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What Is NaNoWriMo? Tips for National Novel Writing Month Success

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 9, 2020 • 4 min read

Whatever your place in the writing community—whether you’re a short story writer or a novel writer, a traditional-publishing expert or a lover of self-publishing—you’ve probably heard about the famous NaNoWriMo.



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What Is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo is an acronym that stands for National Novel Writing Month, a creative-writing challenge that takes place every year throughout the month of November: from November 1st to November 30th. The goal of NaNoWriMo participants is to write 50,000 words of a new novel (either a 50,000-word novel or the first 50,000 words of a novel to be finished later) by writing every day of the month—an average of about 1,700 words per day. Writers type their work directly into the NaNoWriMo website, and if they reach 50,000 words at the end of the month, they are said to have won the event.

NaNoWriMo was created by writer Chris Baty in 1999 in the San Francisco area, where 21 writers participated. It has now been registered as a nonprofit organization, has since grown in popularity to include almost 800,000 active participants, and has expanded to include other programs such as the Young Writers Program and Camp NaNoWriMo.

4 Reasons NaNoWriMo Is Valuable for Writers

NaNoWriMo can be a great challenge to participate in, whether you’re an aspiring writer or a seasoned novelist. Here are some reasons why it can be rewarding:

  1. It gets you writing. NaNoWriMo’s main goal is to encourage writers to write. If you’ve felt like you’re stuck in a rut or overwhelmed by writers’ block, NaNoWriMo may be just the thing to get you reinvigorated about a new writing project.
  2. It’s all about the first draft. Writers often get hung up on editing everything they’ve written, wanting to re-write and polish it before they move on—and this usually results in not a lot of writing. NaNoWriMo’s focus on word count can help you release your focus on writing an instant bestseller and get you back in the mindset of a first draft—which is the right place to start.
  3. It connects you to other writers. NaNoWriMo is more than just an isolated event—it creates a writing community that is excited to write and to encourage each other. Throughout the month, the organization invites seasoned writers to share writing tips and give pep talks, hosts NaNoWriMo forums to foster writing discussion among participants, and encourages local communities to schedule writing groups or “write-ins.”
  4. It’s a way to stay accountable. If you’ve been making writing goals that you don’t have the motivation to keep, NaNoWriMo can be a great antidote, since it tracks your daily progress alongside all of the other participants.
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5 Tips for Participating in NaNoWriMo

If you’re interested in participating in this year’s NaNoWriMo, whether it’s your first time or your tenth, here are a few tips to make the most of your experience:

  1. Come up with a rough outline beforehand. Even though your writing will be contained within the month of November, that doesn’t mean you can’t think about your NaNoWriMo project beforehand. Start thinking about an outline beforehand: Write down a one-sentence premise; brainstorm some bullet points of plot and conflict; keep a list of characters: names, ages, backgrounds, motivations; write a one-sentence description of your setting.
  2. Set aside designated writing time. Set aside time to start writing every day (or almost every day) to make sure you avoid procrastination and get it done. Can you only write during your lunch break at work, or during your child’s naptime? Do you prefer writing early morning or late at night?
  3. Designate a place to write. Whether it’s your desk, your couch, the library, or a sunny bench outside, going to the same place every day will help send a consistent signal to your brain: It’s time to write. If partway through the month something just isn’t working, then be ready to change your routine a little. Maybe your desk is too formal, or the library is too quiet, or your computer is too distracting. Whatever it is, let yourself explore other options to make your writing process work for you.
  4. Find time to read for inspiration. If you’re having a hard time with writing inspiration during the month, consider setting aside a little time to read the work of other writers to get your creative juices flowing. Read something in your genre or something totally outside of it; pick up one of your favorite books or one you’ve never read. Sometimes, reading something a little less impressive (or even the work-in-progress novel of a fellow NaNoWriMo participant) can help you see what’s not working in your own project.
  5. Keep going. NaNoWriMo is a sprint, but it’s not a race—the point is merely to finish, not to finish first. Even if you fall a little behind, you can still get back up and keep going. Throughout the month, distractions may come up and keep you from reaching your goal for a particular day, but that doesn’t mean that you should give up. The most important part of NaNoWriMo is to keep writing. And if last year you didn’t quite make it to 50,000 words, don’t worry—NaNoWriMo happens every year, and you can always try again.


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6 NaNoWriMo Success Stories

Feeling like NaNoWriMo sounds fun, but might end up being a waste of time? Here are a few published novels that began as NaNoWriMo projects:

  1. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  2. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  3. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  4. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
  5. The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough
  6. Wool by Hugh Howey

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