Want to Write a Book? Try the Nanowrimo Method This November

If writing a book is something you’ve always dreamed about, maybe you can make that dream a reality — and even do it before this Christmas.

The secret weapon? National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as Nanowrimo.

I’ve done Nanowrimo several times, and I’m a huge fan. Nanowrimo taught me how to push through and finish a long project, and most importantly, it made writing fun again — because Nanowrimo encourages people to just write, even if it’s not “good,” I was able to find joy in the process of writing and not worry as much about the outcome.

With Nanowrimo, you can:

  • Stay focused
  • Gamify writing
  • Make writing fun
  • Finish a draft

There’s no wrong way to do Nanowrimo. The only goal is to write 50,000 words of original fiction. It can be bad. (It WILL be bad.) It won’t have a great plot or good character development, but it will help you break through your mental hurdles. And on the other side, you’ll be able to say you have a first draft of a novel.

As a Nanowrimo multi-year winner (if you finish your draft, they call you a winner), here are things that have helped me:

Reading No Plot, No Problem

The No Plot, No Problem book is fantastic. It’s very short (50,000 words, actually, not coincidentally about how long your book will be). It’s divided into small chapters designed to be read once a week as you go along. It has lots of tips for people who’ve never written anything before (including how to cheat on grammar). It’s one of my favorite writing books, period, and it’s particularly great for Nanowrimo. Buy a copy from your local bookstore, or click here to support my blog and local bookshops.

Incorporating Sprints

It’s a good idea to figure out how many words per day you’ll need (about 1,667) and to aim for that, but it’s tough to keep up hitting your word count with every single day. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a few days when you “sprint” through lots of words. I usually coffee shop hop when I do this — I make a goal of 1,000 or 2,000 words at one coffee shop, and when I hit that, I head to another, and then another. It’s also really fun to do sprints with other people, especially in person. It takes writing, which can often be lonely, and turns it into a bit of a team sport.

Following Rabbit Trails

One of the most helpful things about Nanowrimo is that it encourages you to follow rabbit trails. You’re working on getting words on the page, even if they don’t serve the plot (you’ll edit later), so you can write pages about the weather, describe someone’s clothing in detail, or just indulge in a stream-of-consciousness tangent. Most of my rabbit trails would need to be cut out later, but they teach me things about the plot and character that I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t followed them in the first place.

Being Silly about It

One of the most fun things about Nanowrimo is that it’s just for fun. It’s not about getting a GOOD book written. It’s about writing the proverbial “shitty first draft” written. That takes the pressure off, so take the pressure off in other ways, too: Follow wild writing tangents. Play up being a writer by drinking too much coffee, having fun snacks around, and turning down invitations because of your Very Important Novel. The more fun you make it, the more likely you are to keep going — and, oddly, the better your novel is likely to be, too.

Not Listening to the Internal Editor

The point of writing so quickly is to sort of “outrun” your internal editor — that voice that tells you that something should be better, and you need to rewrite it. There are no rewrites in Nanowrimo! (At least not for me.) If you discover that a plot point needs to be reworked, just write yourself a note to revisit it later. Keep writing, and you’ll eventually find yourself free (well, freer) of that voice that tells you your writing isn’t good enough.

Joining a Group (or Writing with a Friend)

I normally hate writing groups, but in a Nanowrimo group, you’re not reading each other’s work — you’re doing what they call “writing sprints” together, which is basically sitting at the same coffee shop and each committing to write without interrupting each other for a certain amount of time. (Okay, it sounds lame, but it’s actually fun.) I’ve honestly liked this best when I could con a friend into doing Nanowrimo with me, but strangers are okay, too. If you join Nanowrimo on their website, you’ll find groups of people who’ll do digital meet ups, and a lot of cities have their own in-person meet ups, too.

If you’d like to officially sign up for Nanowrimo, click here to do it. But it’s also perfectly fine to just start writing on November 1 without officially joining — and since Nanowrimo is now affiliated with Amazon, that’s what I plan to do.

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