How to Get Through NaNoWriMo

Because you can. You can win! Writing advice is never for everyone, but here are the three things that have allowed me to go from a sometimes writer to an every day writer.

1. “Butt in chair, hands on keyboard.” The best writing advice ever, courtesy of the amazing minds who do the Writing Excuses podcast.

I’m already seeing a lot of things like (make sure you read this in an Eeyore voice), “I ran out of ideas. Guess I’d better quit.”  Come on, people!


A lot of people may disagree with me, but there’s no such thing as a muse. All of us run out of steam, it just happens. The thing that separates writers who finish projects from writers who don’t isn’t talent or luck or even ideas, it’s drive and work ethic. We may not all get published, but we can all finish our work! This goes for you people who get a few days in and want to trash your idea for something new. DON’T DO IT! Push through! All first drafts are pieces of junk! Which leads me to my next favorite thing:

2. While writing the sequel to the Newbery Honor-winning Princess Academy, author Shannon Hale tweeted:  “Writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”  

Beautiful! Wise! First drafts, including the one you’re writing now, are nothing but piles of blobby idea sand.

When I started writing, I labored under the delusion that I wasn’t going to be like those writers who wrote ten plus drafts of hundred thousand word novels.


Right? We lead busy lives. A lot of us work and parent full-time, and that’s not to mention maintaining a house and not internally combusting from stress. My first draft was going to be so great it would hardly need to be edited! Everything would be right and in its proper place! Perfection would pour from my fingers!

Ha. Sworn, the story I’m currently querying agents about, looks nothing like its first incarnation. Probably 5% of the prose I wrote in my first draft made it into the final, polished version (that may be extreme because it was my first novel, I’m not sure). I don’t say that to be depressing; I say it because it’s okay that our first drafts need to be burned with fire!  First drafts are for ideas. Leave yourself some notes, but let them suck and let it go.

3. There will be casualties.

My house hasn’t been completely clean since I really started writing. Sometimes my kids scream and run amok. Sometimes they watch too many movies. If you’re serious about getting published, writing is a job. Treat it like one. We’ve already established that we’re busy people. To make time for writing, something good may have to be sacrificed. Your house may end up looking like mine (the horror). You may have to say no to a date.

Ryan Gosling writing

Ryan Gosling will wait for you.

You may lose an hour of sleep every night. If you really want this, look at your life. Sometimes we’re in a place where we truly can’t give any more, but a lot of us can find that extra hour. You have to make writing a priority.

Like I said, this advice isn’t for everyone, but it’s gotten me through three manuscripts (including one NaNoWriMo win) so far. We can do it! Keep going!

About Caitlyn McFarland

Mom of three girls, writer of fantasy novels.
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2 Responses to How to Get Through NaNoWriMo

  1. Pingback: NaNoWriMo 2013 – Reckless Abandon — Zane McKenzie

  2. Julie says:

    Well, if Ryan believes in me,then I’m good.
    (Great advice!)

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