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  • Writer's pictureMaria Berejan

How to Win NaNoWriMo in 18 Days


Know far in advance that you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year. In fact, know it from the second you finish the last one. Writing just doesn’t work as well during non-NaNo time.


Find out in the middle of house hunting (in May) that Night of Writing Dangerously tickets are on sale. You've never been, but always wanted to go. It sounds like a magical night full of literary wonder; a fundraiser where you get to put on fancy clothes and race like crazy to finish 50k, ring the winner's bell, and get the winner's crown.


Push that purchase button faster than you’ve pushed any button before in your life. Throw money at the screen, and when that doesn’t work try and figure out how to insert your credit card into your phone. Your boyfriend gives you weird looks and asks if you’re ok, but you just stare at him like the half-awake monkey you are. Whatever, you’ve got your ticket in the end.


Soon after, find out that this will be the last Night of Writing Dangerously ever. Try not to cry.


Get so excited about The Most Magical Writing Time Of The Year that you sign up for 4 overlapping writing classes come September, and in a state of pure euphoria conclude that it’s totally ok that two of them go into November. You’re gonna be a writing machine, you tell yourself. It’s gonna be amazing.


Have a full time job, and then find more things to do. Get to the point where you’re going to writing classes 6 days a week and getting home at 11 just to crash. Sneak in readings during bathroom breaks at work. It almost feels like Nano, but the magic isn’t there just yet.


Pre-order your winner's t-shirt before NaNo even fully begins. There's no going back now.


Leave work on the 30th with everything done, committed, and functioning bug free. Hope nothing big happens to your projects for the next month. Remember with a shudder last year’s NaNo filled with overtime. Never again, you tell yourself.


Get to work on Oct 31st and find everything dying around you. Somehow, fix it all. (Phew, crisis averted).


Go to the NaNo kickoff party and pound out a full day’s worth of writing - a normal day, that is. But your goal is double that.


Write every day.


Get to day 6 of obsessively reflecting on last-year-you’s progress vs yours. You don’t remember it being this hard. You only remember the euphoria, the breakthroughs, when everything flowed out of your fingertips and onto the screen. Was it always this sluggish, like dragging yourself across rusty nails to produce every word? Will it always be like this? You hope not.


Compare yourself to your 4 writing friends who are also trying to get to 50k at NoWD. They’re keeping on track with the accelerated goal. You’re lagging behind. You’re 10k words behind them on day 8. But you’ve written 16k.


Keep writing.


Go to Portland for a book festival with your friends. Write less than you’d have liked on the 4-hour train ride, but it’s enough. Enjoy the day, the sunshine, the friendship surrounded by all things literary and a whole city of people that have gathered together to celebrate writing. This right here - this is the magic you’ve waited for.


Go to your favorite writing haunt on a Sunday and sit there for 7 hours. Inhale copious amounts of drinking chocolate. Write over 7k - your best day EVER, jumping from under 22k words to 29k on the dot.


Catch up to your accelerated daily goal on the 12th day - for the first time, you’re on track with 33k words.


Finally the day arrives - leave work early and head to the airport. You’re heading for San Francisco! It’s day 16 and you’re at 41k words, leaving 9k words to go in 2 days which is all sorts of daunting, but the day’s not over yet.


Sit on the floor while your flight is delayed and crank out words with your friends. You’re still behind but not by much. They talk about writing on the plane, and the stakes are high now, the writing spirit infectious. It’s not your style, normally, but if they’re gonna do it, so are you.


Get to San Fran after a 2 hr flight spent purely writing. Find out the other girls slacked a bit - now, for the first time this year you’re ahead! The excitement is real.


Check in to your amazingly decked out Christmas-themed Victorian boarding school turned haunted hotel. Go have dinner at a restaurant built in an abandoned rail car. Sit by the fire with the other girls in authentic Victorian couches and write until you just can’t write anymore. It’s the end of the 16th night, and you’ve made it to 46k. You’re all neck-in-neck, but you’re in the lead. You’ve got this.


Spend the last day before NoWD wandering around Japan Town, buying random nothings and trying all sorts of snacks with friends. Spend breaks writing together at the hotel, all clustered around the fireplace with Christmas decor all around. In the evening, attend writing events and (admittedly) feel kind of cool at knowing the awesome writing friends you know. Make more friends. Go party it up with the out-of-towners. Go drink posh drinks at speakeasies. Come back to the hotel happy and buzzed and satiated, and write a bit more while discussing the possibility of the fireplace being haunted. You’re relaxed. The writing isn’t easy, but it’s making it onto the page with little fight. You don’t care about the quality right now. The story is progressing and that’s all that matters. You end the day 1500 words shy of 50k.


Wake up on the day of NoWD with no reservations besides worrying that you’re writing too fast. It’s cocky, yes, but you have reason to be. You’re less than a normal day’s writing away from your prize. Your friends are all close behind you. You all write a bit in the morning, but not much; you want to finish 50k at the event, not before. You need to leave yourself a good amount of words to go, otherwise it feels like cheating, so you all go out and do non-writing-related activities for a few hours, until it’s time to get ready.


You all don your ball gowns and your makeup, pose with the massive Christmas tree and Victorian decor in the lounge, and then you’re off to the event you’ve all been waiting for. You feel like royalty getting into your Uber chariot, passersby eyeing your gowns. You feel confident that tonight you will be queens; this is just a taste of what’s to come.


At the ballroom you enter a new world. There are beautifully-clad people, both familiar and not. You play an icebreaker, talking to people every which way. After a while you feel a shift in the energy, an eager buzzing, a small compression towards closed doors. You’ve separated from your group, and you try to make your way to them now, hoping to sit together, but before you can the doors open and a dignified stampede of literary finery pushes you along into the new room. Round tables are organized everywhere, the largest in the center having a buffet of candy. You don’t have a plan anyway, so you gravitate towards the sugar, and spot your friends at a table right next to it. They’ve saved you a spot.


You get situated and smile and nod and make small talk with those around you, all the while wondering when the writing will start. You set up your laptop, realize you don’t have the wifi password yet, and wonder why you didn’t think to make your document readable offline so you could start writing anyway.


Everyone settled down, the hosts give their speeches, the wifi password is discovered, and then you write. Others around you write too, though some mill by the candy buffet. You try to tune them out, tune everyone out, and focus on your story. You check your word count every few minutes, because you know you’re close, so close. Nobody’s won yet. You didn’t think you would - could - be the first winner, but every moment without a bell ring makes that a stark possibility. And then, suddenly, you check your word count one more time and you see the magic number: 50,006. It’s 5:45pm.


Your head shoots up, your fingers still. Around you people are still writing. Your friend notices your hesitation. “Did you do it?” She asks, and you simply nod. “Hurry, go! What are you waiting for!” she says, and up you go towards the stage, dodging trailing dresses and bags and chair legs. You eye everyone around you, wondering if someone will pop up at the last minute and beat you still, but all heads are bent down. You get to the stage, eyeing the bell, and you wonder if you’re supposed to ring it from the ground or climb up. You take a deep breath and figure you only have one chance to do this anyway, so you grab that bell, bolt for the side stairs, and climb up to the stage. The coordinators are noticing now, people’s heads are turning up. You try not to trip on your gown and almost do anyway, but it doesn’t matter because you take that bell and ring it like crazy, a smile on your face so large the cheshire cat would be jealous. The room descends into applause and cheers for the first victor of the night, a crown is placed upon your head and officially, you’ve done it: you’ve won NaNoWriMo in 18 days.

Hit 50k on day 18, then took a small break, and wrote a bit more at the end of the month to officially finish my first novel!


One by one, your friends all win, and soon you’re a table of literary queens enjoying the night. You write a bit more, but mostly you talk and laugh and feel incredibly lucky to be there. You head to the hotel later and spend ages on the old Victorian couches reliving the night because you don’t want it to be over just yet.

A table of literary queens


Spend the last day sightseeing in San Fran, and head home that night, all of you wearing your crowns and replying "yes, all of us wrote books this month!" to curious passersby. It’s been a crazy whirlwind of a month so far, and it’s not over yet, but for a moment you just sit back and enjoy it. You bask in the experience, the feelings, and the tightened friendships, both new and old, that came about from participating in NaNo. Every year brings a new adventure, and you wouldn’t trade it for the world. What a rush it’s been.

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