National Novel Writing Month, or “Nanowrimo” as it is affectionately called by it’s dedicated participants, is a right of passage for all writers.
It is a recurring international event that has taken place each November since 1999. The premise of national novel writing month is simple and exactly as it sounds - write a novel (50,000 words) in a single month (November).
This may seem like a terrifying feat, but it’s really not so hard when you break it down. When they say “write a novel” they don’t mean write, edit, proofread, rewrite and prepare a novel for publishing. No, the goal is to just write 50,000 words - a first draft.
To complete this goal, it averages out to 1667 words per day. This is possible with some commitment, focus, dedication, and probably some help.
National novel writing month has thousands of participants each year, but it is not for the faint of heart. Writing a novel in just a month is an exciting challenge, but it doesn’t always come without difficulties or frustrations. There are some things you should know before diving into Nanowrimo.
Many people spend a lot of time in October planning their Nanowrimo novel. Others wing it completely come November 1. Whichever route you take, 30 day doesn't leave you a lot of extra time.
We've created a template specifically for Nanowrimo which will make things a little easier for you. It walks you through each day of the month, outlining what should be happening in your story at that point in the novel:
Each section doesn't necessarily need to be one chapter - that's up to you. Many novels have more or less than 30 chapters. But these guidelines should help you manage the Nanowrimo time crunch.
National Novel Writing Month Will Require Discipline
Unless you are a professional writer and/or author, writing 1667 words in a day is a lot. Probably more than you are used to doing, at least every day.
With that being said, it is possible, but you will need to put a real effort in for it to happen. You will need to practice some discipline. It can help to schedule your writing time or plan to do it at the same time each day.
There will be days where you don’t want to do it. You will be too tired, too busy, or something better may come along. You need to push past these things, and no matter what, do it anyway. This is the only way that novel will get done.
50,000 is not Really a Novel
Yes, Nanowrimo’s whole baseline is the concept of writing a novel in a month. While 50,000 words do technically make a novel, most publishers won’t consider it.
50,000 words is still an impressive amount of words to write in just 30 days, but you will need a little more than that if you plan to pursue actual publishing.
Even the short side of basic young adult novels is usually around 60,000. Nanowrimo is slightly misleading in this way.
You are Going for Quantity Over Quality
In most areas of life, the goal would be reversed. With Nanowrimo, you are simply looking for quantity. Your word count is your biggest focus. That’s not to say you should just sit there and type random words that don’t even create a logical sentence for 30 days straight. But, you aren’t exactly writing top-notch prose all day long either. With Nanowrimo, you want to be fast and plentiful in getting in your words, and this doesn’t leave a lot of room for quality writing. This comes later.
You Won’t be Editing Anything During National Novel Writing Month
Does this sound scary? To some, it does. There are writers out there who strive for perfection and they are meticulous about editing everything until it looks and sounds great. If you are going to succeed at Nanowrimo, editing needs to be forgotten about completely until December 1 at the earliest.
Of course, we all have free will and you are welcome to do as you please. However, every minute you spend editing your words is a minute you’re not spending on writing more words. This ties in with the quantity over quality idea. The words you write during Nanowrimo don’t have to be stellar. They just have to be there. So, it is most advisable to lock away your inner editor. Once a word is on that page, it stays there until November is over.
Doing National Novel Writing Month Alone is Hard
The national novel writing month website is there for two reasons. First, it is the home base of the whole event. All the necessary information and instructions are found there. Second, it is a community - and a big one at that. Nanowrimo has many different areas where you can connect with others, and it is recommended that you do so. Finding friends and support during this month of crazy writing will be more helpful than you can imagine.
The Nanowrimo website has a huge online community that you can spend hours perusing. From helping to chatting, to inspiration, there is a thread for anything, and they are all full of lovely, helpful people:
- Nanowrimo tips and strategies - includes topics on character help, Nano prep, plotting, writing basics, and world building.
- “Now what” resources - includes some steps you can take after that first draft is finished, such as critiques and feedback.
- General Nano chit-chat - includes topics about general Nano stuff - writing prompts, potential issues, places to vent, places to generally socialize.
- Resources and writing support - includes topics to help you with the writing itself, such as the adoption society and helpful links.
- Genre-specific threads - there is a topic here for every genre, so take your pick!
- Age-specific threads - Nanowrimo has a wide range of age groups that participate. This section includes places for the kids, the young adults, and the older members to section off and get to know each other.
- Off Topic - of course, there is a place for some non-nano chatting to happen. A great place to de-stress and give your brain a break.
The forums have pretty much anything you can think of. If you need help with any part of your novel or any part of the process, you will find it on these forums.
The forums are vast and comprehensive, the but Nanowrimo community doesn’t end there. Some may choose to participate on their own and only engage others through the internet, and that is totally fine! However, if you want to take it a step further, Nanowrimo helps you find people to connect with locally.
If you want, you can search for your town or city. Nanowrimo will help you find the nearest regional forum and give you a chance to connect. The regional forums are usually private and only available to those who choose to join the region. There will be all kinds of discussions going on here, from write-in times to crazy writing games.
Many regions will host events throughout Nanowrimo. A couple of these may be parties or social gatherings, but most will be write-ins. These are times where writers meet up in person - usually at a community center, coffee shop, or library - and write together! This is a great way to make friends, ask for help brainstorming, and get in the zone. Sometimes an hour will go by at a write-in where no one even talks because everyone is writing so much! Attending write-ins regularly throughout November is a great way to ensure your word count stays on track.
The National Novel Writing Month Website Can Help You
Even if you do decide to venture out to some write-ins, there are still going to be some times where you are writing at home by yourself. The forums are a great way to stay connected, but they can’t really help you with your word count itself. The national novel writing website does have some tools you can use to give your writing a boost.
- The word sprint tool. This sets a timer for you, for any length of your choice. The goal during a word spring is to type like the wind and never stop writing until the time is up. You can do this without a clock, but the count down tends to help with motivation.
- The dare tool. Along with the word sprint counter, there is a dare button. This is designed to give you a short, simple writing prompt to get the creative juices flowing. It will give you small instructions, such as “set something on fire” (in your novel!) or “put a dog in the next scene.”
- Goal trackers. Set a goal for yourself, in the way of words written or hours spent, and keep track of how much you accomplish. This is a great way to stay accountable to yourself.
- Pep talks. Each year Nanowrimo brings in authors to create pep talks for writers. You can access current pep talks, as well as the whole archive. These can be great for moments when you’re feeling stuck, lost, or hopeless about your novel.
You Don’t Have to Follow all the National Novel Writing Month Rules
Nanowrimo does come with a set of “rules” that make it what it is. Following these rules will give you the true, authentic Nanowrimo experience. However, there is no governing body. You aren’t signing any contracts or officially agreeing to anything. At the end of the day, Nanowrimo is meant to get you writing, and that’s it. Don’t be afraid to break some of the rules if it makes things more fun for you.
The Word Count
The goal is 50,000 words. Most people aim for this, and some will succeed. However, not everyone’s lifestyle if the same and this goal may not be realistic for everyone. If you know you are very busy, or if there is something else going on with your life, don’t be afraid to lower the goal. It’s totally fine. You’ll feel much better at the end of the month having accomplished a goal of 20,000 words, than feeling like you failed at an unreasonable goal of 50,000.
On the other hand, if you have endless time on your hands and you know your idea can really stretch, don’t be afraid to aim higher. Lots of people hit 80,000 words or even 100,000 in the month of November. If this is you, then go for it. Don’t stop on November 12 just because you already hit 50,000.
The “Start Fresh” Rule
Technically, you’re supposed to start a brand new novel on November 1. Something you’ve never worked on before, save for maybe some outlining. Again, doing this will give you the intended Nanowrimo experience. At the end of the day though, it is not truly mandatory. If you have a project on the go that you think the push of Nanowrimo can help you finish, then work on that.
If you have a really cool idea from six months ago that already has 10,000 words, you can use that. Many writers have used the national novel writing month premise to help them finish a project, and it has worked out great for them. Don’t let anyone bully or pressure you into putting away your current work if you don’t want to. Be a Nano rebel - it’s a thing, you’re not alone.
Don’t Expect Miracles
It is true that Nanowrimo is responsible for getting thousands of writers actually writing, and this is so great. But, an exercise in writing is really all Nanowrimo is in the end. It is true that some books have been published as an indirect result of Nanowrimo, but there was more to the process than just writing the first draft in 30 days.
At the end of the month, if all goes well, you will have the first draft of a novel. Just remember, not a lick of editing or polishing has been done. Just because you have a complete story, does not automatically mean you are going to become a published author. This takes a lot of time, work, and diligence even after Nanowrimo has finished. Keep your expectations in check, and Nanowrimo is sure to be a wonderful experience.
Have Fun With It
The worst thing you can do during Nanowrimo is stress. At the end of it all, it’s supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to inspire and empower you as a writer. If you miss a day, it’s okay. If you get some writer’s block, it’s okay! If your friend is 30,000 words ahead of you, who cares? Let yourself enjoy the process. Let Nanowrimo make you a better, more disciplined writer, and you will have won no matter what.