Updated: Oct 26, 2021
If you’ve never heard of National Novel Writing Month, or the shortened version, NANOWRIMO, let me explain. It’s an annual international writing challenge where participants attempt to write 50K words on a novel in 30 days during the month of November.
Here’s how it works: If you do the math, 50K words in 30 days works out to a goal of roughly 1667 words a day. Or do your math so you can take the weekends off, or certain days you know you have other commitments and will not able to write. Bottom line: This is totally achievable as long as you plan ahead, and you get your butt in the chair and write. There will be days when you hit your stride and write way past your target. Ride that wave when you can, because other days will probably be a struggle.
NaNo is a huge, very supportive community, where you’re able to follow other writers and watch their progress. There’s a ton of resources on the NaNo site. In addition to engaging with fellow writers, participants can read tips and motivational articles and find writers in their own area who are meeting locally for writing sessions. You can track your daily word count on your profile, and if you hit that magic number of 50K, you actually get to claim the badge boasting that you’ve “won” NaNo.
The point of NaNo is not to get bogged down by things like spelling or grammar or even descriptions, and to never go back and reread. This is a fast draft where your goal is to get the story out. The minute you start going over the words you wrote the day before, you’ll begin wasting entire evenings, nit-picking over a certain word or paragraph, or falling into the research black whole. Nobody’s saying these 50K words are going to be prize-worthy, or even ready for anyone else’s eyes at the end of the month, but at least you’re going to have something to build on.
Before I heard about the concept of fast drafting, I was stuck on the same novel for more than ten years. No Joke. I was obsessed with rereading my words and tweaking the most minor details, never really getting anywhere, big picture-wise. When I found out about NaNo, I was intrigued—draft a novel in 30 days? How could that be possible? But if you work your ass off, 50,000 words in 30 days is doable. Is it a full-fledged novel? Probably not—my books average around 80K—but 50K is a damn good start on a first draft.
Tips for Rocking NaNo:
Prepare ahead. From the concept of NaNo, came a whole other idea called PREPTOBER. Search this term in google and you’ll find about a gazillion results. Preptober is all about spending the month of October “getting ready” to write your novel in November. Of all the tips in this post, this is the one that matters the most, as far as I’m concerned. Whether you need a month to plan or just a few days, depends on a lot of things. If you’re a “pantser”, which is someone who doesn’t plot much ahead of time (they prefer to fly by the seat of their pants and let the story come to them organically as they write), you might only need a couple of days to think about your characters and story idea before you start tapping out words. I'm mostly a plotter. I spend a good chunk of time figuring things out before I ever write a word on the manuscript. I need to know my characters—what their upbringing was like, what their goals are, what they’re lacking in life. Even if I can’t visualize the whole story yet, I need to have a grasp on the major plot points so I don’t hit a wall where I have no clue where the story is going. If this sounds like it’s a job in itself, it’s because it is. Figuring all this stuff out is almost as much work as writing the book, but a lot of times this prep work is how the rest of the story comes to me. Whether you plot every detail like I do, or you just have an idea and let the story come to you as you go, or you’re some happy place in the middle, having a basic outline before you start is the key to making it to the finish line, in my opinion.
Set aside a certain block of time each day. Set your alarm an hour earlier in the morning and write before work, or stay up an hour later at night for a little extra time. Whatever realistically works with your life. I’d love to be a morning writer, but it doesn’t suit my life right now, so I write at night, after the commitments of the day are over with and the kiddo is in bed.
Tell your friends / family you’re doing NaNo so they know you’re not going to be as available. Tell your kids (if they’re old enough to understand) that you’re working on an important project and can’t be disturbed. Treat the time you’re blocking off for writing like you would treat an important meeting at your day job, where getting interrupted is not an option.
Nix the distractions! Turn your phone off or put it in another room. If possible, write on a computer that isn’t connected to the Internet. How many times have I opened google to look up something quickly, only for it to snowball into forty-five minutes of mindless clicking. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter… Even the NaNo website will all be there when you save your document and close it for the night.
Notes for the next scene – This is something small, but it saves you from going back and rereading last night’s work to figure out where you left off. When I finish writing for the day, I skip down a couple of lines and write myself a line or 2 or 3 establishing what my next scene is about and anything that’s on my mind at the moment, that I don’t want to forget to include. This lets you open your document the next night and immediately see what you’re going to be working on, instead of reading back through all your words from the day before.
What happens if I don’t hit the 50K goal?
NOTHING! No alarms blare, no tomatoes get tossed in your face. Absolutely nothing happens if you fail to achieve your goal, which may be the best part of all. I have reached the 50K before but not even bothered to add my word count to the site or engage in the community whatsoever. There really are no rules here, other than setting a goal and working toward it. For me, it’s a personal challenge, and at the end of the day, I don’t care if I reach 50K in 30 days—I just want to get as much of my story out as fast as I can, and what else are you going to do for the month of November when it gets dark at six o’clock?
So how do I do this?
Head over to the NaNo website and create your profile. Announce your project with as much or as little detail as you like. Add some writing buddies so you can cheer each other on throughout the month. Don't have anyone to add? You can find me here. I'll be your cheering squad!
The best part of all, is that you can apply this practice to your work anytime of the year—doesn’t have to be November. I fast draft all my books now, whether it’s November, or the middle of February. The point is to adopt the concept of quantity vs. quality, which I never dreamed I’d say, but you have second and third drafts to work on quality. Let go of all your hang-ups for the first draft and just tell yourself the story. What do you have to lose?