Speculating the Possibilities: Five Tips for Rocking NaNoWriMo

by Melanie Marttila
published in Community

I’ve been hoping to write a column on National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) since I started contributing to DIY MFA. Now, the timing is perfect, for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s October, so there’s enough time for preparation and participation, if you wish to take on a new project for November. But there are more options than the flurry (or fury, depending on your perspective) of words that is the official NaNoWriMo.

Second, in the last year, NaNoWriMo has undertaken a redesign of their site and of their mission statement. They want to become a support and resource for writers, year-round. This transformation hit the web site in September. Check it out and see what you think.

Here are a few of the ways that you can utilize NaNoWriMo to improve your writing, to experiment, or to shake things up a bit, however—and whenever—you want to challenge yourself in your creative journey.

1) NaNoWriMo Prep

Last year, NaNoWriMo teamed up with Wesleyan University to offer an online prep course. This is a university level introductory creative writing course offered by Wesleyan professors. There are assignments and checkpoints. Everything you need to get started on your writing journey.

The intent is for participants to start the course in September, so it might be a little late for this year’s NaNo, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t register for and complete the course at some other time of the year.

That’s not all NaNoWriMo offers in terms of preparation, though. If you’re interested in something a little more informal, a little more social, check out their NaNo Prep Resources. They have NaNo Prep 101 events, Tweet chats, virtual write-ins, and their fabulous archive of pep talks from some of the best writers in the biz.

2) Tackle a new project during National Novel Writing Month

This is the original challenge NaNoWriMo set in 1999. Write 50,000 words of a new writing project in thirty days (November), or 1,667 words per day. For some writers, this won’t be a challenge, but for others, it will be daunting. It depends on how much time you can devote to the project. For those, like myself, who work a full-time day job, it can be a tall order.

You don’t have to write 1,667 words a day, though, and many people don’t. You can make use of the time off you do have during the month and plan to write more on those days. The key is to let everyone else in your life know what you’re doing so that you have the dedicated time to focus and some support. You may be surprised at what you can accomplish if you put forth a concerted effort and your partner or family pitches in on other day to day tasks.

Sign up with your project on the NaNoWriMo site. This is called becoming a wrimo. They have a nice little tracking feature that will send you encouragement every time you hit a milestone. They also have badges you can award yourself, and the ongoing pep talk series will keep you motivated, too. Make use of the NaNoWriMo forums to connect with other wrimos. If nothing else, sign up for your city or regional forum so you can stay in touch with wrimos in your area.

Many participants do online write-ins, which can help keep you accountable. If your city has a Municipal Liaison, you will probably have the opportunity to participate in in-person write-ins at your public library, a café, or in someone’s home. Become a part of the NaNoWriMo community and bask in the support of like-minded creatives. It’s one of the best parts of NaNoWriMo.

3) Be a NaNoWriMo rebel

You don’t have to play by the rules, though. You could choose to work on revisions during November. Short stories? Why not? Write a poem a day! You could write more than 50,000 words in the month, or less. In other words, set your own goals. You could even do the NaNo challenge in another month altogether. You just forego some of the community benefits of participating in November.

Here’s the thingL NaNoWriMo serves as motivation. It’s an exercise in goal setting and in meeting those goals. Sure, it’s nice to validate your 50,000 words at the end of the month, and though you get some nice swag for accomplishing that goal, the real prize is all those lovely words. You did that. NaNoWriMo is what you make of it. You don’t like the terms? Change them. Make NaNoWriMo work for you.

I know writers and published authors who use NaNoWriMo purely for the motivation. They may or may not use the web site or its resources. 50,000 words is good for a middle grade novel or a novella, but most published novels are upwards of 80,000 words. If you’re aiming for that, you’re usually writing past November, anyway. Maybe 30,000 words is a more reasonable goal for you. I’ve had years in which I wasn’t able to write that much. Regardless, celebrate your accomplishment. Every word is a victory.

If it suits you, go the rebel route.

4) The What’s Next months

The folks at NaNoWriMo know that you might continue to draft after November is over. You might also need some time to recover. Sometime in January, you’ll start to receive messages about the What’s Next months. NaNo asks you to commit to a revision goal. Again, this is just motivational. You get to decide what your version of success looks like.

NaNo also puts on virtual events and blog posts focused on what you do with all the words you wrote in November (and possibly after). It’s not just about revision, either. They’ll talk about self-publishing and querying, too. Some Municipal Liaisons will host What’s Next events as well. Watch the forums and your inbox. I expect this aspect of NaNoWriMo to be one of the ones that sees some heavy development with the site’s refit.

5) Participate in Camp NaNoWriMo

Every April and July since 2011, Camp NaNoWriMo kicks into gear. There are some key differences from NaNoWriMo itself. First, each participant sets their own project and writing goals. It’s much less formal. You are only seeing if you can meet the goals you personally set. You don’t have to be a rebel to work on revision, short fiction, or poetry in the Camp NaNo months. You do you.

Participants join virtual “cabins” on the site and many campers go on to form critique groups or other writing support groups with their cabin mates. Again, NaNoWriMo offers online resources and events focused on the Camp NaNoWriMo experience.

You can see how the organization has been working toward the goal of becoming a year-round writing support and community-building resource for some time. NaNoWriMo is also a charitable organization in the United States. They sponsor the Young Writers Program, which seeks to raise and support young creatives across the country. For more information on the Young Writers Program, see Bronwen Fleetwood’s DIY MFA article about it.

Remember, you’re in control of your NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is free unless you choose to donate to the Young Writers Program or purchase NaNo merchandise. Regardless of how you choose to engage with the NaNo community, you set your own goals and you determine whether you are successful or not. Again, it’s nice to get that “win” and the associated swag, but you can provide your own prizes for whatever goal you choose to set.

The good people at NaNoWriMo have cleverly gamified writing to the benefit of writers everywhere. Just a few of the famous NaNo success stories are Erin Morgenstern, Hugh Howey, J.M. Frey, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Rainbow Rowell. You can check out the full list of published wrimos on the site.

Who knows what you might accomplish if you take the NaNoWriMo challenge? Until next time, keep speculating and see where it leads you!


Melanie Marttila creates worlds from whole cloth. She’s a dreamsinger, an ink alchemist, and an unabashed learning mutt. Her speculative short fiction has appeared in Bastion Science Fiction Magazine, On Spec Magazine, and Sudbury Ink. She lives and writes in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, where she spends her days working as a corporate trainer. She blogs at http://www.melaniemarttila.ca and you can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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