What Is NaNoWriMo?
NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It is also nicknamed NaNo. During NaNoWriMo, writers of all kinds commit to writing 50,000 words in a month. This is considered “book-length,” albeit a small book. For reference, it’s about the length of The Great Gatsby, which is 47,094 words. Some people strive to write their whole book in roughly 50,000 words, but many are just aiming to write the first 50,000 of their work in progress (WIP). The word count goal averages to about 1,667 words a day.
When Is NaNoWriMo?
Traditionally, the National Novel Writing Month is November. That is when NaNoWriMo proper occurs. That said, anyone can decide to take on the challenge at any point in the year. For someone who prefers the formality of an official event but doesn’t want to participate in November or wants to set their own word count goal, an event called Camp NaNoWriMo takes place in April and July. During Camp NaNo, writers can choose to have the same goal as in November NaNoWriMo, 50,000 words, or they can set their own goal!
Why Attempt NaNoWriMo?
If you’re a writer who’s been trying to get the motivation for a longer work, this challenge is for you. If you’re already comfortable writing longer works but want to push yourself or develop a faster pace of writing, this challenge is also for you! In my opinion, the best part of NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNo is finding a community of writers. It’s much easier to stay motivated when you can talk to tons of people, of all backgrounds and doing all kinds of writing, who have the same or a similar goal as you. Everyone just wants to see others succeed, and root for one another along the way. It’s also a perfect excuse to either whip out a first draft or make a huge dent in one. Starting is always the hardest part, but NaNoWriMo will give you the kick to get going. Also, I’ve found that it’s really good practice for pacing (both in the story and pacing yourself writing). Finally, no story exists until its first draft does. It’s commonly said that first drafts shouldn’t be good—just fast, which NaNo certainly is. Once a draft exists, it can be improved upon and polished.
If you’ve ever considered writing a book or novella, if you want to write one faster, or if you just want to see if you can, then you should give NaNoWriMo a go. If you get involved with the community, you’ll find a great group of writers to connect with beyond NaNoWriMo, too. And even if you don’t hit your word goal? You’ll probably still get a lot more written on your WIP than you otherwise would’ve! There are no disadvantages to trying.
My Experiences with Camp NaNo
Truthfully, I’ve never done an official NaNoWriMo. In the summer of 2020, when all my plans had been canceled because of COVID and I didn’t know what to do with myself during summer break, I decided to do Camp NaNo with the traditional NaNoWriMo word count goal. I succeeded in completing a 50,000 word story! I learned a lot about writing a novel by doing so—at that point I’d barely even written short stories (I’m not even sure I’d ever finished writing one). I discovered along the way that my story was severely underdeveloped and that the pacing was too fast, which forced me to “pants” (the opposite of doing something well-planned) a pointless side plot into the story to keep the word count on target. Still, I gained a lot from the experience. When I set out to submit a story to the Scholastic Art and Writing competition that fall, it was so much easier. Just 3,000 words? That’s less than two days of work during NaNoWriMo. I also developed a better concept of how long writing is by word count, rather than page count.
This past summer, I tried to do the same thing again, although this time I knew the story wouldn’t be complete in 50,000 words (assuming I didn’t make the same mistakes again!). I knew right off the bat it would be a greater challenge than last year. July Camp NaNo started while I was on vacation, so I didn’t write anything at all the first day. I missed several more days because I got too distracted by social plans, like grad parties and final pre-college hangouts. I was also preparing to go to summer camp for two weeks the day after Camp NaNo ended—and I’d be leaving for my freshman year of college two days after that. It’s safe to say I was very distracted while getting ready throughout the month of July. About two weeks into the month I saw how much my daily word count target was growing. I knew it just wasn’t realistic. Even if I sat down and forced myself to write 2,000-3,000 words a day, it was going to be even sloppier than was ideal for a first draft, and that is saying a lot. I dropped my goal down to 40,000, and I was able to achieve that with much better writing and a lot less stress. I still have a lot more to go for that WIP, but I’m 40,000 words farther along than I was before Camp NaNo!
How to Get Started
If you’ve never written a novel before, it seems like a very daunting task. How do you even start?
The NaNoWriMo website is a great place to go. You don’t have to make an account to write 50,000 words and call it NaNoWriMo, but it’s a good idea to use the site. It’ll help you connect with the community and it has a tracker for your writing.
Next, you’ll want to prepare. Having a story idea, characters, themes, and a plot are all crucial. Personally, I think plotting is one of the hardest, and most useful, steps in getting ready to write your novel. The NaNo website has tons of helpful resources, including this page with their advice for completing NaNoWriMo. If you scroll down that page you’ll find a list of methods for plotting. I personally used the Save the Cat! beat sheet to plot my Camp NaNo July 2021 story, and it worked great for me.
Making notes and plotting is fair game any time, but if you’re doing one of the official events, don’t start writing until that month begins. When NaNoWriMo starts, then you can be off to the races! Writing is a very personal and individualized experience, so it’ll be up to you to strategize how you’ll accomplish it, and which resources you’ll use. There are tons more on the internet for you to discover. Ultimately, you just have to try things out and see what works best for you.
I hope you’ll take a chance on NaNoWriMo and love it as much as I do.