What Is NaNoWriMo?: Your Guide to Joining in 2023

Hannah Lee Kidder
October 26, 2023 | 10 mins

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With November rolling around again, NaNoWriMo writers are gearing up for another year. But what is NaNoWriMo? And should you be joining it?

In 2021, 427,653 writers participated in NaNoWriMo programs. 406 bookstores, libraries, and community centers hosted Come Write In sessions. It’s kind of a big deal! So what does NaNoWriMo stand for?

In this blog, we’ll cover everything you need to know about what NaNoWriMo is and how to join in on the fun.

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What is NaNoWriMo?

What Is Nanowrimo?

What is NaNoWriMo? It’s an acronym! And what does NaNoWriMo stand for?

National Novel Writing Month.

For the month of November, hundreds of thousands of writers pull together annually with the goal of writing 50,000 words for their novels.

The idea is to churn out all, or most, of a first draft to revise later. Often, the hardest part of writing a book is getting the first draft down. NaNoWriMo’s goal is to help writers bite the bullet and get that over with so they can turn it into a proper book later on.

Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern all started out as NaNoWriMo novels.

Marissa Meyer even drafted the first three books of The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress) in a SINGLE NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMO is what authors use as an excuse to dedicate concentrated effort and time to whipping out their first drafts, while having fun with fellow writers! There are so many NaNoWriMo young writers who get their start during November – and you could too!

When is NaNoWriMo?

Every year since 1999, NaNoWriMo has kicked off on November 1st.

But there’s fun to be had beforehand! You can join for Preptober!

What is Preptober?

During the month of October, many writers prepare for a successful NaNoWriMo. So, now that you know what NaNoWriMo is, let’s discuss what you should do to set up for it.

How to prepare for NaNoWriMo

Outside of the standard 50,000 word goal, you might set other goals, like writing your first novel, rewriting an old draft, trying out a new genre, etc. Preptober is a good time to sort out your intentions for the month. Here are some of the things you can do to succeed during NaNoWriMo prep.

Make a writing schedule

Determining which days and times are best for your writing sessions can help you hold yourself accountable and stay on track! You can use NaNoWriMo’s site for word tracking, but you might try a third-party program (or a physical notebook or planner) to schedule and plan your sessions.

Novelpad’s Goal-Tracking Page For Nanowrimo

NovelPad’s goal-tracking page.

For example, NovelPad has an intuitive goals page that lets you set heavier and lighter writing days, vacations, sprints, and—my favorite—the option to adapt the schedule to your progress. That means you don’t have to do the math if you’ve over- or undershot your word goal for the day, because NovelPad calculates that for you.

Announce that you’re playing

If you have a new author platform, participating in NaNoWriMo is what helps you to meet other writers and readers! It can also fill up your content queue for the whole month (and the month before, if you’re participating in Preptober).

NaNoWriMo young writers can utilize hashtags to get new eyes on their accounts. Here are a few you can try:

  • #NaNoWriMo
  • #NaNoWriMo(insert year)
  • #Preptober
  • #Preptober(insert year)
  • #AmWriting
  • #AuthorsOfInstagram (or #AuthorsOfTwitter)
  • #WritersOfInstagram / Twitter
  • #WritersCorner
  • #WritingCommunity
  • #WritersCommunity

You can also scroll through those hashtags to find other people’s posts to make friends and show support for their projects. NaNoWriMo is meant to be social, so get social!

Learn all the NaNoWriMo rules

Luckily, NaNoWriMo rules are pretty straightforward.

  • Writing starts at 12:00 a.m. on November 1st and ends 11:59:59 p.m. on November 30th, local time. You cannot start early.
  • Your novel must reach a minimum of 50,000 words before the end of November to win. It doesn’t matter if the novel is complete – just that you’ve hit the word count!
  • You cannot include any content written before the November 1st start date, but you are allowed to plan and take notes in advance.
  • You can write any book genres!

Outline or plan

Some NaNoWriters are steadfastly against outlining or planning of any sort leading up to November. Many say it feels like cheating! If you’re in this camp of thinking, there is nothing wrong with that. Have a pure and wholesome time writing your book solely from square one and seeing what happens. That was my personal favorite way to do NaNoWriMo before I was a professional author, because the discovery of the story is most of the fun.

Other writers like to outline the entire book before they even start. If outlining isn’t for you, skip it. Otherwise, Preptober is the perfect time to get your story planned out so you can start strong!

You might make a brief beat sheet to know the general direction you’d like the story to go in, or you might go in depth, scene-by-scene, to develop your story and know exactly how you want it to go.

Every writer is different, so follow your gut and do what you think sounds the most fun for you! After all, half of what NaNoWriMo is for is to have fun with your writing.

Build character sheets

This is another optional step that not all writers like to do. Building character sheets is a good option for writers who like to prepare (but not cheat!). It doesn’t add to your manuscript word count, so you can do this work ahead of time without breaking any NaNoWriMo rules.

Like an outline, your character sheets can be as detailed or simple as you prefer. Character sheets can range from a basic overview of the character arc, to a multi-page rundown of everything about them. I’ve known writers who include a character’s second favorite meal and their childhood email address.

Different strokes for different folks—do what sounds fun!

Make mood boards and playlists

If you want to plan for the vibes and atmosphere of your project more than the actual plot and characters, you might like making mood boards and playlists. This can get you in the headspace for the book you want to write without actually planning anything out.

Canva, Pinterest, and Pexels are all great sites to get you started making aesthetics and mood boards for your story, characters, or world-building.

You can use YouTube, Spotify, or your favorite music platform to make playlists. Some writers like ambient music (fantasy tavern playlists, for example), while others like to control the mood of their story by playing certain songs while they’re writing certain scenes.

Set up a reward system or accountability partners

What is NaNoWriMo’s purpose? To get you to write 50,000 words. How do you get there? Rewards and partners!

Solo writers benefit from reward systems. Every day you meet your word count goal, you might have a treat planned. Going on a walk, having a snack, dropping a dollar in a fund for a bigger prize by the end of the month are all great ideas.

Social writers benefit from accountability partners, writing buddies or groups, or anything else that lets them interact with other writers who are working toward the same goal. Try joining forums on NaNoWriMo.org, finding Facebook groups for NaNoWriMo young writers, or scrolling hashtags on Twitter and Instagram to find others who are participating.

NaNoWriMo.org also lets you find local writing events. Most towns will have a library or school hosting write-ins and other fun stuff, so be sure to check for events near you so you can make the most of what NaNoWriMo is for the writing community.

Who is NaNoWriMo for?

Anyone can join NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is what novelists who are looking to do something fun sign up for. It also gives writers extra motivation to start (or finish) their book, or make friends in the writer sphere.

Why should you do NaNoWriMo?

There are lots of great reasons to participate in NaNoWriMo this year!

For one thing, the friends you’ll make are wonderful. NaNoWriMo is what helps writers to network and hang out with other writers in their genre. If you participate, be sure to check out some of the NaNoWriMo writers pages and discussion boards.

Another benefit is the extra motivation. When else would you sit down to slap out 50,000 words in one month? I’m sure there are some rockstar writers among us, but for us normies—that’s a huge goal! You could get a big head start—or even finish—your novel! In one month! That’s what NaNoWriMo is all about.

Did you know several companies sponsor NaNoWriMo and offer special deals and discounts to participants? Some of these sponsorship deals are so sweet that it’s worth participating in NaNoWriMo just to grab some!

Here are just a few NaNoWriMo corporate sponsors and their freebie offers:

  • NovelPad (free to use for all of November, 20% off for all writers, 40% off for NaNoWriMo winners)
  • IngramSpark (upload your book for free)
  • Plottr (15% off for participants, 30% off for winners)
  • ProWritingAid (40% off one year for all participants, 50% off for winners)
  • Dabble (20% off for all participants, 50% off for winners)
  • WorldAnvil (40% off for all participants)

Check out the other NaNoWriMo offers for this year!

How to participate in NaNoWriMo

So you know what NaNoWriMo is and how to prepare…but how do you get involved? Here is how to join in on the action:

1. Make an account

If it’s your first year, create your account on NaNoWriMo’s site. You can fill out an author profile, create a project, see your writing badges, add buddies, find local NaNoWriMo writing events, join online groups, and more after you make an account.

Drop in a profile picture and a little personality, especially if NaNoWriMo is what you’re using to make more writing friends.

2. Prep your project

You can set up the book you’ll be working on for your own reference and motivation, and so other writers in your genre can find you.

Writers can add their novel’s name, project status, genres, summaries, excerpts, playlists, and even a cover (or mockup cover) for their book.

(Making mockup covers is a ton of fun—try Canva or BookBrush for templates.)

3. Make friends

Use your buddy list to add writer friends you already have who are participating in NaNoWriMo, as well as new friends you find through the writing challenge. One of the biggest benefits for participants is meeting new writers and sharing accountability and excitement for your projects.

After you add them to your buddy list, try to keep in touch throughout the month. You could follow each other on socials as well. You never know where your next favorite writing or critique partner will come from!

4. Write some words

As you work toward your goal throughout the month, don’t forget to update your word count. This helps with accountability, plus you can earn cute profile badges for hitting different milestones.

5. Follow these tips for nailing NaNoWriMo

There are so many NaNoWriMo tips out there that can help you succeed during and after the event. Make sure to:

  • Set realistic daily writing goals
  • Commit to NOT editing anything until November is over
  • Get a solid support group and other treats to motivate you
  • Tell friends and family to leave you alone while you write (Make sure they understand what NaNoWriMo is!)
  • Turn off phone notifications
  • Use distraction-free writing apps
  • Have FUN!

6. When it’s all over, revise

The step that turns a NaNoWriMo project into a book is what comes when November is over—namely, revisions. After all, what NaNoWriMo is about is writing, not editing. Editing comes after!

It’s usually a good idea to take a break after your first draft. Take a step back and let it breathe before you jump into revisions. This might be a couple days or a couple of weeks, but set a time to come back to your novel. If you don’t make a specific plan, it’s easy to forget about those 50,000 words until NaNoWriMo rolls around again.

The revision process looks different for every writer, but the first step is a read-through (after your break). Many people call this a self-edit.

Make a list of macro (big, structural) changes to make to your story in your next draft.

The first draft is typically the easiest, so prepare and pace yourself for your revision journey, and good luck!

NaNoWriMo is a ton of fun, super motivational, and a great opportunity to make some friends while you get your words in. There’s a reason hundreds of thousands of writers participate in the event every year!

Now you understand exactly what NaNoWriMo is and how to participate, so are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Will you plan it out, or are you flying by the seat of your pants this time? Let us know in the comments!

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