I've gone through five NaNos and won three of them (almost four, finished a week late last year) and during that time, I've learned a great deal about the process so I'd like to share some of my knowledge with the general population of NaNoWriMo writers. And also offer myself a retrospective
It's the toughest one because during the process of writing, you start to learn about yourself and your approach and what works. Often times, you find out what really works just a bit too late. If you lost a year, don't worry and definitely try again!
My first, I started writing a book called Modrooko ("Blue eye") which was set in a universe with my first-ever novel. In the book, a young soldier was imprisoned and sent to a planet covered entirely in ice except for a circular area that was always exposed to its star. The idea was to punish these soldiers by exposing them to the icy harsh environment. Their only hope had been to travel to the "melted" area which was occupied by nomadic water tribes.
I could not get past five thousand words because I ran out of things to write. My first NaNoWriMo made me realize that I did not think things through at all.
I've always thought that I was a plotter but when I abandoned my plot during my 2nd NaNoWriMo, I realized that I can churn out 50K words pretty easily and in a coherent manner. This doesn't work for everyone. Figure out what works for you. It might be a tad too late but pre-writing (doing a test run short story / long story) helped me learn a lot about what works and doesn't for me. I thought I was a story architect, turns out I'm a gardener.
The best part of learning about this is that it takes a lot of stress out of the prep. As a (mostly) pantser, I can focus on world-building, writing down possible ideas, or go the other way and just read books instead. If I was a plotter, I would have spent my time plotting out the outline and being confident that it would help me.
Another thing to figure out is if you work better by sprinting to the finish line or taking your time and going slow and steady. There's a technique called "Reverse NaNoWriMo" that focuses on using that initial burst of inspiration and excitement to power through majority of the novel while leaving only a few words a day for the second half of the month. Does that work for you?
For me, I realized that if I keep a strict maximum limit (2K words) and force myself to stop when I reach that limit, I write better. Doing faster spikes exhausts me while keeping a limit usually leaves me wanting to write more which is what drives me the entire month.
Or, you know, you might be one of those people that can barely get to 1700 words a day and that's okay too. Nothing wrong with that! Just make sure you do what works for you best! :)
You gotta find your muse. Most of the time, my muse has been reading. Yeah. I tend to read very engaging books during NaNo. Reading always gets me writing. Last year, I read a lot of Murakami and my novel was really dark. Every time I turned a page in that book, I could hardly keep the book open because I wanted to run to my computer and knock out a few more words.
But your muse might be beautiful scenery so head on over to /r/earthporn or it might be music so get that playlist ready!
This year, I'm writing fantasy and you better believe that I have a few game and movie soundtracks ready to listen to. Here are a few recommendations I have:
I'm sure I've got a few more tips up my sleeve (like creating a routine, or keeping your writing program always open or whatever) but I hope what I shared with everyone will be helpful to at least one of you! :)