and reminders I need are there waiting.

(I realize this sounds complicated but you get what I mean, right?)

7. A clear desk

If there was a stray paperclip within reach I would play with it – that’s how easily distracted I am. Therefore a clear desk with no potential playthings is an absolute must if I’m to get anything done, a desk that looks the exact opposite of the one pictured above. (Which is my actual desk just before I left for holidays. It only looks this bad on weekends, I swear…)

8. Inspiration

Whenever I feel like I can’t be arsed, I have a flick through some of my favorite writing books: Wannabe a Writer? by Jane Wenham-Jones, On Writing by Stephen King, The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner and How Not To Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to Avoid At All Costs If You Ever Want to Get Published by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark. I’ll also be using Save the Cat by Blake Snyder for plotting tips, as always.

(Click here to read about my favorite How To… writing books.)

9. A novelty mug

Any excuse.

10. Enthusiasm

This may wane by the end of next week, but right now I’m fired up.  50,000 words by the end of November? You betcha!

If you’re looking for another NaNoWriMo buddy and you’d like the opportunity to scream and shout at me when I get stuck around 11,000 words, I’m cathryanhoward on


7 thoughts on “My NaNoWriMo Survival Kit

  1. jschancellor says:

    What a fantastic blog, I’m so glad I found you! Your sense of humor is more than a little refreshing and exactly what I need these days. Thanks!

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