If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, why not write the whole thing in a month?
You might think that sounds like a crazy idea. But every November, hundreds of thousands of people do just that.
Whenever someone tells me that they’ve always wanted to write a novel but they don’t know where to start, I always recommend participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.
NaNoWriMo is an annual challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November.
Forcing yourself to write a book in a month takes away all your opportunities for excuses and allows you to just get those words on the page.
What is NaNoWriMo all about? How can you participate and succeed? We will cover all that and more in this guide.
What is NaNoWriMo?
National Novel Writing Month began in 1999 with a group of friends who decided to challenge themselves to write a novel in a month.
It grew exponentially every year and quickly became a worldwide event.
Traditionally, the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words of a brand-new novel in a month.
Why 50,000 words? Most people consider that to be the minimum word count to classify a book as a novel instead of a novella.
NaNoWriMo is a challenge, not a competition. But it’s also so much more than a writing challenge.
NaNoWriMo is also a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting creativity and community across the world.
As an organization, they provide the support for all types of people to write the book they’ve always dreamed of.
The power of National Novel Writing Month is in its community.
With regional events and online communities, NaNoWriMo connects people with others who are as passionate about writing a novel as they are.
It’s not just for people who want to be a published author, either. Most Wrimos, the term for participants, don’t publish.
I know people who have written a novel every November for over a decade with no intention to publish. You don’t have to know anything about writing to participate.
Some Wrimos have gone on to publish bestsellers, though! Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and Cinder by Marissa Meyer all began as NaNo novels.
In 2020, over half a million people participated in the annual event! Wrimos come from 671 geographical regions and exist on every continent except Antarctica.
Actually, I’ve heard a rumor that there have been researchers in Antarctica who participated in the past.
So, if you’re wondering if you can participate in National Novel Writing Month, I’m here to tell you that you can. NaNoWriMo is for everyone.
What Are the Rules of NaNoWriMo?
In its original concept, NaNoWriMo’s guidelines were to write 50,000 words of a brand-new novel between November 1st and November 30th.
Brand-new meant that you had not previously written anything on the story. Novel meant fiction.
However, you no longer have to be a NaNo traditionalist. There is no NaNoWriMo police who will tell you your words aren’t valid.
In fact, there is a term for those of us who deviate from the original concept: NaNo Rebels.
Here are some of the ways you can be a NaNo Rebel:
- Writing a nonfiction book
- Writing a short story every day for a month
- Rewriting or editing a novel you’ve written
- Completing a novel you have already started
- Working on multiple writing projects at once
- Creating fanfiction
I’ve been a rebel far more than I’ve been a traditionalist (which would come as a surprise to absolutely no one who knows me).
One year, I was desperately trying to finish three different works-in-progress. I did it and still had 10,000 words to go, so I started writing a short story in the last four days of the month.
The important thing to do is get words on the page. You’re only challenging yourself, so there’s no need to worry about cheaters. So, forget about rules and just write!
How Does NaNoWriMo Work?
You might be wondering exactly how a small nonprofit organizes half a million writers every year.
There are several components to NaNoWriMo, and while none are required to write a novel, the support they provide is priceless.
How Do the Website and Forums Work?
The NaNoWriMo website is the home base for the challenge. Creating an account is free and easy. Once you do, you can create a project and assign it to the upcoming NaNoWriMo event.
During NaNo, you can enter your daily word counts. This allows you to earn internet badges for different milestones. NaNo will also track your progress and give you nice graphs of your stats.
If you want to earn the NaNo internet swag and get the special offers reserved for writers who hit 50,000 words, you will need to enter your word counts on the website to “win.”
The Community tab of the website is another valuable aspect, and it’s what makes NaNoWriMo so special.
You can find Buddies on the site if you know other NaNo participants, and you can also access your region and the forums.
The forums are a happening place in the months leading up to NaNo and throughout November.
You can find ongoing discussions about anything you can imagine. Find threads about your genre, writing tips, character name ideas, planning help, and more.
Find resources you never knew about and talk about non-writing issues with people from around the world. You can also access discussions within your region, as each region has a forum.
During Camp NaNo (more on this in a bit), you can create “cabins” in the groups section of the website. With the updated website, you can create or find groups to join throughout the years.
Use these groups to connect with friends or meet new writers. Cheer each other on and keep each other accountable.
The website also has a messaging platform. You’ll get messages from NaNo HQ, pep talks from famous writers, and information from your region’s Municipal Liaisons.
You can also use it to message with your Buddies on the site.
I encourage you to spend some time exploring the website and forums to really understand the value of community in National Novel Writing Month.
If you're looking for an accessible way into the NaNo world, ProWritingAid have created their own NaNoWriMo community on Facebook. Here you'll find tips, live write-in events, and other writers who are taking on the challenge. Join the ProWritingAid NaNoWriMo community today.
What are NaNo regions?
I’ve mentioned regions several times now. What is a NaNo region and how do you join one?
Regions are based on your geographical location. There are over 600 regions that cover the entire world. If you live in a distant part of your country or region, there are “Elsewhere” regions you can join.
Joining your region is the best way to connect with writers from your area. Each region is managed by volunteers known as Municipal Liaisons or MLs.
These MLs donate countless hours of their time to building a strong writing community.
Each region has its own forms of communication and its own traditions. Some regions communicate exclusively through the NaNoWriMo website and forums.
Others have Facebook groups, Discord channels, Slack channels, or other online communities.
MLs are required to host a kick-off event and a Thank God It’s Over (TGIO) event, as well as one write-in per ML each week during November.
But many regions host other events, such as write-a-thons, midnight write-ins, and other parties.
Due to the pandemic, NaNo 2020 and now NaNo 2021 are online-only events. In normal years, your region may host a combination of in-person and online events or do primarily one type.
Connecting with your region is powerful. You are likely to find critique partners or writing groups that meet throughout the year within your local community.
The friendships that grow out of NaNoWriMo are one of the best things about the challenge.
I highly recommend attending at least one write-in or event in your region.
I feel so strongly about the power of community within NaNoWriMo that I am starting my third year as a Municipal Liaison for my region.
You never know how your local writing community will change your life.
What Is a Write-in?
A write-in is the most common type of event you’ll see in NaNoWriMo.
Regions host them, NaNo HQ hosts online ones—even ProWritingAid will be hosting write-ins throughout November! At a write-in, you join with other NaNo participants and, well, write.
I’ve seen a few ways that write-ins are hosted. Most commonly, your host will run writing sprints. During these, you’ll write as much as you can for a set amount of time.
The goal is to not stop and not edit—just write! Then you’ll get breaks between sprints to socialize, talk out plot holes, or just gather your thoughts for your next scene.
I’ve also seen “shut up and write” events. These usually include a social time before or after, but for the duration of the event, the expectation is that everyone writes without talking.
Some people love these. There is something great about writing collectively, even without speaking. The creative energy is incredible.
Some write-ins are also word count challenges or competitions. There are endless ways to have a write-in, as long as you’re writing together!
What’s the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program?
NaNoWriMo also hosts the Young Writers Program.
The Young Writers Program is a Common-Core aligned education program that helps young writers across the world embrace their creativity and improve their writing.
Educators who teach language arts or creative writing can set up virtual classrooms.
The young writers can then set their own writing goals.
The platform for the YWP also lets students write their novel directly on the website. This feature is unique to the Young Writers Program.
Creative writing is a valuable skill for critical thinking and language fluency. In 2020, more than 97,000 students and educators began their writing journey through the YWP.
The Young Writers Program is world-renowned and has taken place in nearly 6,000 classrooms.
How Do I Win NaNoWriMo?
Winning NaNoWriMo means that you hit 50,000 words before the end of November. But how exactly do you write that many words in 30 days or less?
Have no fear. We have plenty of tips on how to write your novel.
What Are Some Tips For Winning NaNoWriMo?
Fifty thousand words seems daunting. But the first tip is to break it down into smaller amounts. To achieve the goal in thirty days, you only need to write 1,667 words a day.
That seems much more doable, right? It’s shorter than this article!
I always recommend “front-loading” your word count. At the beginning of the month, your motivation is typically much higher. It’s a good time to get plenty of extra words in.
This allows you to take off some of the word count stress as the month goes on.
You will have days where even getting 200 words is a challenge. Write extra at the start to help you get through these days.
If writing 1,667 words every day doesn’t work with your schedule, figure out what works for you. I’m a full-time writer, a Municipal Liaison, and a mom, so most of my writing happens on the weekends.
That’s okay! Some people might choose to get up early every day or write late into the night.
Connect with other writers. Attend write-ins. It’s helpful to have the support of other people who know exactly what you are going through during NaNo.
You can also join official and unofficial online communities. This year, ProWritingAid has a special Facebook group you can join for support.
Reach out to your online writing buddies or your MLs if you need a pep talk.
Most importantly, be kind to yourself. If you don’t “win” NaNoWriMo, that’s okay.
Did you get more words written than you otherwise would have? Great! That sounds like a win to me. Did you learn anything about yourself or your writing process? Another win!
What Happens When You Win NaNoWriMo?
If you do hit 50,000 words and enter your word count on the NaNoWriMo website, you will be a winner!
You’ll get special social media images to announce your success and a certificate you can download. You’ll also get special offers from NaNoWriMo partners.
But the real success is that you’ve written a huge chunk of a novel! Pat yourself on the back then take a nice long nap before you edit. You deserve it!
What Happens After NaNoWriMo?
For most of us, writing 50,000 words in a month is enough of a challenge without editing as we write. At the end of November, put your draft away, and give yourself a pat on the back.
Then, after a week, or a month—however long you need—it's time to get editing. But where do you start?
Software like ProWritingAid can help you create an editing plan.
Use the Summary Report to gain a quick overview of your document. It highlights areas which are already working well and suggestions for areas that you can improve.
Then, you can focus an editing session on your pacing, one on your repeated words, another improving your readability—and the Summary Report means you'll see your progress unfold as you go.
Are There Other Months I Can Participate in NaNoWriMo?
The official National Novel Writing Month happens every November, but it’s not the only month to get involved with the project.
January and February are the “Now What?” months.
If your first draft is complete, you can commit to using these months to work on revising your novel. NaNoWriMo offers resources and support to help with editing.
Why isn’t December a Now What month? First of all, 50,000 words is unlikely to be the full version of your novel, so you might keep writing during that month.
When you do finish a draft, it’s always a good idea to let it simmer so you can edit with fresh eyes. And, well, writing a novel in a month is exhausting.
You can also participate in Camp NaNoWriMo. No, you don’t have to fight off mosquitos and deal with sweltering heat to join.
Camp NaNo is another online challenge that occurs during April and July. You can keep with the goal of 50,000 words like in November, or you can set your own word count goal.
Camp NaNo used to allow you to set goals based on words, pages, or hours of writing. However, when the new NaNoWriMo website launched in 2019, all goals are now set to word count only.
This doesn’t mean you can’t count hours or pages, but you’ll need to figure out a conversion rate if you want to track on the website.
For example, in the writing industry, we generally count a page as 250 words double-spaced. If you don’t want those internet badges, you can just track your words, pages, or hours yourself!
The new website also serves as a project tracker for the rest of the year. You can keep track of all of your writing projects and set different goals and deadlines for each.
You don’t have to wait for one of the events to use the tools anymore.
Some people participate in Camp NaNo every year, and some people only participate in November. It’s completely up to you.
Get Ready for the Challenge
Whether you participate in November, April, or July, NaNoWriMo is a great way to help you get words on the page and turn off your “inner editor.” Are you up for the challenge?
November is fast approaching, and with it comes National Novel Writing Month, the writing challenge that asks you to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.
We've asked the ultimate NaNo expert—NaNoWriMo Executive Director, Grant Faulkner—to share his advice. Join us for a Q&A and get all your questions answered.