So you’re taking on the NaNoWriMo challenge for 2023? Excellent!
NaNoWriMo, which has been running for 24 years, challenges writers of every age and skill level to try to write the first draft of a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.
Multiple NaNoWriMo participants have used this challenge as a springboard to literary success. In fact, many popular mainstream novels, like Night Circus, Water for Elephants, Anna and The French Kiss, and Fangirl were created during NaNoWriMo.
The challenge has even expanded into another challenge: Preptober. NaNoWriMo writers take the entire month of October to map the universe their novel will live in, and solidify each of the essential plot points they’ll need to hit before the book is done.
None of these bells and whistles are mandatory, though. Any writer can participate in NaNoWriMo. Even writers who only learned about it from the #NaNoWriMo posts that have started to flood their social media feeds. Or the writers who will only start a hasty planning process after a day or so of trying to wing it.
November just started, so it’s time to start writing. But can someone who joined late, or didn’t do all the prep work, or who just wants to see how far they can get, really have a chance of completing the challenge?
As an experienced writing challenge participant – and creator of much smaller writing challenges – I can confidently say that you have a fighting chance.
There’s just three things you’ll need to keep in mind.
Aim for a thousand words a day… while accepting that those words don’t have to be perfect.
There’s a chance that even your aunt, who hasn’t read anything in the last ten years that wasn’t a steamy Fauxmoi post, knows what NaNoWriMo is. So getting started can, understandably, feel overwhelming. Like you might have too much to live up to. Like so many people have succeeded at this, so what do you bring to the table?
If you start thinking like this, you’ll need to find a way to trick yourself into believing it’s a piece of cake.
And the best way I’ve found to do that? Focus on how little you must do each day.
The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. Nine words. How long does it take to just type that out? According to the Google stopwatch on my browser, it takes me about nine seconds to type that sentence out using all ten fingers. It takes about 16 seconds to hunt and peck it out, using just my pointer fingers.
So let’s say, adjusting for different typing speeds and the occasional coffee break, it takes about 20 seconds to write 10 words.
To hit the lowest NaNoWriMo goal – the original one, at least – you just need to type out 1000 words a day. For today’s goal of 50,000 words, that’s 1,667 words a day.
That means for the original goal, you’d just need to type for 2000 seconds – 34 minutes. For today’s goal, you’d need to type for 3334 seconds – 56 minutes.
Now granted, that’s just the word count. That rough estimate doesn’t account for art or finesse or a perfectly chosen word in that equation. So most people aren’t going to assume that formula applies to them. After all, most people who accept the NaNoWriMo challenge want to have a viable first draft at the end. Knocking out a timeless classic would be a bonus, but most people are at least shooting for a solid first or second draft.
But perfection isn’t the focus of the challenge. Finesse isn’t the focus either.
The only thing that counts is hitting the 50,000 word count target by November 30th.
Sure, you want each part of this draft to be good, but getting stuck on whether or not an ‘a’ or a ‘then’ is best for this sentence is the worst thing you can do. At a certain point, info dumping a generic description of a new character or describing a fight scene in the most nonspecific terms possible will be the best use of your time. Because that will be part of your draft. And a draft can always be edited.
So remember: you will start worrying that things aren’t working out or it’s not as smooth as you were hoping. When that happens, take a deep breath and remind yourself that your job right now is getting the words down.
In the best order you can possibly get them – not the perfect one.
Know where the NaNoWriMo writers are on Social Media:
Writing is a lonely business, even in the best of times. But if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, you’ve got a team rooting for you from the start. You’ve also got a team who needs your support and approval as well.
One of the best ways to keep your energy up until the end is to connect to other writers who are talking about the challenge on social media. It’s rare to see someone who hasn’t hit a wall or isn’t struggling with their story halfway through.
Most people will get to a point where they are extremely frustrated and screaming into the abyss. Knowing where everyone is screaming means you can support them and encourage them to keep going. Or just scream with them for a bit.
Here’s a few of the best places to check in with your fellow NaNoWriMo writers.
What you did during Preptober doesn’t matter once the challenge starts.
If you follow as many BookToks and Writeblr and Instagram Writer accounts as I do, it can seem like the entire world spent the month of October perfectly crafting an immaculate sandbox universe.
Now that November is here, the writers who spent their October focused on other things often start wondering if there’s any way they can ever catch up.
Fight that feeling.
I see brilliant writers flake out on NaNo halfway through. Even the writers who have the kinds of immaculate Preptober routines that make me green with envy don’t always make it to the finish line. Sometimes writer’s block gets them. Sometimes holiday duties take them out. Sometimes they realize that they need to go back and rewrite everything because that little plot hole turns out to be a much bigger issue than they thought.
Besides, let’s face it…. as soon as November 1st is here, the planning doesn’t matter. All that matters is your daily word count, and how you’re going to hit it.
If your writing process demands structure and you can’t go into this blind, you might want to check out First Draft Pro’s Ultimate 2023 NaNo Guide. It gives you a day-to-day writing challenge plan that can help you write a complete first draft without any real planning required.
At the end of the day, the best way to take on this challenge is to get your butt in a chair and keep writing. You’ve got thousands of people rooting for you and everything to gain. Starting late isn’t a problem, so long as you’re determined to finish strong.