Why NaNoWriMo?

By Katrina Charman

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month
On November 1st, hundreds of thousands of writers around the world will embark upon a caffeine and chocolate fuelled (or maybe that's just me) journey to write 50,000 words in only thirty days. 

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, was established in the USA in 1999. You can join in for free at nanowrimo.org, where there is a plethora of motivational tools to keep you on the path to writing a novel in a month. 

There are forums to meet fellow writers, either online or via your regional group, where you can meet up with fellow nano-ers in person, and stage write-ins or word wars to boost that all important word count. You can add your daily word count to your profile where it is shown on a satisfying graph which plots your daily progress. There are also a number of pep talks during the month from writers such as James Patterson, and Rainbow Rowell, to give you that little inspirational push when you need it the most. And it's not only for adults; The Young Writers Programme encourages people of all ages to jump in and have a go at writing a novel. 

To date, over 250 novels written during NaNoWrimo have been traditionally published, including Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Marissa Meyer's Cinder, Erin Morgentern's The Night Circus, and Indie publishing sensation, Hugh Howey's Wool

Last year, there were 341,375 participants, and this year, it is expected that 500,000 writers will join in the fray. So why do writers, or even people who wouldn't call themselves a writer - housewives, plumbers, lawyers - take part in the crazy ride that is NaNoWriMo? 

I asked some of my lovely writerly friends and fellow Scoobies whether they took part, how they prepared for the month (if at all), and what the benefits were. 

Why take part? 

For me, personally, NaNoWriMo takes away all of the distractions that I usually have - the inner editor that won't let me move on to the next chapter until I have polished the previous one to within an inch of its life; the endless list of mindless chores that just have to be done before I sit down to write; the hours procrastination spent on Facebook, Twitter, and my personal favourite, Pinterest. Because I have something specific to focus on - a deadline. A goal that I have not only set myself, but have stated publicly that "I am going to do Nanowrimo this year and I am going to write those 50,000 words if it's the last thing I do." And, for me, failure and public humiliation is not an option. 

Others have a different approach: 

"Although I've participated in NaNoWriMo several times over the last five years, I've only completed the full challenge once. But for me, it's not about the numbers, it's about getting words on paper, brain splurge. Sometimes I prepare, most of the time, I don't. I like being able to create without thinking too hard. And the beauty of NaNoWriMo is that you're only committing for a month so it doesn't really matter if your plot shoots off in strange directions or your characters decide to do their own thing. I've never written a working first draft during November, but some of the ideas have eventually morphed into novels. It's one of my favourite ways to brainstorm." ~ MR

How to prepare for NaNoWriMo 

Some people prefer to use the Pantster method of writing by the seat of their pants. Of putting one word down after the other and seeing where the story and the characters take them. Others, myself included, like to plot things out before November. I start with a general theme, idea, or character, and then slowly formulate the plot, using Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet from the book, Save the Cat. This helps me to ensure that I have all the elements I need for my story to work, and I develop those ideas from there. 

Then I write a sentence or two per chapter on index cards and revise them as I go. This ensures that I maintain focus so that my characters don't lead me astray too much. In 2010, I was writing a YA paranormal for NaNoWriMo, using the pantster method, and suddenly out of nowhere, the protagonist fell down a zombie-filled ravine. The story had nothing to do with zombies, so I have no idea where they came from, but you can see why I personally need to plot beforehand! 

"I didn't really prepare but I'd started it a few times and kind of knew what I wanted to write. Halfway through I did still hit a block but because I had to, I kept going." ~ TT 

"I also didn't plan beforehand, just tried to write without over-thinking. I suspect doing a lot of planning prior to November would make the writing easier." ~ SR 

What are the benefits? 

Getting into a writing habit - a routine where you force yourself to sit down for a set amount of time each day, setting a word count target and writing until you get those words down, no matter how terrible they are, is one of the biggest benefits for me. Often, setting a goal of 1000 words a day, for example, may seem like an impossible task. But taking part in NaNoWriMo showed me that not only was that goal achievable, but actually that I could write more than that on some days. It's then something that you can keep going after November and beyond. 

"Some of the benefits were the encouraging forums and word wars; the discipline of writing every day and having your stats recorded; getting the idea of being a writer out of your head and into a slightly more public sphere (albeit under an anonymous name!!)...After that first year of Nano, I found SCBWI and was emboldened to join the local crit group." ~ SR

"I loved doing Nano - mainly for motivational reasons. Normally if I don't do much apart from "Thinking" in the day, I'll leave it at that, but because I had to get my word count I would stay up late to do it." ~ TT

I was once asked what you win when you reach your goal? Well, apart from a pretty badge you can use as your profile picture for a while to show off, the answer is nothing, and maybe everything. Because the one thing I always keep in mind when I hit a wall with my writing, or when the words just won't come - is that it is easier to edit and revise something - even if that something is a jumbled mess of zombies and nonsense - than a blank page. So that's why I'll be participating again this year. Because maybe there won't be a completely formable, coherent novel at the end of it, but maybe there will be the start of one, which is all a writer needs. 

*Many thanks to all those who let me share their insights into Nanowrimo* 


Katrina is a member of the Words and Pictures Editorial Team, and lives in a small village in the middle of nowhere with her husband, three daughters and a manic-depressive hamster. She writes mostly YA Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and tweets sporadically  @katrina_charman.


  1. I'm a big fan of NaNo and have been doing it for three years now. My current MS revision comes from the draft I completed in 2011.

    So if you want to pantser your way through 50,000 words, this is a great way to do it. And meet some enthusiastic writers on-line and in reality.

  2. I'm nano-ing too this year! I've done it once before and loved the way it forced me into 'the zone'. That deadline makes you write when you don't want to and sometimes some wonderful ideas come. Last time I winged it and did all my plotting after the fact, but this time I happen to have thought about it more in advance so I've got a rough outline of my story shape, I think i'll put up sticky notes somewhere in my writing spacd to remind me of my current ideas of what the major turning points of my novel are 'end of the beginning' 'half way point recommitment scene' 'Crisis' and 'Climax' but I'm almost sure they'll change. Good luck to everyone giving it a whirl!

  3. I 'won' in 2007 and 2008, both resulted in overpopulated complicated messes but it was great. It was like living a double life for a month, which is what we do anyway, but when you're writing at least 1667 words everyday and it's ALL story, real and imaginary can get confused. I learned discipline from Nano and that I could actually write a novel of sorts.
    If you don't have a WIP at the beginning of November I'd definitely give it go - plan or no plan.

  4. Still debating whether to use it to revise existing draft of WIP or start something completely new... OK so I know it's a bit late but have a new idea.... who's in this November?


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