It’s almost that time of year again, folks. That’s right, it’s nearly National Novel Writing Month! What is National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, as it’s more commonly known), you ask? Well, it’s this:
National Novel Writing Month began in 1999 as a daunting but straightforward challenge: to write 50,000 words of a novel during the thirty days of November.
Now, each year on November 1, hundreds of thousands of people around the world begin to write, determined to end the month with 50,000 words of a brand-new novel. – via nanowrimo.org
Yes, you read that right. The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days.
I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo and its spin-off, Camp Nano (which happens in April and July, and differs in that you set your own word-count/page/editing goals) since 2009. In fact, I wrote all of the Gold Series over three consecutive years of NaNoWriMo. I even wrote the first 50k of Cheater, Cheater in November 2015.
And every year since 2015, busy schedule be damned, I participate in this wild ride. Why? Uhhh, we’ll get to that.
If you’d like to learn more about NaNoWriMo and my tips for conquering the challenge, keep reading!
WHAT IS NANOWRIMO AND WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO YOURSELF, SIMONE?
As I mentioned before, it’s a challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. To me, it’s a massive undertaking, one that has driven me to the edge of sanity in years past. So why do I do it? Other than loving to torture myself?
Well, I love to get stuff done. I love being able to knock out a decent portion of a project in a small amount of time. I love the sense of having a set task every single day. I love seeing that little word count tracker move up. I love the accomplishment I feel from simply participating, even if I don’t hit 50k words (otherwise known as “winning”).
If I really set my mind to it, I can walk away from November with half or even three-fourths of a project finished. Considering how slow I write outside of the confines of NaNo (spoiler: it’s really, really slow) this is huge. It would normally take me six months to write that much, and that’s pushing it. Honestly, 50k in a year is more like it.
Plus, I really love the community that surrounds NaNo. The website has message boards you can talk to other writers on and it brings together people from all walks of life. I also have a lot of friends who are writers, so it’s a nice time for us all to suffer together. Uh, I mean, participate together. You’re going to want buddies to help you get through the month. And, personally, I find that encouraging others encourages me too.
So yes, I love NaNo. A lot. But I also hate it. A lot.
Writing that many words in a month is hard. It’s intense. It’s stressful as heck. For a lot of people, November is a really busy month. When I was in school, it was usually a time when I had a lot of papers due and exams to take. Being an adult with a job now isn’t any easier. Plus, Thanksgiving is always a huge thing for me to factor in, since it’s a time when my family gathers together and it’s usually frowned upon to sneak off to write (which I have shamelessly done before).
Hitting your word count goals every day is difficult, especially if you’re someone who has responsibilities other than just sitting and writing all day. That said, it’s not impossible! I’ve hit 50k at the end of November before and I’m sure I’ll do it again, so if I can do it, I totally believe you can too.
While I’ve only won NaNo (winning means hitting 50k in 30 days) four times since 2009, I try to participate every single year. Some years I have no intention of getting anywhere close to 50k. And you know what? That’s totally okay! I know what I can handle and some years I can’t push myself as hard as I need to in order to hit 50k. But in other years? Watch out world, this girl’s in it to win it.
If you’re a writer who has never participated in NaNoWriMo before, I seriously encourage you to give it a try at least once. Of course, it’s not for everyone, but you might be pleasantly surprised by how much you like it—or at least like what you can accomplish. NaNo is all about just getting the words down on the page. It doesn’t matter if what you write is “good” or not! All that matters is that YOU WROTE SOMETHING. Heck, you wrote a lot of something most likely! And even if you don’t win, you still tried! That counts for a lot.
OKAY, YOU’VE CONVINCED ME TO TAKE PART IN THIS WILD RIDE. HOW DO I PARTICIPATE?
Hooray! Happy to have you joining me in the torture! I mean, the writing!
First off, start by making an account on the NaNoWriMo website. Here’s mine!
This is where you can tell people about yourself, declare your project for the month, input and keep track of your word count, and add writing buddies—aka people who are also part of the NaNo community. If you’d like to add me as a buddy, my username is simonexsays
NaNoWriMo officially begins at midnight on November 1. That’s when you can start writing and keeping track of your word count. If you’re like me and tend to be going all out for Halloween the day/night before (which often carries over into the first of November) it can be a bit of a rough start. But never worry! Start when you want to! Like when you’ve recovered from the festivities of the night before.
Of course, you can start planning and plotting your NaNo project in the months before. A lot of people like to take the month of October to plan. There’s lots of valuable information on the NaNo message boards and on the internet in general (especially Twitter and Instagram) that can help you plan your project, if that’s something you’re interested in doing.
Now, I like to say “project” instead of “novel”, even though “novel” is in the title of National Novel Writing Month. Why? Because you don’t necessarily have to work on a traditional, singular novel. You could work on a short story, a memoir, a fanfic, or heck, even several novels. There’s really no limit as to what sort of writing project you want to do; all that matters is getting to 50k.
Sometimes I work on a single story during NaNo. Sometimes I work on several. And it doesn’t have to be a new project either. This year I’m planning to work on two stories that I started way back in 2015, neither of which is finished yet. I figured this would be the perfect time to work on them both and hopefully add more to each.
Let’s go back to planning, though. While some people like to plan what they’re going to write and have detailed outlines for it, others go into NaNo with a vague idea, a wish, and a prayer. I’m usually in the latter camp. If I’m working on a brand new project, I rarely, if ever, start the month off with anything more than a shaky idea for a plot. Maybe I have my main characters named already, or maybe they get the dreaded *INSERT CHARACTER NAME HERE* designation for the first 5,000 words until I decide on something that fits them. Again, go with whatever works for you, and whatever you think will best help you get to 50k.
For all you preppers out there, NaNo has their official NaNo Prep Workshop to help you out.
There are other things you should keep in mind while prepping as well.
- What word processor are you going to use? Microsoft Word? Google Docs? Scrivener? There are plenty of options out there, both paid and free, but it’s definitely helpful to use something that keeps track of your word count for you. Are you going to write by hand first, then type it up? That’s also an option, especially if you’re away from your computer/mobile device and want to get some writing done.
- How are you going to back up your work? This is very important if you’re writing on a computer or other device. Stuff can be deleted very easily and sometimes you can’t get it back. Don’t let your hard work go to waste. Back up your project early and often. I back everything up on an external hard drive, copy all the words I’ve written daily into a Google Doc, and email a copy of my project to myself with every 10,000 words I write. Between all of those methods, I haven’t lost much (if anything) in those moments when technology decides to fail me.
- How are you going to manage your time? If you have a deadline at work or a weekend you’re planning to spend with friends/family, you’re going to need to budget your writing time. Consider the days you have plenty of time to set aside to write and try to write a little extra. There are definitely going to be days when you can’t/don’t want to write and this will help you stay on track. As for your daily writing, assess your schedule and figure out blocks when you can take a little time to write. Maybe you can hit your daily word count in one sitting, or maybe you split it up throughout the day.
Another thing I like to do to prep is to make Pinterest boards and playlists that represent elements of my project. Having these little sources of inspiration really give me a boost when I’m struggling.
As always, do what works best for you! A lot of this is trial and error; you’ll figure it all out with time.
SO, IT’S NOVEMBER 1… I GUESS I SHOULD START WRITING NOW
Yes, you should!! Here are some things to keep in mind while you do.
1. To stay on track with the 50,000 word goal, you should be writing about 1,700 words a day. It’s technically 1,667 words, but you’re better off rounding up, trust me. To some people, that might not seem like a lot to write in a day, but for others it might be more than they’ve written in a long, long time.
For a lot of people, word sprints are helpful for adding to their word count. It’s when you essentially set a timer and write as much as you possibly can before that timer goes off, focusing on nothing else during that time except for getting the words down. You can do them alone or with other writers!
2. Try not to let yourself get too far behind. I’ve learned over the years that trying to play catch-up is suuuuper stressful, and I like to avoid it at all costs. Of course, at some points it becomes inevitable. There will probably days when you won’t be able to write for some reason or another, which means you’ll need to have other days where you write more than the daily 1,700.
There was one year when I ended up being 7,000 words behind about halfway through the month. I thought I was going to fail miserably, but I ended up sitting down one Saturday when I had a block of free time and just banged out some words. It definitely wasn’t great—both in terms of what I wrote and my emotional state—but dang it, I got caught up!
3. Please, guys, remember this: it’s highly unlikely your NaNo project is going to be “perfect”. When you’re writing that quickly, you don’t always have a lot of time to think about what you’re writing. I’ve found it helpful to think of what I write as a very basic first draft that will need a decent amount of rewriting and editing, whether it be for typos or plot holes or anything in between. It’s allowed to suck!
4. Also remember that everything in your actual life is still important! It can be easy to lose yourself in NaNo and push your responsibilities to the side, but the thing about NaNo is that it forces you to find a balance. It make take a week or two, but you’ll get there.
5. SAVE EARLY, SAVE OFTEN. AND BACK IT ALL UP.
6. Lean on your buddies! It’s really helpful to have someone you can vent to about the struggles of NaNo when you’re in the heat of it. It’s even better if this is someone who’s also doing NaNo or has done it in the past and understands your woes. If your buddy is also doing NaNo this year, hold each other accountable! Check in with each other about your word counts and how you’re feeling. If you don’t have a specific buddy you can turn to, definitely go to the NaNo message boards! You can vent and meet some fantastic new people at the same time.
7. Don’t neglect your health. Stay hydrated, champ. A hydrated body and brain make for better productivity. Treat this like a marathon. Take a break from the screen (or from the paper) every so often. Rest your eyes. Do some gentle stretches. If you are able, stand up and move around a bit every thirty minutes or so. It can be difficult to drag yourself away from writing when you’re really on a roll, but your body (and brain) will thank you if you take regular breaks. And don’t forget self-care too! Take some time to relax and treat yourself, you deserve it.
8. Make a NaNo word count calendar the background on your computer, your phone, or print it out and hang it up somewhere where you’re going to constantly see it. It will remind you how many words you need to have on each day. To find a calendar, just Google “NaNo calendar” or something like that. You could even make your own if you’re so inclined!
9. If you know you’re going to be super busy on a certain day (looking at you Thanksgiving) try to get ahead of the word count so that you can give yourself that day off without feeling guilty that you’re falling behind.
10. Believe in yourself. Believe in your project. Don’t let doubt keep you from writing. You can absolutely do this! Turn down the volume on the little voice in the back of your head that says you can’t and go for it!
I HIT 50K! DO I WIN ANYTHING? WAIT, WHAT DO I DO NOW?
BUDDY, YOU JUST WON 50 FREAKING THOUSAND WORDS OF A PROJECT! YOU DID AMAZING! BE PROUD OF YOURSELF! GO CELEBRATE IN YOUR FAVORITE WAY!
The organizers and partners of NaNoWriMo do have some actual prizes for you, though. They’re usually discounts for products, software, and services related to writing. I think one of the best prizes they offer is a discount for Scrivener, which is definitely my favorite writing software.
In December, I’ll (hopefully) have a post about the “aftermath of NaNo”, like how to approach your project if you didn’t manage to finish it in November, how to get started with editing, and what to do if you’re too afraid to even open your project again. I’ve dealt with all those things and I’d be more than happy to pass my knowledge along to anyone who wants to hear it!
Well, that’s about it for my NaNoWriMo post this year! And yeah, I may complain a lot about NaNo—especially in the heat of it during November—but I love it and I’m so thankful for its existence. I hope you find some sense of joy in this wild undertaking as well.
Are you attempting NaNoWriMo this year? Let me know in the comments!
Good luck to everyone participating! May your word count grow and your stress levels stay low. Cheers!