1. Just write. This is the most important one and, on the surface, it's the easiest one. However, it's more complex than most people think. I know the drill. Been there, done that. I can't write because I'm not inspired. I can't write because I don't have any good ideas. I can't write because I don't have time. Those are just three of the excuses I've used in the past, and I'm here to tell you they're nonsense. Really, they are. If you want to write, you have to put yourself in front of your keyboard or your pad and pen and you have to write words. Just write them. Don't worry about whether you're making mistakes or if your plot makes sense, just write.
The first year I did NaNoWriMo, way back in 2010, the novel I wrote was a hot mess. It's seriously unworkable, but that didn't make it any less valuable in the end, because it was the year I proved to myself that I could sit in front of my keyboard and bang out words, no matter how little I wanted to do so.
I think people underestimate how important it is to prove to yourself that you can do something. Even if you do it poorly, there's still a huge sense of accomplishment that goes along with completing a task you'd convinced yourself you couldn't complete.
2. Challenge yourself. When NaNo 2011 rolled around, I decided to mix things up a bit. Each year, I would pick a new genre and write a novel for it. My choice for that year was young adult dystopian, a genre I was pretty much 100% positive I couldn't pull off. The end result was Contributor, which is still one of my personal favorites. For NaNo 2012, I wrote a fantasy novel: Asleep. This year I'll be tackling new adult romance. The title is Starstruck, and I've sneakily included the cover for the book on my NaNo profile. Next year? I'm toying with trying out my hand at writing a mystery/suspense novel.
3. Have a routine. This isn't strictly necessary, but I find that establishing a routine gets me in the right frame of mind for writing. One year I drank pumpkin spice coffee every day during NaNoWriMo. I'm obsessive about the pumpkin spice, and that little treat gave me the incentive I needed to get working. I still associate pumpkin spice coffee with NaNo.
4. Reward yourself. I do a lot of bargaining with myself: If I write X number of words, I can play The Sims in the afternoon, or I can watch that movie I've been dying to see. Choose whatever works for you. Giving yourself rewards makes it easier to get motivated to get it done, and it feels good. Rather than drowning in guilt because you're fooling around when you should be writing, you can revel in the enjoyment of your reward while also feeling the warm glow of satisfaction at having met your goals for the day.
5. Prepare. Sometimes my prep is pretty extensive and at others it isn't. This will depend on your topic and how you write--I tend to be a pantser. This year I haven't done as much prep as in the past because my book will be contemporary. I have some basics down about my characters, and I have a rough sketch in my head of the setting. The previous two years, though, I did a lot more prep because I wrote dystopian and fantasy respectively. I did the world building ahead of time, outlined how the societies would work, wrote up character descriptions, etc. Getting this stuff done in advance means you can't come up with excuses not to write when you're in the swing of NaNo. You've done the groundwork, so all that's left is to put the words on the page.
6. Have fun and take risks. Throw in that outrageous plot element. Make your characters do something insane. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone. It'll keep you on your toes, make writing more interesting for you, and ultimately make your book better. Plus, imagine how great you'll feel when you pull off that crazy idea you want to try.
7. Do NOT give up. You'll reach a point where you feel like you've hit the wall. You're frazzled from caffeine overdose on top of a lack of sleep. You hate the plot twist you introduced ten pages ago, or your characters are giving you no end of grief, or you feel like you've completely lost the threads of your narrative. Yep, I've been there too. This is the hardest part about writing. The best thing you can do is push past it and fix it later. Giving up isn't going to make you feel good. As painful as forging ahead may be, you'll feel all that much larger a sense of accomplishment when you cross that finish line.
I'll be talking a lot about NaNo in the coming weeks, cheering on my fellow participants and describing my own trials and tribulations. One of the things I love most about NaNo is the community spirit. Writing can be a lonely endeavor, and I love that each November is when everyone is an author and I realize how alone I'm not.
If you'd like, add me as your NaNo writing buddy. I can never have too many of them. Best wishes and, most of all, happy writing!