3 Ways to Win Nanowrimo Your Own Way

If you’re reading this, you probably already know what it means to win Nanowrimo.

Just in case, though: Nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month. Every November gozillions of writers all buckle down and try to write 50,000 words in 30 days. If you’re involved in any sort of writing community, you’ll notice the general excitement and mayhem that falls on writers everywhere in November.


Here’s my Nanowrimo story:

I finished my first first draft in November 2004. I was very pregnant (Ruby was born on December 8) and miserable and I needed something to help me get through the longest month there has ever been. I was pretty certain that December was never going to arrive and having something to occupy myself with in November helped.

I’d also wanted to be a writer since I was ten years old and I wanted to know if I could actually write a book-length story.

I could, and that changed everything. It didn’t even matter that the draft I finished sucked. Badly. Once I knew that I had it in me, I realized that the rest was just mechanics. I dug in to learn them. I’m still learning them.

But Nanowrimo gave me the kick in the pants I needed to get through that first terrible first draft. And that first terrible draft was what made me a writer.

Here’s what Nanowrimo is really, really good for: Getting you over the hump between wanting to write and actually writing. But, sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you might hope.

Sometimes, someone starts Nanowrimo and doesn’t win. They don’t get to 50,000 words.

Sometimes, that person feels so bummed out that they stop writing until next November.

Sometimes, someone wins Nanowrimo over and over again.

Sometimes, that person ends up with files full of 50,000 word first drafts that aren’t really finished and definitely are not polished.

You get the picture. Sure sometimes someone writes a first draft during Nanowrimo, polishes that sucker until it shines, and because a world-wide best-selling phenomenon. And sometimes–not so much.

I personally believe that it takes more than 30 days of speed writing to write a novel that is worth publishing. I’m a big advocate for slowing down and learning to write well; spending time on your craft. But, I also think that if you’re willing to look outside the box, there is real merit in Nanowrimo.

Here are three ways to do that.

Set your own goal

Here’s a secret, Ninja Writer: The 50,000 word Nanowrimo official goal is totally arbitrary.

Use the month of November to get a good start on a daily writing habit–but set your own goal. Maybe it’s writing 500 (or 200 or 2000) words a day. Maybe it’s writing Act I of your new story. Maybe it’s working your way through plotting your next book.

Pick a goal that will push you, that you know you can finish, and that will move your writing career forward. Those are your new rules. It’s entirely fine if your goal isn’t writing 50,000 words in 30 days.

Think of November 30 as the start, not the finish

I know several writers who have a whole collection of 50,000 word Nanowrimo manuscripts that they finished on November 30 and never looked at again.

That’s so not the point.

Whatever you do in November should be the start of something awesome. Even if you do finish a first draft in that month, it’s just a first draft. If it’s 50,000 words long, chances are good that it’s not long enough to actually be a novel. And if you don’t keep working on it, it’s just a fancy placeholder on your hard drive anyway.

Use Nanowrimo to get a good start, and then KEEP GOING. Finish the draft. Use it to learn how to edit. Polish that baby. And then send it out into the world where it belongs.

Use Nanowrimo as an opportunity to build community

The very best part of Nanowrimo is the part where gozllions of writers are coming together for a common purpose.

There isn’t a better time, all year long, to reach out and become involved in a writing community.

There are local Nanowrimo groups and literally any writing community online will be full of people buzzing about their work in November. You can visit the Nanowrimo website to get involved. You can come on over and join Ninja Writers on Facebook to hang out with us. Send out a Tweet to your friends and the chances are that someone is planning on doing Nanowrimo this year and would love to hook up with you for sympathy and motivation.

Writing is such solitary work and it tends to attract introverts. But you now what they say: no writer is an island. Or something like that.

I really do hope you’ll join us on Facebook. Ninja Writers is the most amazing writing community I’ve ever been part of, and a bunch of us are jumping into Nano in November–our own way. You’ll get support and encouragement from the Ninjas as you spend a month building a writing habit that will help you build a writing career.

If you want to go into Nanowrimo with a plan–maybe that’s thinking-outside-the-Nano-box step one. The Plotting Workshop will help.

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