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NaNoWriMo is upon us: a few practical tips

Updated on November 12, 2013

What is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month is an annual internet-based writing project that takes place throughout the month of November. The challenge is to write a 50.000 word novel from scratch, starting on the 1st of November, and ending at the latest at 23:59 on November 30th.


Amateur and professional writers can register themselves on the official website, give their prospective novel a title, share a summary and excerpt, count down the number of words they have written, and connect, in a spirit of camaraderie more than competition, with other scribblers from all around the world. Though the website is maintained in English, your novel can be written in any language of your choice.

The goal is to fight that blank-page stress and get as many people as possible write a first draft of a novel, to prove to themselves they can hold the distance. It is actually a matter of length against quality, but that November novel may be the biggest project registered users have had to tackle so far.

The NaNoWriMo logo. Coffee is capital in the production of literature.
The NaNoWriMo logo. Coffee is capital in the production of literature. | Source

The requirements are as follow:

  • Though you are allowed to outline the plot and think of what you are going to write beforehand, you should not start writing before the 1st of November and nothing that has been written before should be included in the body of the text. The content should be absolutely original.

  • You choose your language, but your work has to be a novel (ranging from literary, to erotica, chic lit, fantasy, horror,...). The scope is quite broad.

  • You can write on paper if you prefer, but you need to submit a verifiable word count of 50.000 through the web interface before the end of November. Bear in mind that, as their program is not able to recognize special characters, it may affect your word count if you choose to write in any other language than English.

  • You are not required to upload, publish or even share any text you have written. There is a possibility to scramble the text before sending it through to the NaNoWriMo word count program. You do not win because of quality, you win because you committed yourself to write 50.000 words under 30 days and you kept your promise! Besides being an excellent exercice for writing, it is also a test of willpower and will often make or break one's aspirations to be a writer.

  • You only win against yourself!

How am I going to survive?

There is preparatory work that can be done.

You can think about the genre of the novel you would like to write and emulate your favourite writer. Being familiar with tropes and basic plot-writing will help you sketch the outlines of your novel and see clearer.

On the other hand, some people work with characters and let them take on the story, outlining only their basic timeline, and letting them live out their destiny.

I have good news as well: fanfiction is accepted. Now is the time to save Severus Snape from Nagini's poisonous fangs.

What is important with this «competition» is to write as much as you can, to get it out of your system. Though it is important to run a spell-check regularly and re-read to make sure there are no holes in the plot, we could say the goal is to write a rough draft and not fall in the trap of perfectionism. There will be plenty of time for nit-picking in December. I see it more as a conversation that should be flowing, very naturally, with its expected silences at times, but that should never dry out...and does not need to be high brown at all times.

Your goal of 50.000 words can be broken down into around 1600 words a day throughout the month. You may find that on some days you will write more, and on some days less. The thing is to be consistant with your sitting down and getting to work. Registering your word count regularly on the website will help you fight that depressive feeling of desperation that will hit you around the 15th.

Some will find it easy to write those 3 pages a day, some will struggle, some will do their week's work in one weekend, some will mathematically produce their required amount of words on a daily basis. It is up to each writer to know what works for them, but here are some universal tips:

  • Give yourself some time and find a place that encourages inspiration while allowing you to concentrate. There is a reason that coffee shops are an ideal place to work for some, while others will prefer to sit in a library, facing a wall (yours truly when she has to read a book on the required reading list for uni).

  • Give yourself the tools by keeping your papers, pens, notebooks handy, or your electronic equipments up to date. Five capital words: Back up your work regularly! A clean desk and few distractions will help you focus on the task at hand.

  • Depending on how busy your schedule is, for example if you are a dedicated student, a new parent or employed full-time, you may want to simplify your routine to give you that extra hour a day, and cut down on social medias. Now is the time to surf the web for minimalism tips...if only you were not busy writing what may be a masterpiece.

And after?..

Some novels have been born from previous NaNoWriMo competitions, such as Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, or The Night Circus by Eric Morgenstern. It is also possible for writers to self-publish their work or market it as an e-book.

Are you willing to put your writing skills and willpower to the test! Think about joining NaNoWriMo next year! Only good can come out of it.

Are you taking NaNoWriMo in 2013?

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