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What is NaNoWriMo? And should you try it?
When you participate in NaNoWriMo every year, hang out and start making friends with other people who participate in NaNoWriMo every year, and talk about NaNoWriMo all year long… it's easy to forget that there are people out there who have absolutely no idea what you're talking about.
Heck, some of them aren't even sure if “NaNoWriMo” is a real word.
This was certainly the case when a good friend of mine said “are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?” back in 2007 and I didn't have a clue what she was saying. Now, of course, I've been participating in NaNoWriMo ever since, I love it, and I do the exact same thing to anyone who has ever admitted to having a love of writing: I dive right in to telling them they should participate in NaNoWriMo as if they know exactly what I'm talking about.
That's why I've decided to put together this quick-start guide to helping you learn more about NaNoWriMo as well as get ready to participate and even how to win.
What is NaNoWriMo?
NaNoWriMo is an annual event that takes place every November. The goal of NaNoWriMo is simple: write a 50,000-word novel in just 30 days. That’s right, you read it correctly – a NOVEL in just ONE MONTH.
You see, NaNoWriMo breaks down to National Novel Writing Month. It's a world-wide write-a-thon that takes place every November (which just happens to be National Novel Writing Month).
The host of this write-a-thon is NaNoWriMo HQ, a nonprofit organization whose entire mission is to get you to write your story in any way you can:
Writing a novel alone can be difficult, even for seasoned writers. NaNoWriMo helps you track your progress, set milestones, connect with other writers in a vast community, and participate in events that are designed to make sure you finish your novel. Oh, and best of all, it’s free!NaNoWriMo Website
The goal is to get 50,000 new words written into a novella between midnight November 1 and 11:59 PM November 30. It averages out to 1667 words per day (if you are trying to split up the writing evenly throughout the month).
Why Participate in NaNoWriMo?
Should you do NaNoWriMo this year? That is completely up to you. But there are some pretty good reasons why you should consider it:
- Establish your writing routine. If you've been having trouble regulating your writing routine, nothing will get you motivated to do it like NaNoWriMo. Being able to finish NaNoWriMo will require at least some level of discipline and routine, rather than the “I'll sit down and write when inspiration strikes” method so many people use.
- Conquer writer's block. Have you been trying to work on something, but having trouble getting started? The sheer energy that comes out of NaNoWriMo can help you end writer's block for good.
- Get that first draft done. I know so many people who have such great ideas sitting unfinished. And there's nothing wrong with that (I myself have dozens of projects going all over the place). But NaNoWriMo could be just the jump you need to get at least one of those projects finished.
- Finally get your inner-editor under control. That inner-editor is not your friend. I know it feels like it — correcting your grammar and helping make sure everything is perfect. But believe me… no friend would ever loom over your shoulder while you're trying to write and say “is that really the right word you want to use there?” They just don't do that. They wait until you ask them for their opinion. NaNoWriMo will help you force this “friend” to wait their turn.
- Network with other writers. Writing can be lonely at times. Other people don't always understand what it's like to have stories burning within that just need to come out. Thankfully, NaNoWriMo has a huge community, both on its site and in its Facebook group. Need a critique? Some cheerleading? Advice? Name ideas? Just a friend? Come on in and you can have them all.
- Stop. Procrastinating. Seriously. If you have a habit of procrastinating writing, NaNoWriMo can help you break that habit.
- Break from your current projects. Sometimes the best thing we can do is take a break from the current projects we're working on and just work on something new. It lets our brains refresh, our eyes refresh, and just gives us a little bit of a reset so we can get back to them rejuvenated and ready to go.
Why would anyone willingly subject themselves to such a challenge? The answer is simple: to kick their inner critic's butt and unleash their creativity. I see it happen way too often—new writers let self-doubt and unbridled perfectionism hold them back from pursuing their dreams.
NaNoWriMo gives them the opportunity to silence those doubts by committing to writing a novel in just one month. This is the one time when it's really about quantity over quality, with the understanding that you can always revise and edit your work later on to achieve the quality.
What are the NaNoWriMo Rules?
The NaNoWriMo rules are pretty straight forward:
- You can start preparing for NaNoWriMo at any time, including preparing your outline, character development, and research.
- Writing begins at midnight on November 1.
- You must validate your word count in the NaNoWriMo system before 11:59 PM on November 30 (your local time).
- You can only count the words you wrote during this time, even if you are using NaNoWriMo to work on a novel you've already started previously.
For more information on NaNoWriMo's Rules and how it all works, check out their knowledge base.
The challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days may seem daunting, but it's not impossible. In fact, thousands of people every year successfully complete their book in November and even go on to publish their novels. However, it's important to note that not everyone will be able to complete the challenge for various reasons such as work commitments or personal responsibilities.
And that’s perfectly okay! The real value of NaNoWriMo is not really in finishing a novel—it’s more about creating an environment where writers like you can prioritize writing for a month.
The NaNoWriMo Challenge
Writing War: The challenge of writing a 50,000-word novel in just 30 days
Let's be real: writing a novel is no small feat, even when you have all the time in the world. So imagine the pressure of attempting to write a complete novel in just one month.
That's what National Novel Writing Month demands of its participants. To complete this challenge, you must write a minimum average of 1,667 words per day for thirty days straight.
“No breaks, no excuses.” But why take on this seemingly impossible task?
What good does it do to push ourselves to write so much so quickly? I believe the incredible pressure and intensity of NaNoWriMo helps writers discover what they're truly capable of achieving.
The Unrelenting Pressure
It's not just about writing a lot; it's about writing consistently. It's about setting up a writing routine that finally works and protecting that routine from other responsibilities. Every day counts toward your final goal. This relentless pressure can be both exhilarating and terrifying.
There's no time for self-doubt or second-guessing your ideas.
You simply have to keep moving forward and trust that your creativity will come through. If you're someone who struggles with procrastination or self-discipline when it comes to your craft, NaNoWriMo might just be the kick in the pants you need to get started.
Inspiration can come from anywhere and anything. The point is to start writing and let the creativity flow.
NaNoWriMo provides a supportive community where writers can share ideas, brainstorm, and receive feedback. So, if you've ever dreamed of writing a novel but just couldn't find the time or motivation, NaNoWriMo might be the perfect opportunity for you to finally make it happen.
The Joy of Completion
Of course, once November ends and the dust settles, completing NaNoWriMo feels like a huge accomplishment—and it is! Whether you end up with a polished manuscript or something that needs serious editing work later on, finishing such an intense creative challenge will make you feel like you can conquer any writing obstacle that comes your way.
Where's the Fun in That?
Yes, NaNoWriMo is a challenge, and it's not for everyone. But if you love writing and are willing to take on a little extra pressure, it can be a truly exhilarating experience.
Plus, there's a fun sense of camaraderie that comes with participating in something so intense–you'll have a whole community of writers doing the same thing as you at the same time. What could be more inspiring than that?
The NaNoWriMo Community
Let's talk about the community. It's the backbone of NaNoWriMo, and it's what sets it apart as a writing challenge.
Writing can be a lonely, solitary activity, but during NaNoWriMo, you're not alone. You're part of a massive group of people who are all working toward the same goal: writing 50,000 words in 30 days.
The sense of camaraderie that comes from participating in such a massive undertaking is intense and powerful. You know that thousands of people around the world are doing what you're doing right now.
They're staying up late, typing away at their keyboards until their fingers ache. They're pushing themselves to write even when they don't feel like it. And you can see them, you can actually hang out with them. They are in groups on Discord or livestreaming on YouTube.
You're not alone.
When you hit a rough patch in your writing, when you're struggling to come up with ideas or when you feel like your story isn't going anywhere, there's an entire community out there ready to support you. Live. Whether it's through online forums or local write-ins, there are endless opportunities to connect with other writers and get the encouragement and inspiration you need.
The encouragement and motivation that comes from sharing progress with others
One of the best things about participating in NaNoWriMo is sharing your progress with other writers. Whether it's updating your word count on the website or attending a write-in and chatting with fellow participants about your story, there are countless ways to stay connected with other writers throughout November. Sharing your progress can be incredibly motivating.
When other writers see that you've hit a milestone or achieved something important in your writing journey (even if it's just hitting 10k words), they'll cheer you on and celebrate alongside you. And when things aren't going well, they'll offer words of encouragement and support to keep you going.
The sense of community that comes from sharing your progress is also a great way to hold yourself accountable. When you know that other people are watching your progress, you're more likely to stick with it and keep writing even when you don't feel like it.
Overall, the community aspect of NaNoWriMo is what makes it so special. It's an opportunity to connect with other writers from around the world, share your progress, and get the support and motivation you need to achieve your writing goals.
Tips for planning and outlining a novel before starting NaNoWriMo
As someone who has participated in NaNoWriMo multiple times, I can tell you that planning and outlining your novel before the month of November is crucial to your success. You cannot simply sit down on November 1st with a blank page and expect to write a 50,000-word masterpiece. Trust me, I've tried it, and it has never worked out well.
So, what can you do to prepare? First, decide on your novel's genre – this will give you some direction in terms of plot structure, character development, and pacing.
From there, create an outline or a rough sketch of the story's trajectory. Who are your main characters?
What conflicts will they face? What challenges must they overcome?
Once you have a basic idea of the story you want to tell, set aside time in October to plan each chapter or section of your book. This doesn't need to be an exact science – simply jotting down some ideas or bullet points can help keep you on track during NaNoWriMo.
I've put together this guide to help you get prepared for NaNoWriMo. Whether you're a planner or a pantser, you'll find steps to help you get everything you need together and ready to go for November 1.
Grab the Best “Preptober” NaNoWriMo Prep Planner Available
Preptober NaNoWriMo Workbook
It takes more than just outlining your story to get ready for NaNoWriMo! I've won NaNoWriMo 14 years in a row and was a Municipal Liaison for 4 years and this was the single biggest lesson I learned in all those years: you have to do more to get yourself ready for a writing exercise like NaNoWriMo.
The Preptober NaNoWriMo Workbook has everything you need so you can be ready to face November.
This workbook includes pages to help you build a custom writing schedule that works for you, a writing routine, build self-care into your routine, and develop tools to help refill your creativity cup and motivation should they falter.
I've also included a bonus section with sheets to help you brainstorm some of your ideas for scenes, characters, and even a premise if you want.
And for you Pantsers, don't worry—this workbook is completely Pantser-friendly.
How do you Survive NaNoWriMo?
If you don't already write for long stretches of time, then sitting at the computer and trying to bang out those 50,000 words might seem daunting. And sometimes, unexpected struggles may popup. I've compiled a list of tips to help you get through these things in my NaNoWriMo Survival Guide.
Strategies for staying organized throughout the month-long writing process
Staying organized during NaNoWriMo is essential if you want to meet the daily word count goal without going insane. Here are some strategies that have worked well for me:
- Set aside specific writing time each day – whether it's an hour before work or two hours after dinner, make sure you have dedicated time each day to write.
- Use tools like Scrivener or Google Docs to keep track of your progress and stay organized as you write.
- Take breaks when needed – don't push yourself too hard without giving yourself time to rest and recharge.
- Be flexible with your plans – sometimes things don't work out as you originally intended.
Don't be afraid to pivot and try something new if your original plan isn't working. By planning and staying organized, you set yourself up for success during NaNoWriMo.
Remember, this challenge is about more than just writing a novel—it's about proving to yourself that you can accomplish a goal that may have once seemed impossible. So, take the time to plan and stay organized, and let your creativity flow during this exciting month of writing!
Finally, don't punish yourself if you happen to miss a day.
Most people, if they miss a day of NaNoWriMo, the try to double-up on the following day's goals. So instead of writing 1,667 words, they will force themselves to try to write 3,334 in one day. And if they don't make that day's word count goal? Then they will try to force themselves to write 5,001 words the third day.
You can see why this tends to lead to burnout. While, yes it's absolutely possible to write 5,000 words (or more) a day—heck, it's possible to write all 50,000 words in just one week—it's just too easy to overwhelm yourself with ever-growing word count goals that feel more and more impossible.
If you find that you've missed a day of writing, instead of tacking 1,667 words onto the goal for the next day, divide it up among all the days you've scheduled yourself to write. Tacking on 56 words and writing 1,723 words a day is a lot more doable and less overwhelming than trying to force yourself to write 5,001 words in a single day.
The Secret to Overcoming Writer's Block
The secret to overcoming writer's block during NaNoWriMo is simple: keep writing. Yes, it may seem like an oversimplification, but it’s true.
Instead of staring at a blank page for hours, write anything that comes to mind. Don't worry about whether it’s good or not; just write.
Another technique that can help push through writer’s block is making use of prompts or exercises. These exercises can be found online or in writing books and can help jump-start creativity when inspiration seems lacking.
Encouragement to Keep Pushing Through Difficult Moments
It’s easy to become discouraged when progress seems slow or ideas aren't flowing as easily as hoped during NaNoWriMo. However, these moments are when you need encouragement and determination more than ever.
One way of pushing through difficult moments is remembering why you started this challenge in the first place, what led you on your writing journey and what your goals truly are – connecting with your voice rather than being consumed by completing this challenge will make all of your efforts worthwhile. In addition, you can find support from family, friends, or fellow writers who can offer advice or lend an ear when needed most.
The supportive community of NaNoWriMo participants also offers valuable resources such as online forums where writers can share tips and offer encouragement. While writer's block may seem like a formidable obstacle, it is ultimately within your control to overcome it.
So, keep writing, use prompts or exercises if necessary, and seek support from others when needed. With determination and dedication, you can push through any difficult moments and come out on top at the end of November.
Completing the NaNoWriMo Challenge
Congratulations, you've made it to the end of November and (hopefully) completed your 50,000-word novel! It's time to celebrate your success. Whether you finished on time or not, take a moment to appreciate the hard work and dedication you put in over the past month.
One great way to celebrate is by treating yourself to something special. Maybe it's a nice dinner, a fancy coffee drink, or a new book.
Whatever it is, make sure it's something that makes you feel proud of what you accomplished. Another way to celebrate is by sharing your success with others.
Post about it on social media or tell your friends and family about what you accomplished. You might inspire someone else to try NaNoWriMo next year!
Final Thoughts on NaNoWriMo
Participating in NaNoWriMo is not just about writing a novel in 30 days. It's an opportunity to challenge yourself, connect with other writers, and explore the depths of your creativity. Throughout this month-long journey, you will experience highs and lows, breakthroughs and setbacks.
But in the end, you will come out with a sense of accomplishment and a newfound appreciation for the craft of writing. As a seasoned writer myself, I can attest to the benefits of participating in NaNoWriMo.
Not only does it push you to write every day, but it also helps you develop discipline, patience, and perseverance – all essential traits for any writer. And even if you don't reach the 50,000-word goal or finish your novel by the end of November, you can still take pride in the fact that you tried.
But beyond NaNoWriMo lies an even greater reward: the joy of writing itself. Don't let this be just a one-month fling—continue to write beyond November!
Write about what inspires you, what moves you, what challenges you. Write for yourself first and foremost; don't worry about pleasing anyone else or conforming to someone else's standards.
Looking back on my own experiences with NaNoWriMo over the years—from my first attempt that nearly had me crying in a crumbled ball of anxiety to my years as a Municipal Liaison helping others through the month—I realize how much I've grown as a writer. I've learned to trust my instincts more, take risks with my writing style and subject matter, and embrace imperfection as part of the creative process.
And perhaps most importantly of all: I've gained a community of fellow writers who encourage me when I'm feeling down or stuck in my writing journey. Through online forums and local events (when not during a global pandemic), NaNoWriMo has created a space where writers can share their struggles and triumphs, offer feedback and support, and inspire each other to keep going.
So don't let the end of November be the end of your writing journey. Keep writing, keep exploring, keep evolving. Write for yourself first and foremost; don't worry about pleasing anyone else or conforming to someone else's standards.
Find your own voice, your own style, your own story. And whenever you feel stuck or discouraged – as all writers do from time to time – remember that you are not alone.
There are countless other writers out there who have gone through the same struggles as you and emerged stronger on the other side. So keep writing – not just for the sake of hitting a word count goal or finishing a novel in 30 days, but for the joy of creating something out of nothing.
As Albert Camus once said: “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” In these uncertain times, we need writers more than ever before. Will you answer the call?
One Last Thing…
Chances are, this draft that you write up during NaNoWriMo is going to be bad. I mean bad. First drafts, if done well, tend to suck. Bad writing, repeated words, grammar mistakes.
You're not likely to end NaNoWriMo on November 30 and walk out with a publish-worthy novel.
But what you will have is a novel. Your novel. Ready to take the next step and get ready to become publish-worthy.
And it will be amazing.
Did you enjoy this article? Here are some more posts about NaNoWriMo you may like:
- How to Pants a Novel
- 10 Tips for Self Care during NaNoWriMo
- NaNoWriMo Survival Guide
- 20 Tips to Stay Motivated for NaNoWriMo
- Last Minute NaNoWriMo Prep in 8 (kinda) Easy Steps
What is the prize for NaNoWriMo?
Every year, sponsors offer the NaNoWriMo participants and NaNoWriMo winners various tools, memberships, and courses at a special discounted rate. But on top of that? If you win NaNoWriMo, you finish with 50,000 words in a new draft that could eventually be published. For anyone who has procrastinated away from writing, that is the best prize.
What are the rules for NaNoWriMo?
Write a 50,000 word novella in a month.
1. Only words written between November 1 and November 30 count
2. Make them 50,000 different words (don't just repeat the same word 50,000 times)
3. It's okay to coauthor, but you must write 50,000 words (your partner can write their own 50,000 words)
4. Yes, you can do prep and research before November 1, but word tracking doesn't start until November 1
5. You must validate your word count before 11:59 PM local time on November 30 to win
What is a NaNoWriMo write in?
A NaNoWriMo write in is when a leader within the NaNoWriMo community sets up an event inside a library, restaurant, or other public place and invites participants from within their community to join them for an in-person writing event. It's a great way to meet other writers in your area and possibly get some great swag as well.
Is NaNoWriMo free?
Participation in any of the NaNoWriMo programs, events, and challenges is free.