So, what is NaNoWriMo?

November 04, 2014

Every November is a bit special. Not just because it is almost the last month of the year, nor because many AAA video games are released during this month. I know, there's cool tech being released before Christmas as well, but that hasn't got a thing to do with it either.

No, November is all about NaNoWriMo. So, what's that? I've had people ask me this question, and it's a legitimate one. You could have Googled, but a personal explanation is actually better.

A web banner of NaNoWriMo. Every year there's new artwork you can use to tell people about your love for writing.

It's time to write!

NaNoWriMo stands for 'National Novel Writing Month'. In short, you try to write a 50.000 word novel over the course of 30 days. No cheating! You start at the first day of the month, and you finish writing at the end of the month. Finishing earlier is allowed, of course.

Now, of course you are free to do as you like and write whenever you want, but the official NaNoWriMo rules state you have to write a 50.000 word novel during November in order to win.1

When you're done, just paste your manuscript inside a textbox, and the website will count the amount of words. The folks who made NaNoWriMo's website won't steal your manuscript. Obfuscation is encouraged if you are paranoid.2

There's also a special edition of Camp NaNoWriMo that takes place during the summer holidays, which is usually easier for busybody students since you have 31 days in July or August to do your writing. You pick the month.

When to write

For the real NaNoWriMo, the month during which you write 50.000 words is considered to be November — not exactly the easiest month, either. Consider how we're all pretty busy: school is starting again for students who want to continue studying, and for people with jobs the pre-holidays tend to be a busy period. Unless you are unemployed or taking a month-long vacation, you don't have all day to write.

This brings me to my next point. In order to hit 50.000 words, you should be able to write about 1700 words every day. Now, that isn't an easy feat: I've found it takes me between 1,5 to 2 hours to hit that word count consistently. Some days I hit it in less than an hour, sometimes it takes up to 2 hours.

The key to hitting the word count is to never delete anything you've written. Consider your keyboard like a typewriter: there's no backspace.

What to write

So, a novel. Pick a genre, make some characters up. Sounds easy, right? You also need to have a decent knowledge of grammar and an extensive vocabulary. These things you can pick up. You should not be afraid of producing shitty chapters. Let me remind you of Hemingway:

"The first draft of everything is shit."

-Ernest Hemingway

Who to write for

You.

You see, Hemingway's not wrong. Don't even think your first draft is ready for any kind of publication. (Unless you are a total genius. And even then.)

If that is your goal as a first time reader, you're insane. You should write because you want to try it, because you hope to have fun. If you are a seasoned NaNoWriMo veteran, you should do it because you love writing, or perhaps because you want to maintain a record of subsequent NaNo wins. There are many reasons to want to write.

I find it liberating. And should you find yourself having fun, and pumping out novels, and you really want to send your manuscripts to a publisher... There's tips and tricks on what you can do with that first draft. (Protip: revise after November.)

Join the NaNoWriMo writers this month

If you are somewhat interested in writing — and hey, there's no shame in not hitting 50.000 words; I didn't my first time trying — you might want to consider joining me.

After all, it's a free event and the prizes are plenty. Did I also mention it's fun?

Thanks for reading. Now go forth and write! Sign up, if you're doubting. Give it a shot. Write. Even if it's shit. You'll get better — listen to tips, read the pep talks, look up some information on writing novels, perhaps you'll find it fun.

Or just write something completely crazy. As long as you're having fun, NaNoWriMo is like an amazing canvas you can pour your imagination on.3

(Oh, if you're joining during November, don't be afraid to try catching up! There's some of us who are able to exactly that.)


  1. What can you win? Well, if you hit 50.000 words (and validate them), you get discount codes for software, and you can get a free copy of your manuscript delivered to you. There's tons of advantages that vary from year to year. All are listed on nanowrimo.org. 

  2. Users are free to obfuscate their novels if they don't feel like putting their precious manuscript in a textbox hosted on another website. Programs like Scrivener have this feature baked into their file export functionality. 

  3. They even have pretty cool merchandise. The profits of their merch go to their non-profit. For more information about NaNoWriMo, see this link