Most of the writing posts I’ve done up to this point have mentioned NaNoWriMo to some capacity. Whether that be because it was a huge part of my writing life or because it was something I participated in at specific points in my life, it’s something that I find myself explaining pretty often. Especially in real life, I find myself explaining it every October and November to friends and professors. To make things easier, I thought it would be helpful to explain what NaNoWriMo is.
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and takes place during the entire month of November. The goal is to write a 50,000 word (200ish pages) draft of a novel of your choice, from beginning to end. Why November? I’m not really sure. Why 50,000 words? Because that’s the average length of the first draft of a novel.
To get 50,000 words in 30 days, it takes an average of 1,667 words per day. That’s not a fixed number, as you can write more or less than that as you wish. But the general idea is that 1,667 words every day will keep you at a consistent pace to hit 50K at the end of the month.
It starts at midnight on November 1st and runs through to 11:59PM on November 30th. Most people starts exactly at midnight and write enough to get a decent start on their novel. It’s what I do and often times, I’ll keep writing until I’ve hit 1,667 so that I don’t have to stress about finding time to write during the day. Getting those words out of the way at the very beginning of NaNo also encourages me to keep going because I’ve already written that much.
There really aren’t any rules as to what kind of novel you’re writing, as long as it’s a novel. Traditional Wrimos (participants in NaNo) start with a new draft on a blank document at the beginning of each NaNo. It’s not exactly a rule that you have to start a new story in a new document, but that’s what NaNoWriMo encourages, and it’s what the majority of Wrimos do. Less traditional Wrimos have began November with existing projects in existing documents, adding another 50K to however long their existing draft already is. Personally, I’m a traditional Wrimo and have written a new story in each round of NaNo that I’ve participated in.
One of the only “rules” NaNoWriMo has is that you can’t edit as you write. Since the goal is to write as many words as possible in November, NaNoWriMo highly discourages editing while drafting. Not only can you get stuck on editing and never finish drafting, it’s also the idea that every word counts towards your total. It can also be discouraging to go back and read your novel as you write it, so the idea of “locking away your inner editor” was created to make the drafting process easier and more encouraging. Even if that means you’re writing the same scene three different ways before moving on, it’s still adding to your word count. It’s really hard at first, but I’ve come to love locking up my “inner editor” when I’m drafting, only making notes of things I know I want to change as I write. The most editing that I’ll do is backspacing part of a sentence to re-write it with roughly the same number of words, but other than that, I don’t go back to read anything until a few months after I’ve finished my draft.
The website has a ton of things to make the writing process enjoyable, including pep talks from published authors, forums for writers of all kinds to talk to each other, and trackers that update every time you update your word count. Yes, there’s a need to update your word count. It’s how the website tracks your progress to tell you how many words you average per day, how much you’ve written, and how many more words you need to write. The thing about this tracker is that it’s based on a trust system – it trusts that you’re being honest about your word count. And at the end of the month, you copy everything you’ve written in your novel draft into a box for validation (yes, that means you can cheat, but the NaNo community trusts you not to).
People who win get to download their Winner’s PDF certificate and buy their winner’s t-shirt. It’s probably a little awkward for the people who didn’t win and ordered their shirt, but that can always serve as motivation. There are perks to winning, like a 50% off coupon code for Scrivener, a great writing software. Sponsors of the event often make their programs available to winners at a discounted price or for a limited amount of time. It’s a way for them to promote themselves to a group of writers who ideally want to be published, whether traditionally or non-traditionally.
Mostly, it’s a community of thousands of writers who are crazy enough to try fast-drafting for a month to get their novel onto the page. It can be a little stressful at times, juggling writing with everything else in life, but the experience is worth it for the community and the ability to say that you’ve written a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.
Does It Work?
For me? Yes, it worked. Learning about NaNoWriMo was a kick in the butt for me and got me to actually write a novel after years of saying that I wanted to try writing one for real. Having a community of writers was also really nice, because I knew that I could go to the forums or Twitter to talk to other people who were writing at the same time I was.
Five years and five novel drafts later, I have a larger base of workable projects that I would have if I never did NaNoWriMo. I don’t think I would have as many drafts if I had chosen not to try NaNoWriMo, if any at all. The event has proven to me time and time again that I have stories to tell and that I can tell them if I really put my mind to it.
There are plenty of authors who published novels they wrote during NaNoWriMo, including Rainbow Rowell, Marissa Meyer, and Erin Morgenstern. Many other authors also unofficially participate in NaNo to write existing drafts or new drafts of their next book. Like other Wrimos, they use November as a time of community. The only difference is that after November, they go through heavy revisions and end up with books on the shelves. It’s nice to know that there are people who have been published after participating in NaNoWriMo, as it keeps writers like me working toward that goal too.
Other NaNo Events
Outside of their main event during November, NaNoWriMo also has several other events.
In April and July, Camp NaNoWriMo serves as an opportunity for people who don’t want the commitment of a 50,000 word draft. The appeal of Camp NaNo is that Wrimos can set their own word count and choose different kinds of projects, like poetry collections, scripts, and even thesis papers. It sets it apart from NaNoWriMo because it’s more flexible and chill. Camp NaNo also offers a feature called “cabins,” where writing buddies can apply to be in a cabin together and talk on a private forum for the duration of Camp NaNo. People who just want the experience of being in a cabin with other writers can apply to be in a random cabin, sorted by their preferences.
The Young Writers Program (YWP) takes place in schools during NaNoWriMo. It’s an in-class program for teachers who want to use NaNoWriMo as an incentive for their students to write. From my understanding of it, the whole class participates and each student writes their own novel. I’m not entirely sure if they use the same word count, but I know that many teachers across the U.S. have taken part in this program with great results.
The Night of Writing Dangerously technically occurs during NaNoWriMo, but it requires donations of a certain amount for someone to be able to go. I believe that it takes place during the first week of NaNo, where a group of writers get together and write for as long as they want. It’s an all-night event with food and drinks to keep writers going, and there’s even a bell for people who hit their 50,000 word count during the night.
Do I have to sign up to participate in NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNoWriMo?
Technically, no. If you want the swag from these events, then yes. But otherwise, you can participate without signing up and just keep up with how things are going on social media.
Is it international?
Yes! I first participated in Hong Kong, so you can do it as long as you have an internet connection for validation of your novel. Or, if you’re not signing up, you can really do this anywhere.
Do I have to write it on a computer?
No. NaNoWriMo says that you can write it by hand, but I’m not sure how you can validate that. There are ways, but since I’ve never done it, I’ve never had to figure it out. As long as you have a way to validate your novel, you can write it in any form.
Can I do NaNoWriMo outside of November? Or on my own?
Yes! I know several people who prefer to do it on their own time when they know that their schedule is going to be easier. One of the girls from my writing group did JaNoWriMo during January 2018, following the goal of hitting 50,000 words. Other people have done it in other months that have 30 days. Really, you can modify NaNoWriMo to fit your needs. Camp NaNo is also an option for people who don’t want to start out with 50,000 words, and prefer to set their own word count.
Where can I find more information?
Are you insane for doing this five times?
Probably a little.
Do I have to participate to be a real writer?
Heck no! You’re a writer as long as you write.
Will you be my writing buddy?
Sure, just look up “AxiomCharmander” on NaNoWriMo and I should pop up.
How do you find time to do NaNoWriMo while you’re in school?
I’m actually not that great at making time to write while I’m in college. Since being in college, I’ve written three novels and finished all of them at the last minute on the last day. What helps me is starting at midnight and writing until I hit 1,667 words. After that, it’s getting writing in whenever I can. Sometimes, I’ll write in between classes, before work, or during class breaks. I’ve even written parts of my novel during class if nothing special is going on. Really, it’s about taking all the free time I have and putting that towards writing. Scrambling to finish writing at the last minute also works really well for me, though I have a history of my fingers not working well after winning NaNoWriMo.
Do you recommend trying NaNoWriMo?
Over the years, I’ve revised my answer to this quite a bit. It worked for me, and I know of other writers that it has worked for. I think it’s a great way to push yourself to write a novel in a single month, along with a huge community of other writers, but I also know the pressure one can feel to complete NaNoWriMo. To me, it comes down to what you think you need. If you’re trying to get a first draft out as quickly as possible, then I highly recommend NaNo. But if you’re just looking for a community of writers, I’d look into the forums on the website to see what connections you can make there without having to participate. I do think it’s beneficial to try some version of NaNoWriMo at some point because it teaches you a lot about who you are as a writer and what you’re capable of, but it really depends on you. Fast-drafting doesn’t work for everyone.
At the end of the day, NaNoWriMo is a group of writers having fun/suffering together through November. It’s a huge support system of people who understand exactly what you’re going through and why it’s so hard to think about whether another cup of coffee is a wise decision. It works for some people, and not for others. It’s a great resource and event for people who just want to get their story out as quickly as possible without thinking too much about it, but it’s also a big time commitment.
Hopefully this helped you understand NaNoWriMo a little better and get an idea of why I’ve participated for five years. I’m more than happy to answer any other questions about it if you have any.
Are you considering NaNoWriMo at some point?