NaNoWriMo is a great chance to brush up your writing skills. Image: Dasser Kamran/Fulcrum.
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A U of O aspiring novelist shares tips and tricks to get involved with NaNoWriMo.

Have you ever wanted to write a novel of the stories and fantasies stuck in your mind and share them with the world? Yet, every time you did so, you froze, shrouded by your own doubts, not knowing how to proceed?

Well, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) might be the perfect solution for you. 

NaNoWriMo was founded by Chris Baty in 1999 as a challenge to write a book in one month. The aspiring writer roped his friends into the challenge, each with the goal of writing around 50,000 words. Eventually, the event expanded, with more participants joining each year. 

In 2006, NaNoWriMo officially became a nonprofit organization which houses resources ranging from author prep-talks, writing tools, and a supportive community to successfully reach the goal of finishing a book in the month of November. Signing up for NaNoWriMo is free, making it an appealing project for first-timers and long-time novelists alike.

The project’s strongest belief is that “stories matter.” And it shows, as some of these written projects have gone on to be published as fan favourites, including Water for Elephants, WOOL, Fangirl, and the Lunar Chronicles series. A notable mentorship program connects successful authors with NaNoWriMo’s participants. Past mentors include Gene Luen Yang, Roxane Gay, John Green, Andy Weir, N.K. Jemisin and Veronica Roth. 

As a participant in 2020 NaNoWriMo myself, I’ll let you in on some of the program’s secrets, writing tips, and experience in the project so far.

Tip #1: Ask questions constantly

To start off, spend some time outlining some of your book ideas and evaluate which is the most fun to dive into. It doesn’t have to be too detailed, as some of the writing will almost certainly be improvised. The task here is to find a story idea that will motivate you to finish NaNoWriMo.

Explore different genres and see which tone you might want to experiment with: dark fantasy? Romance? Thriller? Ask yourself what you want to get out of NaNoWriMo — is it a story for your loved ones? A book for the whole world? Or just a side project for yourself? Hopefully, this will help make your objectives a little clearer.

Tip #2: Plan, but be flexible

Reaching 50,000 words in thirty days means writing approximately 1,667 words per day, which is attainable, but a little tricky in the presence of other life commitments. This figure can definitely fluctuate. There are days when I’ve added zero words due to having classes, midterms and assignments, while other days I’ve sat down for four hours to crank out 5,000 words.

It’s normal to have a range. The fun of it is that the story is built at your own pace. Some people have already finished with the challenge of 50,000 words in just nine days. Anything is possible. The key is just to write.

It is more stress-free to be adaptable, rather than forcing consistency when there are other priorities. Life gets in the way more often than not. Be aware of that, and keep track of your daily stats, such as total word count. Try and write at least 30-60 minutes a day, but don’t necessarily stress about the word count. And be sure to dedicate some days to writing so you don’t run out of time; thirty days go by fast.

After all, the 50,000 words will need lots of editing in order to move on into a better draft for publication; don’t worry if your NaNoWriMo project is a bit messy once you’ve reached your word count goal. Plus, it is never too late to join. We’re in mid-November, but to the eternal optimist, the month is only halfway through.

Tip #3: Use free NaNoWriMo resources

NaNoWriMo has several free resources available for participants and a few useful ones include: the Great Courses Plus, Writing Mastery Academy, and the Hermit subscriptions which are free for the month of November, which help participants pick up new writing techniques. In addition to those, there are seminar events where authors talk about their own processes and experiences they had during NaNoWriMo. There are also forums and groups for asking questions and updating participants’ progress. 


  • Spring 2022: Desiree Nikfardjam Fall 2021: Zofka Svec 2020-2021: Aisling Murphy 2019-2020: Ryan Pepper 2018-2019: Iain Sellers 2017-2018: Ryan Pepper