NaNoWriMo 101: An Introduction

NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month, is a writer’s challenge in which, during the month of November, participants aim to write 50,000 words of a novel. This equates to approximately 1,667 words a day for 30 days.

Cactus SPIKE! Did you say 1,667 words a day?

Yes. Yes I did.

That might seem like a lot, but with the right mindset, effort, and time, pretty much anybody can do it.

I don’t believe you.

It’s true.

Any Converse-wearing wannabe can throw down effort and time, but what is this “right mindset” you speak of?

The fast pace of Nanowrimo is designed to be a push for all of us, but especially for us hardcore edit-as-we-go types. What I mean by the right mindset is the witting knowledge that this is your first draft: it doesn’t matter how messy, haphazard, or even downright reckless it is. The important thing now is to get the story out. Edit later.

Say it with me now: Write now. Edit later.

In fact, for the month of November, say goodbye to your delete key.

What! No! But I love my delete key!

Tough cheese. In my experience, succeeding in Nanowrimo means granting yourself permission to tell a story and tell it poorly (because you will improve it later*).

Here’s a suggestion for those that really struggle with turning off the internal editor.

Step 1: Think of three adorable animals.

Step 2: Draw minute versions of said animals on tiny scraps of paper.

Step 3: Attach/tape one tiny animal picture (let’s say a baby seal, a baby panda, and a kitten) to each of the following computer keys: INS, DEL, and BACKSPACE.

Step 4: EVERY TIME YOU PRESS INS, DEL, OR BACKSPACE A FAIRY [baby seal, panda, kitten, etc.] DIES

A less dramatic idea is to write with the screen brightness all the way down or using a tool such as Write or Die, which discourages distraction, procrastination and editing with negative reinforcement.

A completely drama-free but arguably difficult approach is to simply be disciplined and not let yourself edit.

Uh, okay…But why was there an asterisk in that last bit?

You can always go back and improve something you’ve written…provided that you save it first! (See the First Rule of Writing: Back It Up.) And be sure to save your Nano writing, like any document you care about, in more than one location! Use zip drives. Email the latest versions to yourself. Dropbox and other save folders that update automatically are especially useful. That way, if anything happens to your computer you’ll be covered.

Save often, and always save in more than one place!

Any other resources I should know about? is the official website for Nanowrimo and offers cool tools for tracking your progress, prize incentives, and forums for connecting with other writers taking the challenge. Many cities also have local chapters, and if you sign up with Nanowrimo you may be able to find gatherings in your local neighborhood.

There are many other resources out there to help you plan, organize, and write your novel, but the most rudimentary and really the only necessary one is a writing implement.

Other Nano basics?

Share your experience in the comments below! What Nano survival advice would you give to those just starting out? What resources would you recommend?


7 responses to “NaNoWriMo 101: An Introduction”

  1. I’m a newbie this year but I read a really helpful tidbit on someone else’s blog that suggested taking a quick note of whatever you know needs to be changed and then tucking it away in an envelope until the end of Nanowrimo, this way you can move on without worrying about forgetting it later. I tend to do this in the actual doc and just add a comment to whatever line or chapter I know I need to add to or amend later and that seems to take the pressure off of editing in the moment.

    1. I love the envelope! That’s a great idea. I do something closer to making a note in the document myself: rather than write what needs to be fixed, I just highlight it and trust that I will know what I want to fix later (unless it’s something major– then I do write it down!). I highlight a lot with variables (like a diner name, or the school mascot, the book on the the nightstand, etc.) and come back and fill them in the later.

  2. Have never tried this. However this year I’m entering into the spirit. My WIP is at something like 30k words. During November I’m going to throw myself at it (started a few days back, cheating) with the incentive that the first, messy draft will be nearly in the can by the end.
    Tip – write longhand. You ain’t going to make big edits that way until edit time.
    Thanks for the back up reminder Julie, must look at Dropbox.

    1. Excellent! How’s it going so far, Roy? Shrewd move with the longhand. I find that when I physically write I DO still edit myself, but seeing how much you cross out a long the way can be a lesson in itself, too.

  3. I love the idea of cute baby animals dying as I hit the delete buttons. Can I also add a sound byte with an excruciating wail?

    1. A writer’s gotta do what a writer’s gotta do 😉

  4. […] structural, and speed writing tips on Twitter and Tumblr to aid those at work on a novel. Now that National Novel Writing Month is over, I present the complete […]

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