This year will be my eighth year taking part in National Novel Writing Month, referred to as NaNoWriMo or NaNo by participants. For those who’ve never heard of it before, NaNoWriMo is a global personal challenge for writers. The goal? Write 50,000 words in one month. For some, that may sound very easy. For others, it’s a daunting task.
NaNoWriMo has existed since 1999, when a group of 21 writers got together in San Francisco, California. At the time, they held it in July. By the next year, it moved to November “to fully take advantage of the miserable weather” for 140 participants. If the weather’s awful anyway, might as well stay inside and write!
For the past 21 years, NaNoWriMo has been held in each November. It has grown from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of writers taking part. Registered as a non-profit since 2006, NaNoWriMo has branched out to include “camps” for shorter projects at other times of the year. It’s part of curriculums in 5,920 classrooms across the United States.
The core November challenge is still a large part of NaNoWriMo, though, and many writers look forward to it every year. There are “traditionalists,” those who are attempting to get in 50,000 words of a single fiction novel in one month. Some writers take a “rebel” approach and write non-fiction, such as memoirs, biographies, or poetry. Others rebel by writing several short stories, writing more than one novel at once, continuing a novel already begun, or writing fanfiction. There are unlimited ways to rebel and still participate and get value out of the challenge.
In previous years, I’ve gone the traditional route, the rebel route, and a mixture of both—which I guess is rebelling, anyway! One year, I completed several fanfic stories that had been languishing unfinished, writing enough words on those to go the 50,000 and more! I tried my hand at traditional, original novels several times. A couple of years ago, I did 25,000 words of an original novel and 25,000 words of a single fanfic—neither of which has seen the light of day yet, but the practice was great!
My plans for this year have gone back and forth. It’s the first year that I’m truly considering eventually publishing the results. As I’ve said in other posts, I have a few contenders on which one I want to write, and the winner may be the one that I like the most on November 1st!
I’ve also given some thought to attempting a double this year. If I try for 100,000 words, I might complete, or come close to completing, two projects at once. I don’t intend for a couple of my ideas to be long books, so that could work well. On the other hand, I don’t want to burn out by the middle of November from stress.
Burnout is a genuine concern with NaNoWriMo, especially for anyone who rarely writes about 1,667 words a day—that’s the daily goal that will get you to 50,000 if you write every day for the entire month of November. Until recently, my daily word count has been sporadic even outside of NaNoWriMo. Some days I’ll write 500 words. Some days I’ll write 5,000. Since retiring from the military this summer, I’ve averaged about 1,000 a day. I’ve been trying to increase that over the past month, and I’m at 1,500 per day on a good day.
That means if I try to double it, I’ll face the same possibility of burnout as any other year I’ve participated. I’m trying to decide which is better: get into a good writing rhythm I can stick with outside of NaNoWriMo, when my word goal planner tells me I’ll need to write about 2,500 words a day for the next year or two to reach my goals? Or try to push myself and get 5,000 or more words a day? I’ll probably still be trying to figure that out at midnight on October 31st!
WRITE-INS AND FORUMS
One part I love the most about NaNoWriMo is the sense of community you get as a writer during it. There are multiple ways to take part and feel a part of things. Some people like to go to write-ins and hang out with others while they write, while others find community in the forums provided on the NaNoWriMo website.
Of course, with COVID looming last year and this one, the organization has discouraged and not sponsored in-person write-ins. That means that they can’t be advertised on the website or in any of the posts and emails sent out by regional leaders, who usually coordinate them and cheer on other writers.
However, virtual write-ins were organized last year and have been given the go-ahead this year. So, writers can still get some of that community feeling that way, if that’s what they prefer.
Personally, I’m more of a fan of the forums during NaNoWriMo. I love interacting with other people going through the same process I am, but I prefer doing it from behind a computer screen. My favorite forum is “NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul,” which has saved my sanity more than once during past Novembers!
TOOLS TO HELP
If you’re thinking about participating in NaNoWriMo, here’s a list of tools I’ve found helpful each year.
- NaNo Prep 101: Offers a downloadable handbook for prepping and several sessions throughout the month of October to help you plan
- Plottr: Offers a free 30-day trial, which is great if you haven’t done prep yet and want something to get some quick notes in or help you plot at the very beginning of the month. It is a paid subscription after that, but WriMos can get discounts. The best part about Plottr is the templates—it makes it a lot easier to figure out what type of structure you want and stick with it!
- 4TheWords: A fantasy-based writing game that helps you with word sprints. This is one of the fun ways to write a lot in a short amount of time while tricking yourself into thinking you’re playing around—because you are! It doesn’t save your writing forever, but as long as you remember to paste over to your writing platform of choice afterwards, you should be fine.
- Ilys: If you find that you’re editing too much as you go, Ilys can help you overcome that because it absolutely does not let you backspace! You set a goal, and you have to reach the end of that goal before you can do any editing. Like 4theWords, it doesn’t save your words for long, so cut and paste.
I haven’t always managed to “win.” In fact, I’ve only completed 50,000 words three out of the last seven years. However, it’s about far more than writing 50,000 words. NaNoWriMo is about showing yourself there are ways to find time to write. There are things that can make it easier, and there are people who can help you. The writing community is out there, and NaNoWriMo is a great way to help you find it.
© Allyson Pauley 2021