NaNoWriMo: Everything You Need to Know

Jordan Wagenet Writing Tips


(Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month)

Have you heard of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, as participants call it? Maybe you’re thinking about participating this year, but you’re still on the fence. Or have you even announced your novel, but you aren’t sure where to start? Have no fear: you’re not alone. Let’s learn about the famous writing event, some advice, tips, and more.

What is NaNoWriMo?

For starters, NaNoWriMo is an annual, worldwide creative writing challenge to write 50,000 words over the month of November—yes, one of the craziest months of the year! Participants can sign up at

Founded in 1999, it started with just 21 members, but it has since grown to hundreds of thousands of participants every year. While most writers start a fresh novel on November 1, many also use that time to complete unfinished novels. The website offers participants valuable resources such as word-count trackers, community message boards, and regular pep talks from successful authors. The goal is to inspire people to get their creative juices flowing, write like no one’s watching, and get that novel done.

If this whole idea seems overwhelming, remember: you’re only competing against yourself. No one is racing to finish first. If you can’t write the recommended daily average of 1,666 words, that’s okay! The event should inspire you to write at all, not feel stressed about reaching a goal.

How do I win NaNoWriMo?

Pretty easily, actually. Anyone who gets to 50,000 words wins. There’s no single winner.

“Winners” walk away with a boost in their pride, a sense of accomplishment, and a first-draft novel that’s fully (or nearly) finished. You can also win discounts for premium writing software, but that’s a side quest—NaNoWriMo is mostly about bragging rights!

How do I start NaNoWriMo?

The first step in starting and finishing a novel is to have an idea where it’s going. Writers break this down into two basic camps: discovery writers and outliners.

Discovery writing can be fun for those who don’t have a fully formed idea yet. Writers sit down to type every day without fully knowing what will happen next to their characters. One benefit of this approach is that the writer isn’t dedicated to specific plot points, so new developments can arise organically and the characters can “lead” the story. However, with so little time on your hands, it’s often wiser to outline your story before taking the plunge on November 1.

Planning takes various forms, such as writing plot points down on sticky notes so you can rearrange them or scratching out an outline on your computer. Get familiar with story structures and character arcs to flesh out your story. All of this extra effort reduces surprises, catches holes ahead of time, and gives you as much information as possible to work with.

Additionally, outlining your story gives you milestones to hit—a point of inspiration when you get stuck. Remember that you can write your scenes out of order, and if you know the major points to hit, you can write the climax and write backward. NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity to find creative solutions to common problems.

Outlining your story gives you milestones to hit—a point of inspiration when you get stuck! #NaNoWriMo Click To Tweet

How do I stay motivated during NaNoWriMo?

The first week of NaNoWriMo will be an exciting time, but after a while, it will feel like running a marathon. You will get tired. You won’t feel like writing. You might even fall behind—and that’s totally okay.

When you hit a creative wall, focus on the big picture. Try a few of the following strategies to power through:

  •        Don’t edit as you go. Fixing prose you hate will waste your time. Fleshing out characters and themes can all come later.
  •        Write even when you think your content is terrible or you’re not sure you’ll end up keeping it. Stick to that writing calendar and don’t let the worst critic—your inner voice—let you fall behind.
  •        Celebrate small victories. Whether it’s every 10,000 words or large plot point, reward yourself with a treat and a mini party.

Even if you’re not hitting a creative wall, you may have trouble finding the drive to actually sit at your desk and type every day of the month. Balancing an intense writing life and a personal life can be difficult (trust me).

Write even when you think your content is terrible or you’re not sure you’ll end up keeping it. Stick to that writing calendar and don’t let the worst critic—your inner voice—let you fall behind. #NaNoWriMo Click To Tweet

How do I avoid burnout during NaNoWriMo?

First, don’t abandon your life outside NaNoWriMo. Watch movies, read books, go out with friends. Prioritize your writing, but don’t make yourself a slave to it. Your mental health and well-being are more important, and taking care of yourself will help you finish.

Second, get outside or change your work environment. Make sure your writing space lets you create freely. Clean it up, reorganize it, and do whatever you need to help you create. Additionally, get involved with local NaNoWriMo groups where you can mingle with veterans and newbies alike, participating in writing challenges and getting out into fresh writing environments.

Third, if you’re really stuck, take a day off. A temporary rest day can help your brain process everything you’re doing. You’ll need to make up those daily words later, but remember that you can write extra words on days when you have more time. Find ways to save time when you’re behind and burnt out, such as exploring meal-planning options for nights when you need to get caught up on your word count.

When inspiration is still lacking, find helpful quotes from accomplished authors, revisit your favorite book, get a laugh from funny comics, get enough sleep, go for a run—look for what makes you creative.

What happens after NaNoWriMo?

When you cross the finish line on December 1, you will join the pantheon of writers who’ve completed the challenge. While ideally everyone should be able to write 50,000 words in a month, that isn’t always the case.

If you didn’t finish, evaluate why. Often life gets in the way, or maybe your novel didn’t quite work out how you’d imagined. The solution may be to get a break or just write a little more slowly. Take your outline back to the drawing board, scrap the parts that weren’t working, and keep going. You can finish, but on your terms.

If you win NaNoWriMo, congratulations! The current book market trends toward books that are longer than 50,000 words, so you’ll likely have more work to do. Finish it while you’re still on that creative high.

Once your novel is done, though, let it sit. Don’t immediately start editing, as your mind needs to become less familiar with your writing in order to objectively see the flaws. Better yet, work on another story to change gears and give your brain something new to chew on.

Writers usually return to their manuscripts for a first edit a few months later. With National Novel Editing Month in March becoming a popular event to conduct a mass edit, spring is the perfect time for your brain to decompress.

At the end of the day, NaNoWriMo is intended to get you through writer’s block and finish that novel. #NaNoWriMo Click To Tweet

When you edit, view your work critically. Identify plot holes, weak characters, and poor dialogue. Also consider those subplots, themes, and character expansions you put on the back burner so you could get to the finish line. Remember that rewriting is a significant aspect of the editing process, and though it might take more time, it can pay off in the quality of your writing.

When you’re ready to take the next step and publish, hire a professional editor who can help you find trouble spots and fix errors you may not have noticed. Whether you plan to pitch your novel to a traditional publishing house or self-publish, a professional editor is a valuable resource for helping prepare your manuscript for success.

At the end of the day, NaNoWriMo is intended to get you through writer’s block and finish that novel. By planning for trouble spots before you get there, you can make November your most productive month yet!

Ready to take your book from first draft to polished and proposal-ready? We can help you get there.

Jordan is a freelance copywriter and business blogger who joined the Scribe Source team in 2018. While she is a prolific B2B and B2C content developer, she also has a master’s degree in geological sciences and is adept at developing scientific content. Jordan also works as an English tutor, teaching literary analysis to youth. She can frequently be found working on her own fiction or helping other writers develop their stories.