NaNoWriMo: How to FINISH Your 50,000-Word Novel [Step by Step]

It is never too early to prepare for the most challenging and exciting writing expedition of the year: NaNoWriMo 2020. NaNoWriMo stands for “National Novel Writing Month,” and it is precisely what it sounds like. Find out if it’s an endeavor worth your time in this complete Nanowrimo review.

The goal of this nonprofit organization is to help you write a novel in one month. Nanowrimo will take place in November, just like every other year. You can find the program at Nanowrimo.org. 

To some, this may sound crazy; impossible even! The fact is though, since its inception in 1999, hundreds of thousands of people have been doing it each year. Copious amounts of writers from all over the world sit down and set out to write 50k words in one month.

Many are successful, but success doesn’t always come easy – you have to know how to set yourself up! Being prepared will give you a much better chance at “winning” with your Nanowrimo writing project.

You will also be able to easier learn how to write a novel. Many consider Nanowrimo a learning experience as its a helpful program for beginners and first time novelists. Learn how you can best utilize the program with the following Nanowrimo review.

NaNoWriMo 2020 Goals: 50,000 Word Count and Beyond

Not every novel is going to be the same length, and Nanowrimo knows that. They have chosen a number that is an average. For some, 50k words may only be half of a novel. For others, a 50,000-word novel is perfect to tell their story.

A 50k word count goal is enough to be challenging while also being realistic for most people.

Get Connected During NaNoWriMo 2020

One wonderful thing about Nanowrimo is the knowledge that you are not alone. So many people participate in this challenge, and they are not quiet about it.

Communities have been created on every avenue of social media. There are Instagram and Twitter hashtags, and lots of Facebook groups. However, the central hub of communication is the Nanowrimo forums.

There is a topic for pretty much everything:

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The forum is a fun and helpful place to go, whatever your Nano need may be. People there are active, friendly, and ready to help.

You will discover there is a noticeable sense of belonging throughout these message boards, as everyone traverses the adventure that is Nanowrimo together.

Learning how to write a novel has never been easier with the help of so many others.

Gather Your National Novel Writing Month Supplies

Nanowrimo is fun, but it’s also hectic. Being organized is crucial. Therefore it is a good idea to gather your Nanowrimo 2020 supplies before the month even begins.

Writing Method

The first step is choosing how you will write. Will you type your story on your laptop? Or will you stick to the old fashioned methods and write it out by hand?

Some find writing by hand allows them better focus and concentration. Some also find it very calming and therapeutic.

The only challenge with handwritten novels during Nanowrimo is having to count the words so you can keep track! It is not impossible, though, and many do it successfully each year.

Even if you are not handwriting the whole novel, having some pens/pencils and notebooks on hand is a good idea. You never know when you will want to jot down some notes or keep some research in front of you as you type.


One thing that many struggle with is finding time to complete the Nanowrimo writing challenge. Many are still in school or have a full-time job. Sometimes both!

If this is the case, you may end up sacrificing some sleep, and therefore, coffee is going to be essential. Or perhaps some caffeinated tea if you prefer.

So pick your poison, stock up, and have your favorite mug cleaned and ready to go for November first.

Some Noveling Tunes, Anyone?

Lastly, you don’t want to be slaving away in the wee hours of the night without some music! Most people benefit from writing with some tunes. It can help you concentrate and provide inspiration.

Figure out what kind of music helps you the most. Maybe you like some adrenaline pumping punk rock to get your creativity flowing.

Or, perhaps it’s the calming lilt of instrumental jazz that keeps you on task. Whatever your taste, put together a foolproof writing playlist and have it ready.

A Nanowrimo Template

50,000 words can feel intimidating for some, no matter how much reassurance they get that they can do it. There are many ways to make the month easier, and one of these is a Nanowrimo template:

nanowrimo template

This template will walk you through your story day by day. It will remind you how many words you should have written at any given point in the month.

It also provides you with some simple guidelines on what should be happening within your story at each word count range.

These are only guidelines, of course. You’re welcome to change things up, but having the template will take some of the pressure off, especially given the time-crunch you’ll be on.

Nanowrimo: Your Project

Once you have everything prepared and your workspace is set up, it’s time to figure out what you’re going to write about!

Nanowrimo was created for novel writing, but that is not set in stone. If you are a brilliant poet, who wants to flex their rhyming muscles for the month, write a poetry collection!

If you prefer a short story over novel-length storytelling, go ahead and create an anthology. Non-fiction works are also acceptable. There are no real “rules” when it comes to Nanowrimo. As long as you are writing, you are winning.

Will You be a Plantser?

Planster is a funny word Nanowrimo came up with to describe one of three different types of writers.

  • First, is the planner. This is someone who outlines meticulously. They write down detailed character descriptions, and they have their entire plot laid out. They brainstorm like crazy in the month leading up to Nanowrimo, and they go in feeling completely prepared.
  • Next, there is the panster. This is someone who flies entirely by the seat of their pants. They have an idea, and nothing else. November first hits and they start writing without a plan. They follow their wild imagination wherever it decides to take them on any given day.
  • Finally, we have the planster. This person falls in the middle of a planner and a panster. A planster might do a little bit of rough planning. They know their characters and have a general idea of where the story is going, but they still let their characters run rampant come November first.

There is no right or wrong way to do this, but you should have a pretty good idea of what type of writer you are before the month begins.

Knowing how you are going to write your novel will allow you to plan and prepare to the best of your ability.

Nanowrimo: Use Tools to Help You

While your imagination and determination are the most important things to carry with you, there is no shame in using some writing tools to make the process easier! There are lots of different apps and software out there that are designed to help writers.

A great place to start is Squibler. Squibler will be a great addition to your Nanowrimo 2020 efforts as its purpose lines up with Nanowrimo’s vision. Squibler wants to help you finish your book in 30 days.

The process is simple and effective. It allows you to store your notes and ideas in a safe and organized place. You are able to filter your files by tags for easy locating when you need them.


Squibler also has a tremendous outlining tool. Chapters and scenes can be written in whatever order you wish, but easily dragged and dropped into a different place later if something needs to change!

Once your book is edited and complete, it allows you to export easily as a PDF or Kindle e-book, perfect for self-publishing on Amazon. It also helps you format for print publishing if that is what you choose, all while maintaining perfect image resolution.

Lock Up Your Inner Editor

There is really only one hard rule that Nanowrimo wants to enforce: no editing allowed! When you set foot onto the path of Nanowrimo insanity, your inner editor is not invited. 50k is a lot of words to write, and you only have 30 days.

The words you write aren’t supposed to be polished and perfect. They aren’t supposed to be publisher-ready. What they are supposed to be is there.

At the end of the month, you have 50k words to work with. You can edit and rewrite to your heart’s content in December!

Don’t worry if the sentence you just wrote sounds bad. Ignore the call of the backspace key and keep pushing forward.

Once a word is on that page, it stays there until November is over. In addition to helping Nanowrimo participants, this is also sound advice when learning how to write a book. Getting that first draft finished without too much fuss is a good strategy any time of year.

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.

Nanowrimo: The Adoption Society

The Nanowrimo forums are packed with useful information and helpful resources. My favorite feature, and arguably one of the most useful, is the adoption society.

This forum is broken down into categories that reflect parts of your story – plot, characters, settings, etc. There are even some specific categories like negative personality traits or sarcastic comments.

nanowrimo adoption society

People come to these threads and drop ideas they have that they don’t want or can’t use. If you’re learning how to write a book, this forum is endlessly valuable. The ideas and inspiration will help you immensely.

You can come to the adoption society and find your entire novel idea. Or, you can come and pick up a single piece of witty dialogue that will add some comic relief to your horror tale. Or maybe find something that will play up the snooty personality of your antagonist.

Big or small, if you are after inspiration, the adoption society has it all.

Procrastination during Nanowrimo cannot be a thing. Big or small, if you are after inspiration, the adoption society has it all. For some quick and random ideas, you can also try the writing prompt generator. 

Participate in NaNoWriMo 2020 Events

The online Nanowrimo community is vast and it is strong, but it’s not the whole thing! The Nanowrimo website is broken down into regions.

Based on your location, you can join a region and connect with writers in your local area. Each region has a private forum for its members only.

Most regions will run several events throughout the month of November. These will often take place at libraries, coffee shops, or community centers.

Each region will have a municipal liaison or “ML” who organizes these events. They receive guidance and sometimes funding from Nanowrimo to make things happen.


Some regions may throw parties or social gatherings at the beginning and end of the month, but the main things they will host are called “write-ins.” A write-in is a place for local writers to gather and write together.

Always bring your notebooks and/or laptop and be prepared for some hardcore marathon writing. This is a perfect chance to bounce ideas off of other writers and brainstorm together.

Writers can encourage and support each other here, and help each other stay on task. It is easy to get distracted by things at home when nobody’s watching. Being around other writers will keep you accountable and you’ll be amazed at how much writing you can get done in just a couple hours!

Word Sprints

One of the best parts of most write-ins are the word sprints! Most ML’s will run word sprints throughout the write-in. This is where they will set a timer for a predetermined amount of time.

During that time, you sprint! This means you write as fast as humanly possible in an attempt to beat everyone else. Whoever writes the most words in the allotted amount of time is the winner. There are often small prizes available to be won.

Write-ins and word sprints are immensely helpful in achieving your goal of 50k. But, some amazing friendships can be forged as you bond with other people who are crazy enough to attempt to write a novel in one month.

Use NaNoWriMo 2020 Badges for Motivation

The Nanowrimo website has a series of badges you can earn that are displayed on your profile. Some of them you can give to yourself to identify things about you and your writing style to others. Some are only earned as you hit certain milestones in the process.

You earn badges for:

  1. Creating your novel
  2. Updating your word count
  3. 1667 words
  4. 5k words
  5. 10k words
  6. 25k words
  7. 40k words
  8. 50k words (winner’s badge!)

These badges appear on your public profile and they are a helpful way to keep yourself motivated. This only works if you are willing to be honest, though.

nanowrimo badges

Nanowrimo operates largely on honesty. Updating your word count is manual, so cheating is easy. Remaining honest and entering your real word count each day will make earning the badges more meaningful!

Be a NaNoWriMo 2020 Rebel

Even though Nanowrimo doesn’t have any rules and runs on the honor system, there are still some basic guidelines that are in place.

This wouldn’t be a complete Nanowrimo review if I didn’t let you in on a little secret: sometimes the rebels threaten to take over. the ones who don’t like to conform… the ones who so blatantly break all the rules:

Word Count

50k is the ultimate goal. Words written before November first are not supposed to count.

However, these things never stop the Nano rebels. Some people are simply unable to write that quickly, or their current schedules do not allow them enough time.

On the flipside, some people enjoy an even more difficult challenge than only writing 50k.

It’s people like these that will set their own word count. Some aim for 30k instead of 50k, while others may set their goal higher at 80k. Doing this is totally fine!

Nanowrimo isn’t so much about rules, it’s about writing. As long as you write something during the month of November, it will be considered a win.

Start Fresh

Nanowrimo is supposed to mark the beginning of a new novel. That’s what a typical Nanowrimo review will tell you.

However, some people have a half-finished project that they really love and want to complete as their Nanowrimo challenge.

This may mean that they begin the month with some words already written. That is totally okay. If Nanowrimo helps you finish the first draft of your novel, then no one will mind that you cheated a little bit.

Some Things to Know About National Novel Writing Month

There is no doubt that Nanowrimo has a huge following and a long list of benefits. Writers all over the world love Nanowrimo, and for good reason. But, it’s important that you don’t go into the event with false or inflated expectations.

We’ve gone through the Nanowrimo review itself. I’ve told you about the program and the website, as well as what to expect. But, there are some often overlooked facts you should also be aware of.

Before you dive into Nanowrimo, be sure to keep the following things in mind.

It 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 your 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.

However, 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. That comes later.

The Website Can Help You Write

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.

nanowrimo word sprint
  • 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.
nanowrimo goals

These tools just go to show you how much Nanowrimo cares about your novel. They want to give you every opportunity to succeed.

Don’t Expect Miracles

You might have come across a Nanowrimo review that promised miracles for your writing career. Be wary of this.

Nanowrimo is responsible for getting thousands of writers writing, and this is wonderful. But, an exercise in writing is all Nanowrimo is in the end.

Some books have indeed 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.

Most of all, 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! Maybe your friend is 30,000 words ahead of you, who cares? Allow yourself to enjoy the process.

Let Nanowrimo help you learn how to write a novel. Let it make you more disciplined. Allow it to light your fire for creative writing, and you will have won no matter what.

If you don’t want to wait an entire year to do it again, try Camp Nanowrimo throughout the summer. It’s a more laid-back version that is just as fun.

Are You Ready for a Writing Adventure?

Maybe you want to learn how to write a book or improve upon an existing manuscript. Whatever your writing goals may be, Nanowrimo is a great stepping stone to achieving them.

You may drink way too much coffee and lose sleep. You may pull some hair out as your characters decide to go rogue. Writer’s block may rear its ugly head.

You may also write an entire novel. You may finish the first draft. Perhaps discover a new favorite genre. You could find a new writing buddy.

The point of this Nanowrimo review was to determine if the program is worth it or not. The answer is a resounding yes. Nanowrimo 2020 may be the beginning of a wonderful and crazy tradition that you look forward to every single year. For kids, the Nanowrimo young writers program has the same effect but has tools to make it more manageable for the young mind. 




Josh Fechter
Josh is the founder and CEO of Squibler.