NaNoWriMo: write a novel in 30 days

NaNoWriMo: write a novel in 30 days

The month of November, and fall in general, is a critical time for the book world. After the start of the new literary season, people flock to book signings, fairs and conventions. One of the highlights of this season for authors is also : NaNoWriMo - or just "NaNo" for the aficionados.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. However, this event began to quickly bring together tens of thousands of people from around the world every year, making it an international event. How does it work? To simply put it, one just needs to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, during the month of November. Find out more about NaNoWriMo, its history and how it works.

How about defining NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo is a creative writing project: each participant, called a wrimo, commits to the "50k" challenge. In other words, a good hundred pages!

Why this particular length? For most publishers, it helps differentiate novels from short stories or novellas. What does 50,000 words represent? J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, for example!

The beginning of NaNoWriMo

July 1999 - United States
21 participants came together with a crazy project: write each a novel in one month. Among them was NaNoWriMo’s founder Chris Baty. Here's how the challenge came about: almost by accident.

In 2000, the elements we are familiar with today began to fall into place: the challenge took place in November, a website was created and NaNo became a non-profit organization. The community grew, with 59,000 people taking part in 2005. Ten years later, there are already over 450,000 wrimos.

The development of NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo exists also through the actions and resources put in place throughout the year to keep the event going. Sponsors such as Evernote, Kindle and Dropbox support this annual project. Wrimos are also prompted to make a donation or purchase from the online store, which offers a number of merch products.

This enthusiasm has given rise to the Young Writers Program, which supports American children, teenagers and teachers in their fiction writing projects, with resources and challenges designed for it. The goal? To provide a space for young people to write for themselves (and not for their parents or teachers), and thus find a place for self-expression and enjoyment.

NaNoWriMo in all its forms

November isn't the only time of the year that the NaNoWriMo community gets excited! For some, it's all year-round:

  • Preptober in October to prepare for NaNoWriMo: plan, character sheets, etc.

  • NaNoFiMo (National Novel Finishing Month) to finish and rewrite your text in November.

  • NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month) in March to edit your novel.

  • NaNo Camps, 2 one-month events in spring and summer: the same principle as NaNoWriMo, but each participant decides how many words they want to write.

NaNoWriMo rules: how does this writing challenge work?

To become a Wrimo, you need to register on the official website. You then create your profile to set up a "Project", i.e. your next writing project, your next novel. Your objective, starting at midnight on November 1st, is to regularly update your word count to reach 50k, visualizing your progress with the help of a graph.

50,000 words: which ones really count?

Some authors like to embark on the NaNoWriMo adventure without preparing anything in advance, while others prefer to anticipate. Notes, character sheets and outlines are allowed for NaNoWriMo, but they don’t count towards the word count if it comes from prior preparation. Only words from your writing project written in the month of November are "legitimate".

However, and Wrimos will be the first to tell you, there's no restriction per se: anything you write as part of NaNo and during NaNo counts.

  • Are you bored and end up writing a summary of your day instead of working on your story? It counts!

  • Do you rewrite the same scene twice in a row from a different point of view just to see which one fits better? It counts!

This is a free and easygoing event: it's up to you to decide how hard you want to work.

What can you write during NaNoWriMo?

As you'd expect from the name, the focus is on novels. All genres are allowed: fantasy, romance, detective stories, to name a few. Generally speaking, any fiction or story is allowed during NaNoWriMo, such as autobiography, storytelling, poetry, fan fiction and so on.

More scholarly works, such as essays, are not really expected during this event. However, in fact, it's an excellent way to get ahead on a writing project. And many students take advantage of the opportunity to complete their dissertation or theses!

You can write in the language of your choice. You're free to continue a text you've already started, or to start a new one. It's even possible to work on several projects at once - just make sure you count your words and know where you stand.

Writing apps like Talers are a great help with this challenge. They let you see your word count at a glance. You can add notes, split your story into chapters, or check your spelling and grammar simultaneously with an integrated spell-checker.

The NaNoWriMo website

Here’s the heart of NaNoWriMo: the official website. Each year, you can log in to your personal account to find your previous projects. You can earn virtual badges by filling in your progress during November.

The interface is in English, but tutorials are available in other languages. The website is intuitive and easy to use. Please note: when you create your profile, you also indicate your country or region. This way, you're registered with your time zone and have access to your local community on the forums - more on this below.

What do I win if I successfully complete NaNoWriMo?

There will be no awards in your mailbox once you've successfully completed NaNoWriMo. As soon as your writing has reached the 50k mark, you'll receive a PDF diploma and a badge of achievement, which you can display on your socials. Simply taking part in NaNo also gives you access to special rates with the organization's partners — but this is often restricted to North America.

On top of the personal pride of having progressed on your writing project, NaNoWriMo offers resources, a framework, a community and a goal as an author. And its format makes it counterproductive to cheat. What's the point?

Certain practices are perfectly acceptable, such as writing on paper, calculating your average number of words per line/page and validating your NaNoWriMo with auto-generated “fake text”. The important thing, after all, is to write for yourself, for your novel project.

"Hundreds of thousands of people around the world enter the month as elementary school teachers, mechanics, or stay-at-home parents. They leave novelists."

Quote from the official NaNoWriMo website

Writing more, but not as well: the limits of NaNoWriMo?

The organization is clear : the aim here is to write a lot. No hesitating, deleting, correcting or rewriting. The goal is to move forward! Yes, NaNoWriMo is writing by the mile, ideal for a first draft. But at 1,667 words a day, it can still be pretty messy. Participants are simply invited to sit down and write, regardless of the words, and regardless of literary quality - or even spelling mistakes.

NaNoWriMo allows you to generate a first draft, a support for your book project. There's no time to hesitate or procrastinate, change your characters' first names 5 times or detailing your book's future cover. You have to put aside your doubts and inhibitions about writing in order to race against the clock (and against that writer’s block!).

The community aspect of NaNoWriMo

It's impossible to talk about NaNoWriMo without mentioning the collective aspect of this adventure. Writing is often a solitary exercise. But at the heart of this event, you're invited to connect with others, take part in events, get to know and encourage each other.

Forums by region

On the website, you can join the forum for your region. Most regions also have a Discord channel or Facebook group.

Each region is headed by an ML (Municipal Liaison) who acts as a link between the NaNoWriMo organization and the participants. This helps to create a real community spirit and to give rise to events.

NaNoWriMo, almost a social network

On the website and its forums, there's a “social network” aspect to it. You can talk to people from all over the world, follow your favorite topics, and there's even a follow system. In fact, you can add “writing buddies” to your space — just like friends on your favorite social networks. This makes it easy to follow their performance or exchange private messages.

As with any other social, participants exchange tips, impressions and anecdotes, and organize their time together. The ideal place to find beta readers! The organizers even bring in well-known authors to share resources and writing tips, in the form of a written pep talk.

Events during NaNoWriMo

Whether remotely or face-to-face, NaNoWriMo is punctuated by numerous events:

  • The Meet and Greet, traditionally held before the start of the challenge, but can sometimes take place afterward if necessary. It's the chance for participants from the same region or community to get to know each other and chat.

  • Kick-Off Party: Wrimos get together on the evening of October 31 to celebrate the start of NaNoWriMo. It starts with a bit of fun (Halloween-themed or not) and at midnight: everyone's writing!

  • Write-ins: informal get-togethers, either virtually or in a café, to write together and spend some quality time.

  • Word wars: for a given time, participants challenge each other to see who can write the most words in the allotted time!

  • TGIO - Thank God It's Over! Once NaNoWriMo is over, this party celebrates everyone's achievements, big and small, while looking forward to getting back to a more conventional rhythm of life after a month's isolation from the world.

NaNoWriMo invites you to spend a productive November, while sharing your passion with other authors. Above all, this challenge must remain a pleasure. Participants, like the organizers, say it again and again: if you stop halfway through, or if you only write 300 words a day, you've already successfully completed your NaNoWriMo. The one thing all Wrimos have in common? The joy of writing.

Avatar of Matthieu Gindre
Matthieu Gindre

Passionate about writing and new technologies, I founded Talers to bring authors, screenwriters, students and all kinds of writers around the world a professional writing solution that's a daily pleasure to use.

I personally challenged myself to write my first novel with Talers!

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