National Novel Writing Month begins in November, and if you’re planning on organizing your own novel writing intensive, you’ve got some NaNoWriMo prep to do. Novelists of all fiction genres use NaNoWriMo to bring a novel from idea to finished book, and if you’re itching to blitz through your first draft, November is the month to do it.
30 days isn’t a whole lot of time to write 50,000+ words, but with these NaNoWriMo tips, you’re sure to make significant progress on your novel. Let’s look at the NaNoWriMo prep you can do in October to simplify this November’s national novel writing month.
What is NaNoWriMo?
What is NaNoWriMo? Every year, book writers around the world dedicate the month of November to writing a first draft of their novel. Because of its rapid success on the internet, national novel writing month—abbreviated to NaNoWriMo—is now a phenomenon of the creative writing world, particularly on social media.
Every year, book writers around the world dedicate the month of November to writing a first draft of their novel.
In addition to its presence as an internet trend, NaNoWriMo also has its own nonprofit organization, which includes a novel writing camp for young adults and a blog with novel writing tips.
Although its name specifies novels, there are no NaNoWriMo rules against memoirists participating each November. Writers of all genres use this month to make headway on their books, so if you’re writing a memoir, short story collection, essay collection, or even children’s books and poetry novels, feel free to participate! (Poets can also participate, although April is NaPoWriMo, or national poetry writing month.)
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NaNoWriMo Words Per Day
If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, how many words per day should you write?
A novel is defined as any book-length project that contains 50,000 words or more. The month of November has 30 days. So, at minimum, you should be writing 1,667 words a day, or approximately 11,700 words a week.
At minimum, you should be writing 1,667 words a day, or approximately 11,700 words a week.
However, there are two things to note here. First, November is a month of several holidays, including (in the U.S.) Thanksgiving and Black Friday. If you plan to celebrate these holidays, or if you have other events lined up throughout the month, it may make sense to write 2,000 words a day. This gives you 25 writing days, plus 5 break days, and you still end the month with 50,000 words.
Second, while the minimum length for NaNoWriMo books is 50,000, most novels require more words. In fact, most debut novels range between 80,000-100,000 words.
Although you cannot predict how long your book will be, if you want to write your entire first draft in a month, it’s safe to plan for more NaNoWriMo words per day. If your goal is 80,000 words, you will need to write an average of 2,667 words per day; if it’s 100,000, shoot for 3,333 words per day.
12 NaNoWriMo Tips to Write Your Novel
Do you want to participate in national novel writing month, but you’re worried about making your word count? Get some NaNoWriMo prep done with these 12 tips.
1. Know Your Writing Process
Many novelists have developed their own processes for writing stories. A famous process, for example, is the Snowflake Method, wherein the writer tells their story in a sentence, then a paragraph, then a one-page summary, etc., expanding the story until it’s full-length.
Knowing yourself as a writer is one of the most important NaNoWriMo tips. Before you research different novel writing methods, you should know that there’s two types of writers: pantsers and plotters.
Knowing yourself as a writer is one of the most important NaNoWriMo tips.
Pantsers are novelists who “write by the seat of their pants.” In other words, they plan very little, writing a story with just a vague concept in mind.
Plotters, on the other hand, nail down every important detail of their work before they start writing it, including their stories’ plot points, characters, point-of-view, and even themes.
What kind of writer are you? You might not know off the top of your head, and if that’s the case, maybe experiment with some short story writing. Write a short story using each method, and see which one feels more comfortable for you. Then, do some research on the different methods for writing a novel, as they may help you outline and prepare for November.
2. Do Some Outlining
Even if you’re a true pantser, you may want to do a little planning before you start a NaNoWriMo project, as minimal outlining can save you loads of time. During national novel writing month, every minute is precious!
Your story outline can be as simple or as complex as you see fit, but spend time thinking about the actual plot of your novel. Give consideration to the elements of Freytag’s Pyramid, like the inciting incident and the climax. You can also plot your novel in a couple of different ways, like mapping out different scenes or themes instead of merely plot events.
At its most complex, a story outline can include all of the elements of storytelling, which we’ve listed below.
3. Know the Elements of Storytelling
Every novelist must have a basic understanding of the rules of storytelling. While short fiction, at its simplest, can simply be a character and a few plot points, a novel involves complex structure, planning, and storytelling.
Your NaNoWriMo prep will start with these basic elements:
- Plot, the basic events that propel the novel along.
- Characters, including a protagonist and antagonist.
- Point of View, which defines who is telling the story and from what vantage point.
- Conflict, which propels the plot and defines the characters’ motives.
- Settings, which often tie into deeper thematic elements.
- Themes, the deeper ideas that define your novel.
- Style, which is the author’s thumbprint, defining how the story is told.
Learn about all the elements of storytelling, plus 20 storytelling techniques, in this article:
4. Plan for the Holidays
Depending on where you live, November has several holidays which might interfere with your writing. Plan for those holidays accordingly.
For example, if you live in the United States and you know you will travel for Thanksgiving, make a gameplan for your writing on those travel days. Can you write in the car? Will you have writing time before or after dinner? Can you type on your phone while your family watches the football game?
If you know you won’t be able to write during those days, plan accordingly, as you will have to write more NaNoWriMo words per day.
5. Write at the Same Time, Same Place
NaNoWriMo is an intensive month of writing. To set yourself up for success, plan to write at the same time, same place, every day.
A consistent writing habit will make meeting your word count goals much, much easier. By blocking out the same time every day, you can keep yourself from making appointments and commitments that interfere with your writing. Additionally, your brain needs to be switched on for creative writing, and writing at the same time will help prepare your brain for this.
A consistent writing habit will make meeting your word count goals much, much easier.
The same is true for writing in the same location. Certain environments cue our brains to think and act certain ways, especially if we create a habit of doing the same behaviors in the same environments. If you have a specific place where you can write and only write, try to write in that same spot every day.
Once you sit down in the same place, at the same time, every day, you’ll find that your daily word count is that much easier to reach.
Of course, not every writer has the luxury of a consistent daily schedule. If this is the case, don’t fret, but do try to set yourself up for success. For example, you can try to schedule 15 minute writing bursts throughout the day, or you can use a voice-to-text app and write while you’re driving or making dinner.
6. Write With Friends
One of the hardest parts of NaNoWriMo is keeping accountable to your daily word count. Writing your novel alongside friends makes it so much easier.
Because NaNoWriMo is an online phenomenon, there are writing groups scattered across the internet. Writers participate in the challenge on social media sites like Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Tumblr, Slack, and Discord.
There are also NaNoWriMo forums specific to the challenge, such as those listed at this wiki.
Whether your writing friends are online or in person, try to build a system of accountability with other writers. You might find your next writing partner in our Facebook group!
7. Build in Rewards
Often, writing a novel is thankless work. It can be hard to find encouragement as you churn through your first draft, and as you write further into your project, you may end up liking it less and less.
This type of writer’s fatigue happens to all novelists. Because writing is often a solitary experience, try to build some encouragement into your own writing schedule.
Rewarding yourself for meeting your writing goals will help motivate you to write, both today and the next day. That reward can be dessert, a TV show, a hot bath, a glass of wine—really, anything that makes you feel good and doesn’t require too much thinking.
When you reward yourself for your hard work, you’ll feel much more capable of tackling national novel writing month one day at a time.
8. Ignore Your Inner Critic
Every writer has an inner critic. It’s that voice in your head telling you “this sucks,” “that makes no sense,” “your characters are flat,” “your story is boring,” etc.
The inner critic can be a useful tool, particularly when you’re editing. While it can sound harsh or demeaning, it can also guide you from your first draft to a manuscript ready for publication.
What it’s not useful for is writing the first draft. In addition to wasting your time and energy, your inner critic can make you lose motivation fast, convincing you that you should not finish your novel.
Your inner critic is your first draft’s worst enemy, and if you listen to it too much, you won’t come out of NaNoWriMo with a novel.
This is perhaps the most important of NaNoWriMo tips: Your inner critic is your first draft’s worst enemy, and if you listen to it too much, you won’t come out of NaNoWriMo with a novel.
For most writers, turning the inner critic off completely is impossible. But you can ignore it. Focus on putting one word in front of the other without judging your work, and if you find your self-criticism keeps interrupting your train of thought, find ways to stay inspired.
9. Stay Inspired
An essential component of NaNoWriMo prep is finding inspiration. As you plod through the month of November, knowing where to turn for inspiration will keep you motivated and help silence your inner critic.
Joining NaNoWriMo forums and writing groups will help keep you motivated: when you’re surrounded by novelists making progress on their work, you’ll feel more inspired to make progress on yours. Additionally, it helps to talk about your feelings as you push through your writing, because if you’re losing motivation or questioning your novel’s worth, it’s likely that someone else is, too.
Additionally, famous novelists have talked about the difficulties of novel writing since the invention of the novel form. Motivational writing quotes might help you make it through the next day’s word count, such as the quotes at Brain Pickings or the ones we post on our Instagram.
Wherever inspiration strikes, hold onto it, and let it keep your writing flame lit through November.
10. Don’t Go Back and Edit
Many novelists tend to be perfectionists. While this tendency will help you through the editing portion, it will likely deter you through national novel writing month. No matter how much you want to go back and edit something, eschew the impulse. Do not go back and edit. Leave what you’ve already written alone.
There are two reasons for doing this. First, you simply do not have time to edit. Editing will create rabbit holes that you’ll tunnel down without stopping, fixing every minor detail you can without contributing to your word count. While those edits are valuable and necessary, you don’t need to make them at this time. You will only get stuck on what’s wrong with the novel, foregoing all progress to make everything perfect.
Second, editing and writing are two different tasks. Your task in November is to write. Once you open the editing floodgates, you won’t be able to stop, and your inner critic will be unleashed once again, deterring you from finishing your first draft.
Your edits can wait. What you might fix now, in November, you will certainly also catch and fix in any other month. Keep your inner critic turned off, and just keep writing. You’ve got 11 months of the year to dedicate to edits!
11. If You’re On a Roll, Keep Going
Every writer, during NaNoWriMo and otherwise, has good writing days and bad writing days. (If you don’t believe me, read this recent blogpost from Neil Gaiman about his bad writing days—I find it refreshing to know even the pros struggle.)
You often can’t turn the bad writing days into good ones, and you certainly can’t predict which days will be which. What you can do is milk the good days in preparation for the bad.
Milk the good writing days in preparation for the bad ones.
If your goal for NaNoWriMo words per day is 2,000, and you’ve spewed out 2,500 words with time to spare, keep writing. It doesn’t matter that you’ve already reached your daily goal: milk today’s inspiration for all that it’s worth, because you may have a tough time getting the words down tomorrow.
Writing extra words when you can gives you some buffer space, because if there’s a day you don’t meet your word count or have to take a break, you’ll have worked in some wiggle room so you’re not tight on words.
12. Count Everything as a Success
It’s easy to get lost in all the reasons your novel needs work. With over 50,000 words drafted, many of those words will likely need cutting and editing, and there’s no guarantee that your novel will ever be published.
Additionally, writers often base their success on specific things. Is my novel long enough? Did it get picked up by an agent? Does it already have a following on social media? Do publishers want to print it? Does it already have presales?
While these are certainly measures of success, they’re not the only ones. Just writing the damn thing is a huge accomplishment: with only 26 letters, you’ve created an entire world, complete with characters, settings, events, and deeper ideas. That’s unbelievable!
Again, writing is often thankless work. You are your work’s biggest advocate, and it’s important to act as such, because no one else knows how important your novel is quite like you do.
You’re writing a novel! Novel writing is hard! You’re doing it anyway! This, alone, is a huge success. Congratulations!
Successful NaNoWriMo Books
Do NaNoWriMo writers get published? Absolutely! Many successful novels have been written during national novel writing month, including:
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
- With Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo
- An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
- Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
- Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
- Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
- Wool by Hugh Howey
- Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy
- Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington
- The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh
Follow our 12 NaNoWriMo tips, and we might add your novel to this list!
More Resources for National Novel Writing Month
Want more resources for your NaNoWriMo prep? Start with these articles.
- Novel Writing Tips: The Basics of Novel Writing
- How to Come Up With Story Ideas
- How to Write a Compelling Story
- How to Write Dialogue: Tips, Examples, and Exercises
- Why “Show, Don’t Tell” is a Golden Rule of Creative Writing
- What Causes Writer’s Block, and How to Overcome It
- What is Urban Fantasy? Writing the Urban Fantasy Genre
Get More NaNoWriMo Tips at Writers.com
Are you ready to start writing your novel? Writers.com can help! Take a look at our upcoming fiction courses, where you can get some NaNoWriMo prep done and start writing your first draft.
Have a great NaNoWriMo this year, and happy writing!
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