National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short) is just around the corner. This can be an exciting time, a way to get a 50,000-word novel completed, or part of one completed. For those of you who haven’t done it, the task may seem a little daunting. Three veterans who have done NaNoWri give their take on why you should consider doing it, what you can expect while doing it, and some helpful tips and tricks to get you through NaNoWriMo.
What is NaNoWriMo?
But first, a brief recap on what NaNoWriMo is. Simply put, it’s a writing marathon. It is an annual write-a-thon that takes place in November each year. Writers sign up on the NaNoWriMo website, and pledge to write 50,000 words of fiction between November 1 and 30. This may form the first rough draft of a manuscript, or process work towards a draft. The NaNoWriMo site is full of useful information: you can choose to attend online or in-person meet-ups, join a region, or a forum, read pep talks, or visit the resource hub, pop in on the occasional virtual event hosted by NaNo HQ, make friends in the writers forums. You can also track your word count on the site and follow writer buddies and see how much they are writing—and be inspired by them, or become competitive.
In other words, you may have to actually do the physical writing alone, but you’re definitely not alone as far as community is concerned. If you reach the goal of 50,000 words in November, you’re considered a “winner” wih access to a special winner page with sponsor offers and more.
It was founded by Chris Baty accidently in 1999. It’s a non-profit based in the United States. From an original 21 participants, its popularity has exploded since then, and is also now a worldwide phenomenon. In 2022 a total of 413,295 people participated in it. Here is more information on NaNoWrioMo from our Now Novel archives.
So let’s go on the journey of what you can expect.
Why do it?
Coral Sands is a volunteer municipal liaison for the USA: Illinois: Elsewhere Region. With a BA in English, she writes between two jobs. This year marks her seventh Nanoversary. She has won four times, while with the others she had fun trying to get as close as she could. It was while doing her second NaNo that she finished her first fully written first draft.
Her reasons for doing it are that:
It motivates me to write a little bit everyday day which is great motivation, but there is also a fantastic community of writers just like me that I can lean on when I need support. Writing can be a lonely process. I find I get more writing done during sprints and word crawls.
Meanwhile, one of our Now Novel coaches, Nerine Dorman, an author of science fiction and fantasy novels, tried it “when I was still a bright-shiny newbie author, I tried NaNoWriMo a few times. I failed every time.” Years later, she says,
I did prove to myself that I could write a 96k-word novel in one month. I wrote 1k words in the morning, 1k at lunch, and another 1k after dinner. It was wild, I tell you. I have never done something this sustained again. It was exhausting—so unless you’re treating writing as a job, it’s so easy to get burnout if you don’t pace yourself.
So, doing 50,000 words (and more) in a month is do-able, as Dorman says, and as the figures from past NaNo years prove.
‘It’s a completely crazy things to do,” agrees Crystal Warren, who is primarily a poet and children’s book author. She works for Amazwi South African Museum of Literature in Makhanda, South Africa, and also gives creating writing lessons. “Even though I’m sitting with a laptop of semi-written or 50,000 word drafts, if I had never done NaNoWriMo, I wouldn’t have them, and at least I have drafts I can work on. This was quite a fun way to just let my imagination run riot and just write and see what came out. There’s also that push, as you know you have to write a certain amount of words.”
Warren says that the first year she did it, she managed to write about 30,000 words. “I didn’t finish. But what I realized was that I actually had was a 3,000-word short story and a whole lot of character development. So I got a nice short story out of it. And even if I don’t write 50,000 words, by the end of November say I have 10,000 words, those are 10,000 words I didn’t have in October.”
Read on for more advice on the challenges from our archives and why you should do it.
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Prepping and starting
To write 50,000 words in a month you ideally need to write 1,667 words per day. Warren’s tip is that you must try and write 2,000 words so that you have some leeway. As to how to get those words down, Dorman advises:
I’ve found my best time to write is first thing in the morning, before I start my workday. If I’m motivated, with a quick cup of coffee, I can whack out 1k words in around half an hour – which is perfect for a ghost-writing project I’m currently on where I am contracted to deliver 5k words a week. You can do the same with NaNo. Decide if you want to split your total into writing sprints of say 500 to 600 words each, and space them over a day. Maybe divide up your targets over five or six days instead of seven, and take a day or two off so that you can relax, and the writing won’t feel like a chore.
Sands says, “If you are prepping, check out NaNo Prep101 workshop. It’s really helped me focus and prepare for NaNo.”
Dorman refers to the times she didn’t win at NaNoWriMo, saying that she didn’t have a set time aside to do NaNo: “It helps to have a routine. So, have a time set aside each day for NaNo, like clockwork. Treat this as the literary bootcamp it is.”
While you’re in the thick of it
Warren has some useful practical advice that involves taking care of yourself. She says to remember eat healthily, drink water, and get enough sleep. While doing the challenge, she has stocked up on ready-made meals and healthy snacks, and made a pot of soup. It’s a way of just getting straight into the writing if you’re doing it at night after work, without having to think about cooking, or getting distracted.
Warren also points out that having writing buddies and communicating on the forums is a great help. You have a profile on the NaNo website, and people post on the forums, some put up excerpts on what they are writing, and you can send each other messages. Warren tends to search for two or three groups, which is a manageable way of keeping up with everybody and holding onto motivation.
Dorman also says it’s important to have writing buddies: “When you’re competing with your friends to hit those targets, it helps motivate you. If you don’t have buddies, enlist family and friends to help you meet those daily targets.”
Rewarding yourself is another way to stay motivated, says Dorman:
Gamify your strategy. I am an incredibly reward-centred person, and because I didn’t give myself little milestone treats with NaNo in the past, I kinda lost my mojo a week or two in. So give yourself little stretch goals for every target word count you set.
Sands’ biggest tip is:
Try to schedule time to write a little bit every day. During NaNo keep a notebook and jot down your thoughts when it comes to you. Inspiration might come during lunch or while you wait for a meeting to start. Then when you get home or finally sit down to write, you can refer back to your notes.
Warren points out that one of the writers doing it started a new document every day so that they weren’t going back and editing it. She also points to the example of her brother who was doing one year and was upset as a camping trip had been planned for the first weekend. Warren told him to take a notebook with him and make notes occasionally. It worked. Her brother found that when he sat in front of the computer, his brain was thinking it was work. He went on to write his entire novel in his notebook.
Sands says: “My favorite thing to do is virtual writing events. During NaNo, there are always people on twitch writing away so it’s never hard to find someone to buddy up with. My favorite event is The 100 Hours O’ Writing (OHHOW.net) twitch streaming marathon where writers stream and raid into new streams every two hours for 100 hours. You get to meet tons of writers and have lots of fun while writing.”
Warren recalls that one year she was writing teenage fiction. The forums have various genres as well.
“I found a thread with three full time writers of teenage fiction. Every day, they would go in and they would answer some questions that people had asked about writing, it was quite extraordinary. There’s a real live community spirit, which is quite cool. You can also see the ranking of the regions. So who’s got the highest word count or the highest average word? And so some of the regions will have word battle.”
She adds, ‘Don’t stress if you get stuck on something, if you forget the name of a minor character, just say, ‘Okay, the guy that sat next to Susan in class’ and you mark that with something. I mark it with ‘check’. Rather let the momentum carry you.
Here are more tips on how to stay motivated while doing NaNoWriMo.
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What’s the hardest part?
“The hardest part of NaNo is finding time to write and having inspiration when those pockets of time come around,” says Sands. “The second-hardest thing is shutting off that inner critic so you can get words on the paper.”
So, ditch the perfectionist in you, the important part about NaNoWri is getting the words on paper, and you can decide what you will do with them after the month is over. As with Warren, you may find you have a good short story written, or a novel that you can go back and revise at some point. As Warren points out, one of the writers doing it said you can edit a bad draft, but you can’t edit an empty page. Says Warren, “It’s quite nice to just be able to sit down and write whatever comes out and without having to worry. It’s quantity not quality.”
Some final takeaways
It’s also important to note, says Warren, that when the end of the month rolls around, you may have a 50,000-word manuscript, but it’s not a finished product. There is still rewriting, revision and editing to do, but at least you will have those words in front of you.
And finally, if November is just too busy a month for you, you can take part in Camp NaNowriMo in April and July. You get to set your own goal in these months, and still get the same support as you would receive during November, writing buddies, special events and the same sense of community. And if you complete your goals, you will receive a certificate, discounts and more.
Follow Nerine Dorman on Instagram @nerinedorman and on Facebook
Follow Crystal Warren on Instagram on @crystalwarren42 or on Facebook
Follow Coral Sands on X at @Athiest_Vegan and or head to NaNoWriMo.org