National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo (as it is known by its friends,) or NaNo (by its special friends) is a competition of sorts. It takes place in November every year, and the point of it is this: to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s an average of 1,667 words a day. Anyone who finishes the full 50,00 words within the time limit is a winner.

Think it sounds mad? You’d be right. But it’s also a boatload of fun.

Think it sounds hard? You’d be right there, too.

A little preparation can go a long way toward easing the pressure. You don’t need a twenty-page outline of your novel, but a short list of plot points can help. Likewise, you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) tell every stranger on the street that you’re doing this for the first time and that you’ll be a bestselling author come December 1st; but dropping a line to let your loved ones know you’ll be a bit tied up for the next few weeks is only polite – and as a bonus, it gets you out of any pesky social engagements.

NaNo involves the thrill of the chase – oh no, I’m a thousand words behind Friend One, I need to catch up; it involves the thrill of the leader – I’m beating Friend Two by over two thousand words! Eat my dust, sucker!; but mostly it involves dogged determination to just sit down and write this thing. In the end it doesn’t matter who’s written more or fewer words than you. It doesn’t matter if you won in ten days or not at all. It matters that you now have a thousand or ten thousand or a hundred thousand more words written than you did at the start of the month.

That’s progress. That’s something worth celebrating.

I’ve participated in – and won – NaNo for three years running. Here’s a brief run-down of my efforts.


NaNoWriMo 2012. This was my first year doing NaNo. I thought it was mad; I thought I’d be running on an hour of sleep a night for 30 days; I thought I’d manage maybe 25,00 words by the end of the month – half the required total. I had no outline. What I did have was six chapter headings describing what happened in each chapter. I was writing BBC Sherlock fanfiction; my novel title was Sherlock: New Zombieland; my chapter titles were things like Sherlock wakes up and finds John is gone. Catchy, eh? ‘course, it was summer holidays and I was unemployed. I wrote 1,667 words every day, give or take a few hundred. Result: I hit 50,000 words on November 27th. I got eight or nine hours of sleep every night. I still thought it was mad.

NaNoWriMo 2013. Year Two. No fanfiction this year; I was writing the first in my sci-fi series. I had a bit more of an outline than in 2012: characters, main events, that sort of thing. I also had the added pressure of keeping a win streak going – and of doing the last university course of my degree (yay summer school) at the same time. Classes were from 9am – 12. Some mornings I wrote from 6:00am – 8:00am; other mornings I’d jot a few lines down during class; and every afternoon I wrote for a minimum of four hours, often six, sometimes closer to eight. My self-imposed daily minimum was 2,000 words. Some days I wrote twice that. I hit 50,000 words on the 21st – and, come December, passed the uni course with flying colours.

NaNoWriMo 2014. Year Three. Writing the second book in my sci-fi series; I went into it knowing my world and my characters from the last twelve months of writing and editing (if I only wrote during November, I’d never get anywhere), and I had a solid two-page outline following several plot threads. No summer school this year; a part-time job occupied my afternoons from 2pm – 6pm. I decided to up the stakes, and challenged myself to aim for a total of 70,000 words – an acceptable word count for a published novel – and to write 3,000 words a day – almost twice the recommended daily average. The result: I hit 50,000 words on the 17th and 70,000 on the 23rd.

Have you given NaNo a shot? What was your result?


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