Creative Writing Writing 101 10 min2024-06-11 12:00

What Is NaNoWriMo? And Tips on How to Win

nanowrimo and tips to succeed

Every autumn, writers around the world start talking about NaNoWriMo. If you’re wondering what all the hype is about, you’re not alone.

So, what exactly is NaNoWriMo, and how does it work?

The short answer is that NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s an annual challenge every November, when participants try to complete a 50,000-word novel within 30 days. 

I know a lot of writers who wrote their first novels as a NaNoWriMo project. Even if you’re an experienced novelist, you can still use this challenge as a way to motivate yourself to complete a new project.

Read on to learn more about how this challenge works—and our 20 best tips for how to win. 

National novel writing month

How Does NaNoWriMo Work?

The point of NaNoWriMo is to try to write a 50,000-word novel within 30 days—specifically, between November 1st and November 30th.

The rules are simple. If you want to participate, you need to begin a new novel on November 1st. It’s okay to prepare an outline for your book in advance, but you can’t start writing the actual manuscript until November.

Then, aim to write at least 50,000 words by November 30th. Thats about 1,667 words per day if you write every day.

You can use any medium or writing software you want—a pen and notebook, a typewriter, Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Scrivener—as long as you’re getting words on the page. 

There’s a NaNoWriMo website where you can connect with other participants, upload some details about the novel project you’re working on, and track your daily word count goals. As you unlock new achievements, you can earn badges, such as "10,000 words" when you cross the 10,000-word mark and "night owl" if you write at night.

Because the deadline is so tight, the focus is on quantity, not quality. Most participants choose not to edit their manuscript during November and instead challenge themselves to write as fast as they can, accepting that their first draft will probably need a lot of editing later. 

At the end of the month, if you’ve successfully written 50,000 words, you can upload your novel to the NaNoWriMo site for a word count verification. After that, you’re officially a winner!

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for many years now, and I’ve only succeeded at hitting the 50,000-word count goal once. It’s definitely no easy feat—but it can feel very rewarding and exciting when you do cross that finish line. 

Why Should You Participate in NaNoWriMo?

If you’ve never wanted to write a novel before, this challenge probably sounds a little foolish. Why would anyone subject themselves to this writing frenzy?

There are a lot of fun reasons to participate in NaNoWriMo. 

The most obvious one is for a sense of achievement. Finishing a novel in a month is a huge accomplishment and a great confidence booster. It’s like running a marathon or breaking a new personal record—it gives you something to be proud of. 

Another reason is for writing motivation. If you already have a novel idea and just haven’t gotten around to writing it yet, NaNoWriMo is a great way to establish a daily writing habit and hold yourself accountable. 

For a lot of writers, the biggest reason to participate in NaNoWriMo is for the community. You can join a global network of writers who share tips, offer encouragement, and are all striving toward a shared goal. Depending on where you live, you might even be able to attend NaNoWriMo’s in-person write-ins and meetups if you’d rather make friends in person than online. 

The challenge is intense, but its also a lot of fun, filled with writerly camaraderie and pep talks from famous authors. There are lots of reasons to consider joining. 

What Do You Get If You Win?

There are a few prizes you can win if you complete NaNoWriMo, sponsored by affiliate companies. Depending on the year, winners can sometimes get discount codes on writing software like ProWritingAid, Scrivener, and Dabble. 

Of course, the biggest prize for winning NaNoWriMo is a sense of accomplishment and a completed novel draft. 

How Do You Choose a Novel Idea for NaNoWriMo?

There are lots of ways to choose a book idea. If you look at author interviews about how they came up with their book ideas, few of them say the exact same thing. 

Story Prompts

One quick way to find a book idea is by looking at story prompts. There are plenty of generators online, and you can generate as many prompts as you need to come up with the perfect idea for you. 

Mix and Match

Another fun way to generate new ideas is by smashing several existing stories together and seeing what new ideas spark in your brain.

You can make a list of books, movies, TV shows, and even fairy tales. They can be new releases that everyone’s talking about, or they can be classics that have proven to be timeless.

Then, ask yourself: are there any two or three things on this list you could combine in some way to make something completely new? For example, "Pride and Prejudice with the setting of Star Wars." Or, "Frankenstein with the characters in Bridgerton." That way, you’ll have an existing framework for your story, but you can still make it your own. 

Pants It

Finally, the most classic way to generate a story idea is to just start writing and see where it goes. In the writing community, this is often called "pantsing," which comes from the phrase "flying by the seat of your pants."

You might surprise yourself with the fun ideas that are already in your subconscious, waiting to be put to use. Freewrite about some characters, scenes, and events, and see if they inspire you! 

Tips for Winning NaNoWriMo

If you’re hoping to win NaNoWriMo, you’ll have your work cut out for you. Here are our 20 best tips and tricks for winning NaNoWriMo.  

tips to win nanowrimo

Tip #1: Prepare Beforehand

NaNoWriMo takes place in November, but if you want to win, you’ll need to start working long before November 1st. Think of it as training for a marathon—you can’t just show up on the day of the marathon without having done any prep in advance.

Many successful NaNoWriMo winners do their character ideation, plotting, and outlining in October. That way, once November starts, they already know exactly which scenes they need to write—all they have to do is sit down and write it.

You don’t need to necessarily plan your book in that much detail, especially if outlining isn’t part of your preferred writing process. But it’s definitely useful to at least know what your novel’s about, who your main characters are, and what the beginning, middle, and end of your book will look like. 

Tip #2: Set Small Goals

Breaking down big goals into smaller goals is a crucial step for achieving a large task. That way, you can measure your progress incrementally. 

NaNoWriMo automatically assigns you a daily goal of 1,667 words per day. On the website, you can see a graph that shows you how well you’re staying on track.

You can also break your 1,667 words into even smaller goals every day. For example, if you have 30 minutes free in your schedule, you can aim for 300 words in 30 minutes. 

Tip #3: Create a Dedicated Writing Space

It’s important to create a comfortable, distraction-free zone for you to write in every day. 

If you already have a desk at home, you can set it up to be as useful for writing your novel as possible. You can consider hanging up some photos that fit the vibe of your story or motivational quotes from your favorite authors. 

Tip #4: Write From Anywhere

This tip might seem like it contrasts with the previous one, but you’ll actually need a combination of both. You won’t always have long stretches of time to sit down in your dedicated writing space.

Utilize spare moments to write on your phone or notebook. You might be surprised how many words you can squeeze in while you’re just waiting in line at the grocery store. 

You can also switch up your environment deliberately if you’re getting bored of sitting at home. Try going to a library, café, or local park.

Tip #5: Remember Why You’re Writing This Book

Writing a novel is a long-term commitment, and it’s easy to lose steam in the middle. 

To keep yourself motivated, think about what makes this book meaningful to you and why it’s something you want to devote a whole month to. Write down your answer and tape it to the wall above your writing space. 

It can be something inspirational, like "I want to help teach children how important it is to be kind to each other." Or it can be something simple, like "I want people to be able to escape to a happier world."  

That way, every time you feel yourself losing motivation, you can look at that and remember why you decided to do this in the first place. 

Tip #6: Tell Accountability Partners

Achieving goals is much easier with the support of your friends and family. 

It can be helpful to choose a friend to be your accountability partner. You can check in with them at a regular pace, such as every evening or once a week, to let them know if you’re on track to hit your word count targets. If they’re also participating in NaNoWriMo, you can hype them up in return. 

Tip #7: Use Timers

Setting timers to do focused writing sprints can be a really effective way to get words down quickly. Sometimes, telling yourself you only have 25 minutes to write can make you even more productive than telling yourself you have the whole day. 

Try the Pomodoro technique, which involves doing a 25-minute stretch of focused work, followed by a 5-minute break. Feel free to tweak those time intervals based on what works best for you. 

Tip #8: Embrace the Mess

Accept that your first draft will be imperfect. This is true for any novel, but it’s especially true during a challenge like NaNoWriMo. 

Jane Smiley said: "Every first draft is perfect because all a first draft has to do is exist." Remember that any first draft that exists, no matter how messy it is, is better than a draft that doesn’t exist at all. 

Tip #9: Don’t Edit As You Go

For me, this tip has always been hard to follow because I always edit my writing as I go. But if your goal is to write 50,000 words quickly, you have to turn off your inner critic. 

Remember that NaNoWriMo is all about speed. There will always be time to make your novel perfect later, once your first draft is complete. 

Tip #10: Surprise Yourself

If you follow your outline too closely, you might find yourself getting bored. 

Sometimes it can be a good idea to throw yourself a curveball. Does a character suddenly reveal an unexpected backstory? Does a character suddenly die, leaving everyone else floundering? 

You’ll definitely have to edit later to make these surprises work for the story, but if you’re just trying to keep things interesting, sprinkling in a surprise or two can definitely respark your writing and make your story feel fresh and alive. 

Tip #11: Stay Healthy

Sometimes when you’re immersed in your story, it can be easy to forget that you’re not just a mind spitting out words. You still have to take care of your body. 

Stay hydrated, eat healthy, and make sure you get enough sleep every night. 

Staying up late to hit your daily word count goal might seem like a good idea today, but you’ll probably regret it tomorrow when you find yourself falling asleep at your keyboard. Prioritize long-term health over your short-term goals. 

Tip #12: Take Breaks

Taking breaks is an important component of staying healthy. Instead of sitting at your desk all day, make sure you give your brain—and your body—time to relax.

Take time away from your book to go on a walk, do your dishes, or watch some TV. You’ll thank yourself for it later. 

Tip #13: Study Writing Craft

Writing a novel is a craft, just like oil painting or woodworking. Improving your writing craft will set you up to finish NaNoWriMo more quickly and successfully. 

Check out some fiction writing books from your local library. I recommend On Writing by Stephen King, Story Genius by Lisa Cron, and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, if you haven’t read them already. 

There are also plenty of useful resources online; NaNoWriMo itself has plenty. 

For NaNoWriMo, it’s particularly useful to learn about novel plot structures, like Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat beat sheet. You can always alter the classic story beats to make them your own, but they’re a great starting point for framing your story. 

Tip #14: Use Writing Prompts

Writing prompts aren’t only useful at the beginning of your process, when you’re trying to figure out what kind of story to tell. You can use them continuously whenever you get stuck.

If you get stuck, writing prompts can spark new ideas. Some prompts can even be customized to your story. 

Tip #15: Avoid Distractions

Whenever you’re working on your manuscript, try to minimize the number of distractions around you. You can turn off notifications on your phone and computer and even use earplugs or noise-canceling headphones to help you get in the zone.

If you live with roommates or family members, let them know in advance that you need distraction-free time to make progress on your novel. 

Tip #16: Reward Yourself 

Don’t wait to celebrate until you’ve typed the words "the end." It’s important to celebrate small milestones throughout the course of the month.

For example, maybe you can treat yourself to a new book at the bookstore when you hit the 10,000-word mark. Or you can go out for ice cream with your friends when you hit the midpoint. Give yourself little rewards to remind yourself you’re making progress. 

Tip #17: Give Yourself Grace

It’s okay if you skip a day or fall behind schedule on your word count. You’re human, just like everyone else. 

Don’t beat yourself up for not hitting your goals. Just keep moving forward, and remember that even just starting the process of writing a novel is already a really exciting feat. 

Tip #18: Stay Motivated With a Community

Joining a writing community is a huge part of what makes NaNoWriMo so much fun. You can engage in forums and social media groups full of other writers also trying to hit the same 50,000-word goal. 

NaNoWriMo hosts tons of webinars, workshops, and local meetups. Check them out and make some new friends. 

Tip #19: Make the Challenge Your Own

Even if you decide a 50,000-word novel isn’t actually the right challenge for you, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t participate in NaNoWriMo. You can aim for a smaller word count goal, or you can write short stories instead—the spirit of the challenge is simply that you’re writing.

Though you won’t officially "win" if you don’t follow the rules, you’ll be able to hit your own personal goals—and that’s more important than getting a badge. 

Tip #20: Don’t Forget to Have Fun

Last but not least, keep in mind that writing a novel is supposed to be fun. Don’t get so focused on winning the challenge that you’re not having fun anymore.

So, even while you’re chasing your word count goal, make sure you keep your inner joy and spark alive. 

What NaNoWriMo Events Happen Outside of November?

The main NaNoWriMo challenge always happens in November, but NaNoWriMo is a nonprofit organization that operates year-round. There’s a lot it can offer writers, even outside of November. 

What Is Camp NaNoWriMo?

Camp NaNoWriMo, held every April and July, is a more flexible cousin to the main November event. 

Unlike the rigid 50,000-word goal you get in November, Camp NaNoWriMo lets you set your own writing targets. Whether you want to revise a previous draft, write some short stories, or work on a screenplay, you can adapt Camp NaNoWriMo to your specific creative needs.

Think of it as a summer camp for writers, complete with cabins—their term for their small online groups—for socializing and support.

What Is Preptober?

Preptober is the preparatory month of October leading up to NaNoWriMo. Its all about getting ready to hit the ground running on November 1st.

There are several ways you can use Preptober to give yourself a better chance of success in November. 

The most obvious one is to develop your story and create character profiles, plot outlines, and world-building details.

Another important task is to set up your writing environment. Organize your workspace and gather supplies.

Also, don’t forget to schedule your writing time. Plan your November calendar to include daily writing sessions, and block out any days on the calendar you might not have time to write, such as vacations or deadlines at work.

Finally, there are plenty of prep events hosted by NaNoWriMo that you can join in October. It’s a great way for everyone to get motivated together. 

What Does the NaNoWriMo Community Do?

Throughout the year, the NaNoWriMo community actively sponsors various events and resources. For example: 

  • Forums: the NaNoWriMo website hosts forums, where writers discuss everything from plot dilemmas to writing tools.

  • Write-Ins: NaNoWriMo offers both virtual and in-person gatherings where participants can meet at bookstores and coffee shops to write together and share experiences.

  • Social Media: Follow NaNoWriMo on platforms like Twitter/X, Instagram, and Facebook for updates, encouragement, and fun challenges.

  • Pep Talks: Receive inspiring messages from well-known authors who will share their own favorite tips and tricks. 

Conclusion on NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is more than just a writing challenge—its a journey that transforms the way you think about writing and creativity.

Whether youre a seasoned novelist or a first-time writer, theres a place for you in this vibrant community. Take a look at the NaNoWriMo website.

Don’t forget to use ProWritingAid to edit your completed manuscript. Once you’ve written your first draft, running your manuscript through ProWritingAid can help you catch all your typos and grammatical errors.

Our tool also gives you customized style suggestions to help you cut overused words, turn passive voice to active voice, fix your dialogue tags, compare your writing to your favorite novelist’s writing, and so much more.

Good luck, and happy writing!

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