Every November, writers from around the world get together and work on cranking out an entire novel in a month. Originally founded in 1999 by Chris Baty, the goal of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is to write 50,000 words over the course of the month since that is roughly the length of an average novel. Over 400,000 (and growing) people buckle down every year to attempt the challenge.
While it’s hard to write a fully polished novel in that amount of time, most of the focus is on simply sitting down and putting words to paper as fast as possible. For people with writer’s block or even a general sense of self-doubt, it can help them smash through the internal barriers that prevent them from getting their story on paper.
A ton of writers also enjoy the camaraderie and the community that comes with joining NaNoWriMo, since everyone is in the same boat of working on hitting their word and page goals every day.
Writing a novel is a serious undertaking, let alone trying to do it in a single month, so let’s break down everything you can do to prepare for what's ahead. Here's your guide on how to prepare for NaNoWriMo.
How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo and Ensure Success
1. Set your writing schedule
If you want to hit your 50,000 word goal, that comes out to about 1,667 words per day. It can be hard to say how long that will take since everyone has a different writing pace, but the average is about 2 to 3 hours per day.
Keeping all of this in mind, you need to take a hard look at your calendar and figure out how you can fit in the required time to get your writing done.
Some people say it’s much easier to start with a higher goal, such as 2,000 words per day. That way, you’re ahead so when you have a bad day you don’t have to catch up with hundreds or thousands of words.
You might be able to get up earlier or stay up later and fit in a whole chunk of uninterrupted writing time. However, if you have kids or other responsibilities on your plate, you might want to break your writing up throughout the day into 30-minute or hourly chunks.
On top of that, you should schedule your writing sessions at your peak writing times. Some people have much more clarity when they first wake up or they love to burn the midnight oil and write while everyone else is sleeping.
Planning your writing blocks during a time you know you’re always tired is just setting yourself up for a losing battle.
2. Let the people around you know about NaNoWriMo
No, this doesn’t mean you need to recruit people to join you (although you can), this simply means you should let people know that you’re going to be taking your writing seriously.
This can mean they shouldn’t interrupt you during certain hours or maybe you set up a babysitter for your kids. What you don’t want to happen is to take on this huge writing commitment and then get mad at everyone around you when they interrupt you but you never let them know about your new writing journey in the first place.
Make sure all of the people in your life know what you’re doing and why you need certain quiet, focused hours.
3. Account for off days
No matter how motivated you are, there will be days when the words refuse to pour out of your fingers and no amount of coffee helps.
On the days you feel good, sometimes it’s worth it to go the extra mile and crank out a few extra words here and there to get ahead and account for the off days. While it would be nice to imagine that we’re all robots and can crank out pages of work every single day without a problem. Instead, you should plan for a few bad days throughout the month and plan accordingly.
4. Have your writing easily accessible
One key to succeeding at NaNoWriMo is to have your writing easily accessible. Whether you carry a notebook around or have a writing app, you’ll want it nearby and easy to write in.
That way, when you have things such as missed appointments, are stuck in a long train commute, or have some spare time while your kids nap, you can crank out a few hundred words.
You’d be surprised at how many small pockets you can find in a day to put in a little writing here and there. It might not seem like much at first, but you would be surprised at how fast it can add up.
Ideally, you want it to also be quickly accessible because you don’t want to spend half that time just trying to open your app or find the notebook you’re using. Ideas will also come to you throughout your days so you will need somewhere to quickly capture them on the go.
5. Track your progress
Whether you choose to use software with built-in word counters or you choose to make something like a NaNoWriMo bullet journal spread, it’s a good idea to know where you are in your overall progress. Seeing the word counter continuing to grow can help keep your motivation going, even on your bad days.
6. Outline your story
If you want to go the extra mile, having a thorough outline and your ideas all in one place can help you write faster when the month begins. Unless you have a free and open schedule all month, you’re going to be writing in focused chunks of time and need all of your ideas ready to go, even if they change as you write during the month.
You don’t want to sit down and forget your storyline or what you wanted to happen next in your novel. Then, you’re wasting 20 or more minutes searching for that note somewhere in one of your notebooks and poof, there goes time that could have been used for writing.
If you prefer visuals, some people put storyboards on a whiteboard or other physical sheet in front of them so they can see where they are in their plot.
7. Prepare your space and tools
If you love to write in the same place so you can build the habit, setting up a dedicated space can help. Put your favorite plant on your desk, a good notebook nearby, and keep it clean so you’re ready to dive in and work.
You want your space locked and loaded to dive in completely on November 1st so you can get right to writing without anything getting in your way.
This might be the time you need to invest in some better tools to support your writing. If your keyboard is missing some keys or your pens always leak, you’ll want the best tools so writing is as easy as possible.
Set up rewards for yourself
Don’t forget to reward yourself along the way. Whether or not you hit your goal of 50,000 words, you should set benchmarks along the way to celebrate. Any words you can get on the page is a celebration, even if it’s not a full novel.
As writers, it’s easy to overlook progress. When it comes to something like writing and publishing a novel, you have to understand how long it can take to make it happen. Novels are marathons, not sprints. That’s why it’s essential to celebrate every little benchmark.