So with NaNoWriMo coming up, and everyone getting excited and feeling good about it, I thought I might write up a few tips since a lot of my writer friends are new to it this year. (NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, for those of you who are super new to this.)

1. Keep your goals low. That sounds like an odd thing to say when NaNo is all about pushing yourself and getting a lot done, but here’s the reason. On the website, they keep track of your writing goals with a graph (which I’ve posted here from 2017 so you newbies could see). It’s awesome to have that visual, and it’s an amazing feeling when you can look at it and see that you’re blowing your goals out of the water.

I did that for 2017. For my first ever NaNo in April, I set my goal to 50k because that’s what everyone else was doing, and I happened to be in a really good place with my story, so I ended up pulling 73. It felt SO good. For the next one in July, I set my goal to 80k, and life got in the way and I barely pulled 50. Super disappointing!

Looking back, I’m scolding myself for being disappointed. Writing 50k in a month is a huge accomplishment! So why did I come to the end of July feeling depressed about it? Because I had set my initial goal too high. I didn’t meet that goal, and it made me feel bad about myself, and took away all the joy of the accomplishments I did still make. I was so focused on the wordcounts and my sorry-looking graph, that couldn’t see my 50k for what it was: progress.

So when you go in there to set your goal, think about how much you think you could write, or how much you would like to write, and then set your goal for 10k lower than that (or 1k lower, for those of us with smaller goals). It’s always better to surprise yourself with success than to disappoint yourself with failure.

2. Don’t compare yourself to the other writers in the group, at least not on a hardcore level. One of the things I’ve learned — which, if you’re newer to the more serious side of writing, you’ll see what I mean real fast — is that every writer has their own pace. I tend to be on the slower side of writing. I write BIG, but I take my time with it. I choose my words carefully, and for me, it’s more about really getting into the emotions of the scene, than it is about actual word counts. When we have word wars during NaNo, other writers are pulling 2 and 3k in an hour, and I’m there with my 600 words. But they’re good words and I’m confident in them, and that’s way more important to me than sheer numbers.

My close friend Rebekah DeVall and I have the best time throwing shade during NaNo, and we love getting competitive with each other. I call her the Flash Flood Writer because she’s the one who can breeze through 100k in a month EASY (and in fact, she actually pulled 200k in a month one time. I know, she’s insane.) but I’m just not that fast. We both write AMAZING stories, but our processes and our pacing are just very different.

Word counts are good because they keep you on track and give you something to go for, but they’re not everything. Keep your eyes on your actual progress, and congratulate yourself for everything, and I mean everything, including a good session of editing where you only added a handful of words, or even a good hour where you just sat and read through your recent pieces and took mental notes and didn’t write a thing. Any time you touch your writing in any form, it’s progress.

3. DON’T STRESS IT. *furiously circles this line with a red pen* Writing is a career and a lot of us take it very seriously and want to make a life from it, and that’s a great place to be. But at the end of the day, we’re only human. We hit rough patches or writer’s block or sometimes life just gets in the way, and thats okay. Some of you are wives and mothers and don’t have the luxury of copious amounts of quiet time like us singles do. Give yourself mercy for that. Just chill, do what you can every day, and remember that everything is progress, even on the days you only brainstormed character development in your head while you cleaned the house or changed a dirty diaper.

My scenes always come out with the highest quality when I’m the most relaxed with them. When I push myself too hard and start stressing about word counts and deadlines, my writing suffers horribly.

In short, girls, don’t kill yourself. Challenge yourself, but don’t push too hard, and most of all, just have FUN with it and write the best that you can. Set yourself up so that when you come to the end of April, you can look back and be truly proud of the progress you made, whatever that looks like for you. In the end, if you choose to write from a place of enjoyment and relaxation as opposed to a place of stress and pressure, your resulting words will speak for themselves.