NaNoWriMo: What It Is, How To Prepare For It And Win

October is upon us, and that means it’s the right time to prepare for NaNoWriMo. For those oblivious to the fact, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month – November. Over the course of 30 days, the challenge is to pen down 50,000 words.

First time I heard about it was some four years ago, and, as someone who barely wrote 1000 words per month, the challenge seemed impossible to complete. I can’t say I did not have a few half-hearted attempts at it. My first serious attempt, however, was exactly a year ago, and it failed miserably. However, I have completed the challenge since (during Camp NaNo in July this year) – thanks to timely preparation.


The purpose of NaNoWriMo

The first thing to realize before getting into preparations is that NaNoWriMo is about writing. Just that – notice I did not say “perfect writing” or “penning the next big thing” or anything similar. It’s something to be aware of when you’re trying to determine whether doing NaNoWriMo would benefit you. However, as writers tend to be perfectionists, focusing on completion instead of perfection is beneficial, and it’s been for me.

Another thing you should be aware of is that if you’re a pantser, it’s significantly harder to complete NaNoWriMo. On average, you should write about 1600 words each day during November, which might seem perfectly attainable – but when you count in your daily obligations, possible distractions and blocks, it’s easy to miss a day or two and lose your momentum. Therefore, planning is key – that way even when the unpredictable happens, you’ll have something to fall back on.

Plan ahead

First time I undertook NaNoWriMo, I pantsed. The no-plan approach got me as far as some 11 thousand words, written at the proper pace. Then I wrote myself into a corner (so quickly!) and did not have enough time to fix the plot and avoid falling off schedule. Of course, this might not happen to you – it might be the approach you’re used to and it yields excellent results.  Still, when you’re on a schedule, if you want reliable results – plan for them.

I already wrote about outlining and the same principles apply – only this time you have one month for doing it. I start outlining today as well. If you need to do a lot of worldbuilding, start even sooner – two or three months ahead. You can even use this time to train yourself to work consistently. Set a time for working and the preferred time frame if you can, and you’ll find the challenge much easier.

The challenge itself

Be prepared to hit bumps in the road – there is no better way of putting that. Don’t get frustrated when they occur, as it’s only natural. Before the 15th day, don’t even think of giving up unless you’re 25 thousand words behind schedule. The thing is, though, with a plan, you won’t get behind schedule much. And even if you do, it shouldn’t be that hard to catch up if you’re determined enough.

Remember not to bother editing or searching for the perfect word for hours – just write and let yourself enter the zone. I won Camp NaNo by doing writing sprints. They consist of only writing for a set amount of time (30 or 45 minutes work best), then resting for 5, 10, 20 minutes before another sprint. Mind you, when I say “only writing”, I mean it. Get all your research done before you start writing, and forget about social media for the duration of the sprint.

This is where habit will begin working in your favor: if you, say, start writing at 9AM every day, your gears will start turning at the same time each morning. And when your gears are turning, the speed of your writing increases. At the beginning of the challenge, it used to take me three or four hours to write 2000 words, but by the end of it, it would routinely take just an hour and a half or less. In fact, the last 20 thousand words I wrote in 4 days!

The benefits of NaNoWriMo

I don’t recommend you rush the ending like I did for various reasons. Keeping up a steady pace will be rewarding in many ways – you will be building good habits, learning how to write faster, and most importantly, completing your novels. Also, if you win, you can take advantage of some neat sponsor offers. Everything you can get for winning is a nice resource or help for writers, so make sure to use those discounts.

These are the main benefits of NaNoWriMo, so don’t believe the naysayers who claim NaNoWriMo never produced anything good. Perhaps your first draft won’t be perfect, but if you win the challenge, you will have a first draft. That was more than I could say for myself just six months ago. If I could do it, then you sure as hell can do it, too!

If you need a determination boost and something to hold you accountable for your writing, NaNoWriMo might be it. Head over to the NaNoWriMo site, and sign up! I wish you good luck in this November’s journey  – may we all be winners.


What are your preferred tactics to winning NaNoWriMo? Have you managed to do it before, or are you only considering it? We’d love to read your thoughts!



Jana Glavonjić

Writer, freelancer, editor, avid reader of fantasy and the best sister in the world.

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