NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, is an insanely ambitious undertaking for most writers. You should do it.
But wait, isn’t that the thing where you try to write an entire novel in just one month? Yes, it is.
It seems like a daunting task, but I think it’s an endeavor that every writer should take on at least once. Or, in my case, three times.
Yeah, I failed twice. My second attempt barely had any effort put into it. But you know what? There’s always next year! I find NaNoWriMo to be an alluring challenge. It’s proven to be impossible to me twice, but I’m going to do it eventually. For some reason, I feel like I must.
If you’re thinking about joining, but you’re hesitating, let me convince you to go on this crazy adventure with me.
What Is NaNoWriMo?
If you haven’t heard about it before, NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organization hosting National Novel Writing Month every November since 1999! I’ll refer you to their website to learn more because they do amazing things besides encouraging writers to write until their fingers break every November.
You can choose to dive into the deep on your own, or you can make an account on their website to connect with others online or locally. I’m the lone wolf type, but I coerced a friend to do it with me this year.
What Are The Rules of NaNoWriMo?
Long story short, you need to write 50,000 words in 30 days, which comes out to 1,667 words per day.
These rules are meant to be broken, of course. Sometimes you’re on a roll, and you go way over the limit, while other days, you don’t feel well, or you’re too busy eating turkey and pumpkin pie to care. As long as you reach 50,000 words, you’re good to go.
Can you write more? Of course! Most novels dance around the 100,000 words mark, and you’re sure to find novels that are even longer.
Can you write less? Sure, but according to The Write Life, many publishers accept 50,000 words as the minimum length. But for the sake of your November writing goals, a finished book is a finished book, so I won’t tell anybody if you run a little short.
Where Do I Start?
It’s customary for many writers to begin prepping their novel in October, lovingly called Preptober. NaNoWriMo offers a planning calendar to help you build worlds, characters, and a plot. If their resources don’t suit your style, that’s okay! Search on Google or your preferred social media sites for prep tips, and you’ll find a plethora of ideas and guidelines.
If you’re like me, you’ll go off course and work on the details whenever you feel like it. For 2021, I spent September writing out a detailed plot outline because I knew I’d be too busy in October to do it. I sort of wrote up descriptions for the characters, but I gave up on that pretty quickly. I have a loose description of the setting written out, although the details are more fleshed out in my mind. I’m hoping they don’t get lost before I get around to writing them down.
Some writers go into this writing challenge fully equipped with everything they need, while others are like that kid who forgot to bring a calculator to the SAT test. When the clock strikes midnight on November 1st, what you have is all you’ve got, and it’s time to get writing.
Reasons You Should Try NaNoWriMo
If you’re on the fence about if you should join in the fun, let me push you. I think you should do it. If you don’t have a writer friend to be your support system, here I am. I spent many November 1sts wondering if I’d regret not joining, and I can assure you I ended up regretting it every time.
I think many writers don’t join because they don’t have someone encouraging them to do it. So, here are some reasons I think you should.
1. You Can See What You’re Capable of Doing
Can you really write an entire novel in just one month? You won’t know until you try.
Maybe you’re the type of person who loses motivation quickly, or you bail on projects because you’re easily distracted. (I sympathize. Have you seen the date of my previous blog post?) These bad habits make you think that you can’t accomplish much, but hey, you have to overcome them eventually, so why not now?
Maybe NaNoWriMo could be The Event in your life that shows you you’re capable of doing more than you give yourself credit for. It could be the breakthrough project that will help you succeed in the future.
Crashing and burning on day three is also an option, I won’t lie.
My first attempt in 2014 doesn’t even have 7,000 words. I tried again in 2016 and had even fewer words than the previous attempt. Will I surpass 7,000 this year? I’m excited to find out.
Homework, work, holidays, and life will get in the way. But as long as you tried, that’s what matters.
2. You Might Accomplish Something Great (Bragging Rights)
Yes, you might fail, but what if you succeed? What if, at the end of November 30th, you find yourself with a complete manuscript sitting in your computer files? Maybe you’ll hit 50,000 words but are nowhere near finished. You’ll still have about half of a book finished. Even 10,000 words are something to smile about.
Whatever you write in November is something you didn’t have written before, and that’s something worth bragging about. If you can’t say, “I finished my novel!” you’ll at least be able to say, “I started my novel!” How cool will that be?
3. You’ll Start A Project You Can Finish Later
Whether it’s a half-finished or entirely written manuscript, you’ll have a project ready for you to keep working on over the following months. That half-written book isn’t going to finish itself, so get to writing. That fully-finished book isn’t going to edit itself, either.
I still have my previous two attempts just waiting to be written. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to them, but I’m happy enough knowing I can go back to them when I’m ready. Part of me likes seeing my former progress frozen in time as if it’s a time capsule showing me my former ambitions.
4. You Can Get Your Schedule Organized
Depending on your typing speed and preparation, you’ll likely need at least an hour each day to dedicate to writing your novel. You’re probably looking at your calendar, wondering where you’re going to find that hour every day, right?
You have to make changes to accomplish something huge.
Maybe you need to wake up an hour earlier or go to bed an hour later (please don’t do both). Maybe you have to sacrifice an hour of “me time” in the evenings after dinner. Or, pull out your laptop and write during meals.
Not a fan of unhealthy habits like losing sleep? Reorganize that schedule. Shift those priorities. It’s just one month. You may hate it, but it won’t be forever.
I’m fortunate enough to enjoy slow mornings as a freelancer, but I’m going to have to sacrifice an hour or two of it just to write. But I’m excited about it, so it shouldn’t be so bad.
If you can’t commit to daily writing, that’s okay, too. If you have spare time a couple of days each week, use that time block to write like the wind. Instead of focusing on 1,667 words per day, focus on 11,669 words per week. It’s a more daunting number, but you can divide it up as needed as you go about your week.
Excuses You’ll Make to Get Out of It
I can hear your “But, I—” from here. Whatever excuse you’ve made, I’ve probably made it, too.
“But, I’ve failed before.”
“But, I’m in college and have too much homework.”
“But, I’m too tired.”
Remember what I said before: It’s just one month. If you really, genuinely want to do this, you’re going to have to make some changes and stick with them.
We make excuses because we’re scared. We’re scared to be uncomfortable or fail. You can’t fail if you don’t try, right?
Wrong. I find myself regretting the things I was too scared to do more than the things I did.
So, let’s take a look at these excuses you’re probably going to make, and I’ll talk you out of them.
1. But I Don’t Have the Time
I hear you. I do. But, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I lay in bed for 30 minutes on my phone before I go to sleep or after I wake up?
- Do I spend a lot of time scrolling aimlessly on social media?
- Do I have a long commute?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you have some time to spare if you practice self-discipline.
Not all social media time is useless (talking to friends, promoting your business), but I can guarantee some of that time you spend scrolling could be better spent writing a novel.
If your phone can track your screen time, check how much time you spend on social media, games, and other apps. How much of that time can be dedicated to your book?
I know it’s 2021, and more people are working from home these days, but some of you might still have a long commute to work or school. If you’re riding public transportation, take a laptop or a notebook and pen with you. If you’re driving, record your voice and speak your pages into existence. Perhaps your passenger would be willing to transcribe your work for you.
I tried NaNoWriMo while I was in college. I “didn’t have the time,” but I know I did. I spent many hours between classes watching YouTube that I could’ve spent writing. I managed to find time for video games that should’ve been novel writing time. Okay, maybe that time should’ve been spent on homework, but you get the idea.
2. But I Celebrate Thanksgiving
If you’re in the United States, you probably wish NaNoWriMo could take place in a month that doesn’t have a major holiday. Why November when Wednesday is spent cooking, Thursday is spent
dealing with spending time with family, and Friday is the day we go shopping? (I think Black Friday is a thing of the past, but I digress.)
Let’s refer back to reason number four why you should try NaNoWriMo: You can get your schedule organized. Load up a YouTube playlist of how to organize your life, and get to watching. How can you work around two or three days of family fun and food? Are you really going to let a couple of days throw off your whole month?
I won’t make any promises, but I’m sure you’ll have enough good writing days that you’ll have some wiggle room at the end of the month. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, you should have around 42,000 words. If you can have 45,000 words before the holiday arrives, that will safely afford you two days of no writing.
Maybe your Thanksgiving isn’t a fantastic seven-course meal, and your household isn’t filled to the brim with extended family members. If your holiday is more subtle or not observed, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Grab your laptop and get to writing. (Shoo away family members as needed.)
3. But My Idea Isn’t Good Enough
Maybe you didn’t prepare for NaNoWriMo at all, or you realized 10,000 words in that there’s a significant plot hole. Sometimes, what seemed like a good idea will look like a bad idea and leave you wondering how on earth you’re going to get to 50,000 words in the end.
Here are a few suggestions if you find yourself stuck at some point in November:
- Write out of order. If you’re stuck in chapter 7 but know what happens in chapter 14, go ahead and write chapter 14 while those ideas are fresh in your mind. Do you have enough ideas to write chapters 14-20? Do it! You can figure out 7-13 later.
- Take a day to revise your plot. It’s risky to get behind on your word count, but it’s even riskier to move forward without a solid plan.
- Consult a plot generator. The internet is full of helpful websites for moments such as these. Try a plot generator like this one to see if it can suggest some ideas to help you move to the next bit.
You shouldn’t be worrying about this if you haven’t started writing yet. You don’t know where your creativity will take you! Maybe you know that Character A will do X during Plot Point A, and they’ll do Z during Plot Point C, but what’s the Y and B? It’s okay if you don’t know. Let’s worry about writing chapter 1 first.
4. But My Attention Span Is Too Short
Sigh, me too.
As someone who struggles to stay focused, I find that the Pomodoro Technique works wonders. You only have to commit to working for 25 minutes, and then you can take a five-minute break. When that break is over, work for another 25 minutes. Your fourth break should be 20-30 minutes. You can adjust the time increments as needed to fit your working style.
If that doesn’t work for you:
- Download apps, Chrome extensions, or utilize websites to help you turn off distractions.
- Lock yourself in your room with your phone on the other side of the door.
- Clear everything off your desk except a notebook and a pen.
- Pick a new location to write in during November.
Do what you must to make sure you’ll keep your writing commitments.
The most crucial step is to prioritize writing.
I struggle to stay focused on my work unless it’s the day it’s due. Suddenly, I’m on top of things. Why? Because my priorities shift when I realize what day it is. With my phone silenced and my body glued to the chair (metaphorically), I get my work done because it has to be done. There’s no other option.
Until you genuinely prioritize writing, you’re likely going to struggle actually doing it.
Prepare, For NaNoWriMo Is Nigh
At the time of publishing this blog post, NaNoWriMo 2021 is thirteen days away. I’m about 90% prepared. I printed up a word count calendar and taped it to my wall to serve as my reminder that it’s almost time to get to work.
I truly hope you consider joining if you haven’t decided to already. You don’t need to be a fantastic writer to join. You don’t have to sacrifice every hour of sleep in the name of success, but I’ll admire your audacity if you do.
Writing is more fun with friends, so find me on social media if you don’t have a writing buddy! I’ll be more than happy to hear about your plot and characters, help you brainstorm when you get stuck, and prod you every day with “Have you reached your word count?” That is if you want me to bug you, of course. Follow me on Twitter to read my progress updates and complain about it with me in the wee hours of the night.
I hope to publish some NaNoWriMo tips either before or during November. If I don’t, you know why.