Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Tools of the Trade

8:00 AM Posted by Tara 6 comments
All you really need to write a novel is something to write with... and maybe an idea or two. But ask any Wrimo what's in their survival kit, and they'll list off twenty or thirty things that they can't live without in November. So, what should you put in yours?

Writing tools

All the tools in the world won't help you if you don't have some way to get your words onto paper!

A computer, laptop, or netbook.

Most novelists do their work on a computer of some sort—but your hardware matters less than your software, and there are many writing programs to choose from. Notepad, which comes equipped on all Windows computers, is by far the simplest; its plain text environment lets you concentrate on the words, not the formatting. FocusWriter also offers a distraction-free platform with the added benefits of theme customization, daily goals, and document statistics. For a more traditional writing experience, there are the old standards, Microsoft Word and Pages for MacGoogle Docs has much of the same functionality, but is free to use and lives on the cloud instead of your hard drive. If you thrive on organization, try Scrivener, a total project manager useful in every stage of the writing process (and my personal choice). If you don't want to purchase Scrivener or don't plan to use it's unique features, yWriter is a free alternative with a similar organizational structure.

A smartphone or tablet.

In this golden age of mobile devices, you'll probably be doing at least some of your writing on a smartphone or tablet. Both Microsoft Word and Google Docs have mobile functionality, and apps like Evernote and Simplenote also sync your documents across all of your devices, so you can literally carry your manuscript around in your pocket. If you're using a tablet as your primary writing device, you might consider buying a bluetooth keyboard so you aren't tapping on a screen all month.

Low-tech alternatives.

If you have trouble resisting the backspace key or you have a habit of falling into the black hole of the Internet, going low-tech might help keep you focused on your novel. A typewriter has neither a backspace key nor the Internet, but does offer the familiarity of a computer keyboard—along with that wonderfully nostalgic typewriter sound. Or you could write in longhand with the old classics, pen and paper. Writing in longhand looks and feels more like a rough draft, so there's less pressure to write well and more freedom to let your words flow

There is, of course, one major disadvantage to going low-tech for Nanowrimo: neither a typewriter nor a notebook gives you a word count. You can get an approximation by manually counting the words on ten pages and using the average as a word count per page going forward.

Reference tools

You have your outline and character profiles at the ready, but those likely aren't the only materials you'll need to reference throughout November. And since your time is better spent writing than researching, ready whatever extras you might need before November begins. Here are some suggestions:

  • A thesaurus, either physical or online
  • Relevant reference books or websites
  • Lists of first and last names that suit your setting, or bookmarked naming websites:
  • Information on real-world settings:
  • A glossary of words or phrases in other languages you may use
  • A glossary of anything unique to your story (phrases, foods, species, religions, technology, etc.)
  • Inspirational images (settings, clothing, weapons, animals, weather, etc.)
  • YouTube videos of things you need to describe but have never seen yourself

Miscellaneous tools

These things aren't necessary for writing a novel... but they sure do help!

Important basics:


  • Hot beverages (coffee, tea, cocoa, apple cider)
  • Smoothies
  • Healthy snacks (popcorn, crackers, pretzels, trail mix, granola bars, cereal, fruit)
  • Unhealthy snacks (chocolate, candy, cookies, chips, beef jerky)
  • Quick meals (soup, sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, frozen foods)

Comfort items:

  • Blankets
  • Comfortable clothes
  • Thick socks
  • Slippers
  • Fingerless gloves
  • Pillow
  • Space heater
  • Mug warmer
  • Scented candles, incense, or oil burner
  • Writing totem

The most important tools of all

The most important tools you'll need to write a novel in a month can't be bought in a store or installed on your computer or smartphone.

Time to not write.

When you're trying to write a novel in a month, it can often seem like you have no choice but to write all day, every day, just to keep up with your daily targets. But sometimes the best thing you can do for your novel is to step away from it, and give your overworked mind some time to rest and recharge. Every day, spend at least half an hour doing something you enjoy that has nothing to do with writing, like sharing a meal with your family, playing a video game, or catching up with your YouTube subscriptions. You'll go back to your novel refreshed and refocused.

You should also take short breaks between longer writing sessions.  For every hour you write, take a ten-minute break to stretch your legs and clear your head. It's easier to focus on something for shorter periods of time, and giving yourself a few minutes of freedom now and then helps you resist the temptation to stray when you should be writing. This is precisely why word sprints are so effective.

Support from friends, family, and the community.

I've already discussed the importance of support in an earlier post , but it bears mentioning again. Writing is a solitary endeavor, but the bumpy road of month-long noveling can be made much smoother with the encouragement and faith of others. When you're beating yourself up over a particularly abysmal page or for falling behind on your word count, you need a positive voice to balance out all that negativity. Your victories will seem greater when you share them with those who are rooting for you, and when your own excitement over hitting a milestone is reflected back at you tenfold, it will send you flying towards the finish line.

If your friends don't understand your desire to write a novel, or your family thinks your time could be better spent elsewhere, you will always find support in the Nanowrimo community. We know the struggle better than anyone, and we know how far a little reassurance can go. We are here for you. If you haven't already, get on the forums and find some writing buddies!

Determination to reach your goal.

When it comes down to it, nobody can write your novel but you, and all the encouragement in the world won't matter if you decide to stop writing. If you want to succeed in Nanowrimo, you need to make the choice to do so, and do whatever it takes to reach your goal. Sometimes that means you will be writing all day, every day. Sometimes it means sacrificing sleep, or a night out with your friends, or that new book or movie that inconveniently releases right in the middle of November. You need to make your novel a priority, and you need to give it everything you've got. Saying you'll write a novel someday won't get that novel written; you have to sit down and do it. And there's no better time than now.

Get that toolbox ready!

Don't give yourself any excuse to put off writing the first words of your novel once the calendar flips over to November. Gather whatever you'll need now, whether it's a clear schedule, copious amounts of tea, or a couple of writing buddies. Get ready. Get set. We're almost there!

What's the most important item in your Nanowrimo toolbox? Leave a comment and let me know!


  1. "Time to not write."

    What if, say, you work all day long at a retreat house, and only get Mondays and every other Sunday off, and your hours look like 7:15am-8pm (sometimes 10pm, depending on desk duty)? What about then? I'm going to be pushing all of my free time into writing, I have too much time where I won't be able to.

    1. If you have very limited time to write during the week, then by all means, spend it writing. If you'll be using your days off to catch up or get ahead, however, that's when you'll want to take breaks. Sitting down and writing for, say, six hours straight will make your head spin! Schedule whatever other tasks you need to do on those days as breaks from your novel—write, take a shower, write, eat lunch, write, fold laundry. Though not ideal breaks, they'll still give your mind a chance to wind down and recharge.

      Being strapped for time can be a challenge, but it's a challenge you can absolutely overcome—and it's a proven fact that we're most productive when we're busy! Best of luck with your novel next month!

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