NaNoWriMo 2016

By Gregory N. Hullender: What Is NaNoWriMo?

Every November since 1999, hundreds of thousands of people have spent the month of November attempting to write a complete 50,000-word novel in just thirty days. Participation may reach half a million this year. It’s free, there are no judges, and there are no prizes other than what you learn in the process and your own satisfaction at finishing. That’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). You can sign up now and start writing on November 1.

National Novel Writing Month logo“No judges” means the whole thing is on the honor system. You’re supposed to start from scratch—not merely wrap up something that already has 40,000 words—and you’re supposed to submit your own work—not feed random garbage into the word-counting app. It’s best thought of as a motivational aide, not a contest.

As you write, you copy/paste your text so far onto a web page that counts the words for you and updates your total. (It discards the text, so there’s no worry about anyone stealing your work.) You should do this at least once a day. It then updates your totals and reports whether you’re on track or not.

The NaNoWriMo site encourages you to share your experience with friends, neighbors, co-workers, and relatives. There are a number of widgets you can post on Facebook or Twitter to share your word-count info and progress estimates. The idea is that you’ll make yourself work harder rather than be humiliated in front of all those people.

A lot of the fun comes from interacting with other authors. The NaNoWriMo site has forums covering every imaginable topic around novel writing, and it’s very easy to spend hours just asking questions, reading answers, and writing your own answers. (But this doesn’t count toward your 50,000 words, of course.)

Forum participation is a good way to find a few “writing buddies.” Your friends and family will get bored with you talking about NaNoWriMo pretty fast, but your writing buddies will be happy to cheer you on every day for the whole month. Some may even become friends for real.


I “won” NaNoWriMo in 2012. Here are some things that worked for me:

I devoted an hour or two every evening to writing, and I didn’t let anything preempt that time.

I started with a really rough outline of what would happen. I never prepared a proper outline, but I started off knowing how it would end. That doesn’t mean that’s how it actually did end, but at every point, I thought I knew how it would end.

Every few days, I’d spend 15 minutes or so making a rough outline of the next few chapters or scenes. The rest of my writing time was spent filling those in.

I (almost) never went back to revise. The story had to move forward. The one exception cost almost a whole day’s work, but I’d written myself into a corner, so I didn’t have much choice. Obviously you can’t afford to do that more than once or twice.

I didn’t allow myself to browse the forums until after I’d already made that day’s quota of words. It’s very easy to spend hours in the forums if you’re not careful. For example, partly in response to numerous relativity questions, I wrote a whole relativity calculator. That probably used up as much time as a week of writing, but using it as a reward for meeting the day’s writing quota meant it didn’t hurt me.

I never attended any of the in-person events that NaNoWriMo schedules in major cities, but some people find it works for them to spend an hour or two writing in a room with other people followed by socializing afterwards.

I think most people have fun and learn a lot about writing, even if they don’t get a publishable work out of it. It’s very cool to be able to tell people “I’ve written an SF novel. I never published it, but I did write one from beginning to end.”

The big payoff is when you hit that 50,000-word number and your stats page shows you as a winner. Almost as good as when you write “The End” a day or two later.

NaNoWriMo 2016 Press Release

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10 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo 2016

  1. I have been a NaNoWidower since 2008 (possibly further back, even). My wife finds the social gatherings good for “word wars”, where they try to write the most words in 15 minutes.
    This year, she has a Freewrite (formerly Hemingwrite) to use.

  2. This will be by fourth NaNoWriMo. Won two (’13, ’14), lost last year, and I have high hopes for this year. I absolutely love it, and wish I had started participating a decade ago.

  3. I did start participating a decade ago – 2003, in fact – and I’ve “won” every year.

    It’s good for getting me writing, and I’ve had a lot of good times at NaNo regional meetups, too. But the main benefit is the impetus to sit down and work on something, regularly, on a daily basis. NaNo doesn’t suit everyone’s writing habits, but it’s good for mine.

  4. I will participating, but as a Nano Rebel–I have three short stories and a novella I need to write. I don’t have a plot for the novella yet, but since I must write the short stories first I’m not (yet) panicking.

  5. I’ve never been able to do the full Nanowrimo due to family obligations, but last year I did a semi-Nano, trying to set aside a half-hour each day rather than my usual hit-or-miss technique, and not worrying abut hitting a wordcount. Managed 19 days out of 30 (weekends, when I work two 12-hour shifts, proved impossible to do even that half-hour) and wrote about 9,000 words, over double my usual output. (Pretty decent story, but much more towards a pulpish, high-action narrative than I usually write.) I’ll try that again this year.

  6. I will be participating in my third NanooNanoo NaNoWriMo this year, writing the sequel to my unpublished Urban Fantasy that I did for my for my NaNoWriMo.

    Right now I need to find some beta readers, and save up the money to have a professional editor look at that novel. I need to know if it’s publishable.

  7. NaNoWriMo actually inspired me to start writing after a long hiatus–but I still haven’t done it yet.

  8. I love NaNoWriMo. I’ve been doing it every year since 2001, although I failed miserably until I moved to Sacto and started to go to various write-ins. It helped me to know there were others.

    I like it so much, I’m one of two coordinators for the Sacto region (called municipal liasons in NaNo parlance), which means I have to do some of the write-ins.

    Haven’t published anything yet, but…it’s fun, and it’s nice to write under the motto of “embrace the suck.”

  9. I’m planning to attempt NaNoWriMo again this year, but worry about a lack of available time compared to last year: I’m going to be spending way too much time in airports and airplanes in November.

    But I wrote almost 69000 words last year, so I may manage 50K this year. Even writing a little every day, I suspect I’ll need to do a LOT of writing the week of Thanksgiving, when I will not be traveling, to catch up.

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