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How and Why to Participate in National Novel Writing Month

The Writer's Life

How and Why to Participate in National Novel Writing Month

How and Why to Participate in National Novel Writing Month

Each November writers from around the world come together to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The idea behind NaNoWriMo is to write a book of at least 50,000 words in one month.

NaNoWriMo exists just to get the story out of your head and onto the computer screen or pieces of paper. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar or punctuation. Don’t concern yourself if the prior paragraph was coherent in your head but came out the wrong way, or you should have put it in the previous chapter. Don’t self censor and ignore your inner critic.

Just write.

History of NaNoWriMo

The first NaNoWriMo was July 1999 in San Francisco. Twenty one people gathered to write a novel in one month and as Chris Baty explains on NaNoWriMo, “ we wanted to write novels for the same dumb reasons twenty-somethings start bands. We wanted to make noise. We didn’t have anything better to do…”

These twenty-one writers produced novels and in the process realized binge drinking (coffee) and connection were key to making it work. Baty compared their process to “half literary marathon and half block party.” When the month was over, Baty decided he was onto something and created the yearly event, moving it to November.

Year two brought a website and 140 participants who were reached by word of mouth. Year three jumped to five thousand. As the years progressed, the website evolved, people volunteered, and the ambitious writers kept coming. In 2013, NaNoWriMo had nearly 400,000 participants!

How It Works

Access the NaNoWriMo website and set up an account. Create a profile with a bio. This is optional though recommended so others can read about you and learn what genre you’re planning to tackle. There is also place to upload a photo, which is, again, optional. To create a novel, you must have a title; however, you can change it later on. There is also the option to upload a picture of your novel cover.

At that point your account is all set up and you’re ready to get started!

To begin, seek out like-minded people and become “buddies.” These are people who will encourage when you want to give up, help when you’re stuck, or simply listen to you vent about how insane you were to sign up. You can find these people by visiting the forums, reading posts, and buddying up with someone with whom you click. You can also search by writer, novel or forum.

After you’ve found some writing buddies, peruse the website. There are lots of places to get ideas for your story or help you through an area of writer’s block. These include webcasts and social media chats, a library with writing prompts, strategies, and other tips and resources. NaNoWriMo is on most social media sites so it’s easy to stay connected wherever yours are online. Use the hashtag #NaNoWriMo2017 or #NaNoWriMo to keep up with what others are saying about the event. Who knows, you may meet your next writing buddy there!

NaNoWriMo suggests prepping for your writing adventure in October, though plenty of people, known as pantsers, wing it.

Start writing your novel on November 1, and input your word count as needed (NaNoWriMo recommends at least weekly). Note: Write your book in whatever program you normally use (Word, Google Docs, etc.) as there is not a place on the NaNoWriMo website. There is, however, space in your profile for a synopsis and novel excerpt.

All of the above will earn participation, writing and personal achievement badges on your dashboard. You “win” NaNoWriMo if you write 50,000 words by November 30.

Why You Should Do It

The reasons to participate in NaNoWriMo are endless. Here are just a few:

  • Prove to yourself that you can.
  • Give yourself a deadline to finish the story “you always wanted to write.”
  • Meet fellow writers.
  • Provide and receive writing support, including feedback.
  • Discounts on products, such as Scrivener, Storyist, and Scribophile memberships.

If the above reasons aren’t enough to motivate you, perhaps seeing some of the success stories will.

Here are just a few people who have participated in NaNoWriMo in the past and have gone on to get publishing deals:

  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  • Wool by Hugh Howey
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer
  • Modern Girls by Jennifer S. Brown
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Take the Plunge!

Is it time to get that story out of your head and onto a piece of paper? There will never be a perfect time to write, you just need to pick up the pen and force yourself to put those ideas down.

So… Ready, set, write!

For some writing tips, see


Lynn has been writing as long as she could hold a pencil. She's currently working on a memoir about adopting through foster care and has been featured on numerous adoption blogs. She advocates for foster care adoption in Northern California where she lives with her husband of 15 years, three children, and four furry companions.

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