Many of us associate November with shorter days, cooler weather and a late-month feast of turkey and cranberry sauce, but for hundreds of thousands of others, the first of November kicks off a (frequently caffeine-fueled) personal challenge known as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.
During NaNoWriMo, participants aim to write 50,000 words — the length of a short novel — before midnight on Nov. 30. Last year more than 325,000 people signed up, and nearly 59,000 of them hit their goals and were declared NaNoWriMo winners.
Even if you don’t write all 50,000 words, the creators of the month-long event point out that even attempting to write a novel in 30 days is a worthy effort. Every year participants “start the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors and middle school English teachers. They walk away novelists,” the NaNoWriMo website reads.
Think you’d like to give NaNoWriMo a try? You’re in good company. In addition to the thousands of people who have never written a book in their lives, plenty of bestselling authors also participate in the event and many of them provide mentorship and words of inspiration to those undertaking the task alongside them.
Keep in mind that what begins as a few words scribbled in a notebook or typed into an empty Word document could soon become a published book. Numerous bestselling novels — including Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants” and Marissa Meyer’s “Cinder” — were drafted during NaNoWriMo.
And while we are already a few days into the month, it’s not too late to sign up and dive into your own novel, and we’ve got several tips to help you become a NaNoWriMo winner.
1. Think small.
Instead of focusing on writing every single one of those 50,000 words, set small daily goals and work toward them. If you start on Nov. 1, you need to write only 1,667 words a day to win NaNoWriMo. And if you start today, you just need 10,000 words to catch up.
2. Create a writing schedule — and stick to it.
Set aside time to write every day and make it a habit. If you work full-time or have to get the kids ready for school in the morning, set the alarm clock a little early and get in 30 minutes of writing time. If you only have time to write on the weekends, set aside a few hours on Saturday and Sunday and really crank those words out. Put Netflix on hold, and tell your friends you’ll grab drinks with them in December. For the month of November, your free time is devoted to writing.
3. Be flexible.
Life happens, schedules change, and sometimes the words just won’t come. But if you’re committed to writing that 50K, fit in the writing whenever you can. Write on your lunch break, in between tasks or on the train while you commute. Bestselling author Lauren Oliver wrote all of “Before I Fall” on her Blackberry and emailed it to herself so she could read over her work between jobs. If you want to be a writer, you’ll make the time to write.
4. Write, write, write — but don’t edit.
The goal of NaNoWriMo isn’t to get published or to write the next great American novel. The goal is to get in the habit of writing and to write 50,000 words that you’ll likely consider to be pretty terrible. That’s OK. Every published novel started out the same way.
Later, you can revise until your book until it’s as perfect as it once seemed in your mind, but for the month of November your only goal is to get the words down. Don’t look back or attempt to edit your work now — you’ll just be losing precious writing time. If there’s a change you need to make or an idea you want to incorporate, make a note of it and keep writing.
5. Write what you love.
The easiest way to write 50,000 words in a month is to write the kind of story you enjoy. Don’t write for publishing trends, to impress a literary agent or with the goal of winning a Pulitzer. If you love vampire romances, write a vampire romance. If you have a dystopian tale you’re dying to tell but worry the market is oversaturated with teenagers facing off against their totalitarian governments, write it anyway. Markets change and trends come back around, so write what you love. If you don't, you'll quickly realize that it's difficult to write words at all — much less 50,000 of them.
6. End in the middle of a senten…
It’s tempting to conclude your writing session at the logical end of a scene or chapter. After all, you know exactly what’s going to happen, so why not write until the end? Because often the hardest part of writing is getting started. By leaving that dialogue unfinished or the conclusion to a fight scene unwritten, it’s easy to jump right back in where you left off. And once you’ve started writing, it’s easier to keep writing and move on to the next scene.
7. Motivate yourself.
Maybe you earn a piece of chocolate — or another cup of coffee — for every 1,000 words you write. Maybe at the conclusion of each chapter you allow yourself a few moments to daydream about selling the movie rights to your literary masterpiece. Do what works for you.
You can also try sites like Write or Die, which will play your favorite writing music but start to fade it out if you’re not keeping up with your word count. Or there’s Written? Kitten!, which will provide you with a photo of an adorable feline every time you meet your goal. You can also follow @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter and challenge yourself to write as many words as possible in a set amount of time. Crave a little competition? Try the word sprints on MyWriteClub with your friends or one of Dr. Wicked's wordWars.
While you may need to disconnect — from the internet, Netflix and your very distracting smartphone — to get those words written, connecting in other ways could provide you with the motivation you need to keep going. Check out the NaNo forums to keep in touch with other participants, or attend one of the write-ins happening in coffee shops, bookstores and libraries across the country. When you’re surrounded by the sound of people furiously clacking away on their keyboards, it’s hard not to join them.
And you can always check out these nine scientifically proven ways to boost creativity.
8. Remember that it’s not over.
Regardless of whether you win NaNoWriMo or not, if you want to be a novelist, your work isn’t over on Nov. 30. Finish your draft, revise your novel, swap manuscripts with your new NaNo friends and critique each other’s work. Keep on writing every day. NaNoWriMo is one over-caffeinated month of furious writing, but writers write regardless of what the calendar says.