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Kick Your Own Writing Butt this NaNoWriMo


November has 30 days. It also has a major holiday, lots of leftover candy, and a dwindling amount of sunlight during the working hours. So really, it’s the perfect time to get going on that big writing project you’ve been putting off. That’s where the brilliant simplicity of the writing challenge NaNoWriMo comes in.

NaNoWriMo (the slightly hard-to-type shorthand for National Novel Writing Month) is a non-profit organization that functions both as a challenge and a digital support system. It tasks those who choose to participate with the seemingly formidable work of writing a novel of at least 50,000 words in November. Not a novelist? Poets can choose a poem a day to have a tidy 30 poem draft done before December. Or set whatever goals you want! It’s your project, after all.

Not only does the project provide a full calendar of daily writing to-dosNaNoWriMo also offers up a robust online community to help energize your writing. Instead of just a deadline that you’re likely to kick down the road till New Year’s, NaNoWriMo is a pleasantly round number of days for writing that daunting novel or collection of poems, virtually surrounded by friends with the same goal. 

Why set such a lofty writing goal?

  • Focus. Instead of ideas on scraps of paper, make your plan a reality (or at least a first draft of reality). Lots of times writers have a million ideas a minute, with no time to stop making dinner, changing a diaper, or running for a bus to jot them down. Even if it’s for one month, one project gets special priority. 
  • Time. Almost no one can take a month “off” to write. We live busy lives. But when you make writing one of your daily tasks, it becomes a habit, not a chore. It’s like the gym, but for words.
  • Community. Maybe your MFA ended years ago (or maybe you’ve never been part of any sort of writing group). NaNoWriMo had just a few dozen participants when it launched in 1999, but as recently as 2017, there were over 300,000. That’s a lot of people hanging in the online forums, but also likely scribbling in coffee shops and library carrels near you all month long. You can even choose to get local inspiration by joining a face-to-face writing meet-up where you can commiserate and keep each other on track.
  • Structure. If you don’t know where to start, there’s no shame in that game. NaNoWriMo has a free downloadable 101 Guide that helps spark your creativity in advance of November 1. Even if you’re just jumping in today, you can get going quickly.
  • Low Stakes. What have you got to lose? Just a bit of time, which we all could use more of. If you don’t reach your writing goal in November, you can keep it going in December (or in the doldrums of January). You can either decide to elicit accountability help from friends online, or keep your project to yourself. It’s totally up to you.

Don’t waste the last November of the decade

We’ve all set deadlines and then blown right past them. If you decide to take on a month-long writing project like NaNo, then you should set yourself up for success, right?

Step 1: Decide how you’ll tackle your project, day by day.

If you don’t make a plan, you’ll be sitting around staring at a blank page on Day 29. Make a daily plan of attack to get this project done. NaNo offers a free printable writing progress calendar you can display on your wall that encourages you to reward writing days with colorful drawings, badges, or stickers. Hey, if it works for potty training, it can work for your writing, too.

Step 2: Know yourself.

What kind of writer are you? Do you do better around the public buzz of a coffee shop or in the solitude of an empty room? Do you find your creative spark better first thing in the morning, during lunch, or maybe after everyone’s asleep? How much time are you willing to devote to daily writing? Your answers to these questions will drive how successful you can be. Early birds do not do well to leave projects to the end of the day when they’re exhausted. Night owls who try to write at dawn may be fuzzy-headed. These truths about yourself will dictate the where and the when of your writing.

Step 3: Don’t let life get in the way.

We all have busy lives. In fact, that’s probably why you’re looking to motivate your creativity through NaNo. Make sure that unplanned events, work drama, and family life don’t derail your project by planning ahead for potential contingencies. If you’re traveling for work, you can take along a notepad to write notes on the go. If you’re cooking Thanksgiving dinner all day, use the “down time” while everyone else is watching a movie later to get in an hour of brainstorming.  If you anticipate you need to skip a day, plan to double down the next day (or for a few days) afterwards Don’t quit if you hit a bump. Ride it to a soft landing and keep going.

Step 4: Get to know nearby NaNoWriMo types

Your writing community can fluctuate from robust to non-existent, depending on where you live, what you do, and how much you like to leave the house. The great thing about NaNo is that it comes with many options for building a community that often last way beyond the 30 days.

NaNo provides a lot of places for you to get together virtually with other writers, like a dedicated Facebook group page, or various sub-groups built around things like location, genre, age, or writing style.

You can share publicly that you’re participating in NaNo or connect with friends who can support you publicly or privately through the NaNo app. It’s great to have friends to keep you accountable, and to share in the fun when you hit your progress goals (or to motivate you when you are behind).

  • Check out the main NaNo forums to see how folks are getting ready (or making it work) for NaNo. You can get tips on everything from great ways to meal prep to save time you can spend writing to how to get your kids to leave you alone for a whole hour a day so you can write.
  • Explore the youth pages and forums if you’re a young writer (18 and younger) or a K-12 educator. 
  • Connect with NaNo participants near you with official regional forums. Or you can create your own get-together online with friends from other hobbies who want to write along with you during November. 

Need help? Use one of NaNo’s prep tools on writing and finding time to write, or read a pep talk from a published author, like Aimee Bender, Dean Koontz, Dave Eggers, or Roxane Gay. Remember, just like you, writers all over the world, from Dante to Rita Dove sat down at one point with a blank page and started writing. 

Ultimately, a project like NaNoWriMo can help light a fire under your keyboard at a time of year when you’re probably just bracing yourself for the arrival of truly cold weather and too much turkey. It’s not for everyone, but it might be for you. Sign up and see what happens.

Ann Holub, Author Photo
Anne Holub (Guest Blogger)

Anne Holub holds a creative writing MA from Hollins University and an MFA from the University of Montana. Her poetry has been featured on Chicago Public Radio and in The Mississippi Review, The Asheville Poetry Review, and The Beacon Street Review, among others. Originally from Virginia, she now lives in Billings, Montana with her husband Dan and their two dogs, Merle and Rosie.