Friday, November 5, 2010

National Novel Writers' Month--A Crazy but Effective Approach to Making a Book

Right now, as you read this, hundreds of thousands of writers from around the world are focused on one thing, a  crazy but effective approach to making a book.  It's a kind of competition without prizes called National Novel Writers' Month, or "nanowrimo."

Starting November 1 each year, these writers pledge to write 50,000 words in thirty days.  The goal is
a "shitty first draft," to paraphrase irreverent writer Anne Lamott; quality is not the object of nano writers.

It sounded like a practical joke the first time I heard about it.  But I spoke with several friends who'd done it and they loved the accountability of a daily word count, the unseen comraderie of all those writers around the world being manic together. 

I'm slow to try new things, but after hearing enough of these success stories (Sarah Gruen's Water for Elephants was supposed to have come from a nanowrimo month), I decided to take on the challenge.  After all, I could quit if I didn't like it, right?  No cost, nobody really knowing if I kept to my word count.

I wrote 51,000 words that November.  It formed the basis for my second novel.  I wrote a lot of really bad pages but there were also some wonderful sections that astonished me. I tried it the following year too.  This time, I got a writing friend to do it with me and we checked in with each other every few days, comparing progress.  It was fun, it made November special, it produced books.

Wanna Try It?  It's Not Too Late
You can begin nanowrimo anytime in November.  It costs nothing to participate although the nonprofit that runs the challenge welcomes donations.  Just log on to the website,, and sign up.  You can join groups if you want or fly solo.

Although nobody monitors you to find out if you're making your 1667 words-a-day goal, if your writing longs for accountability, this is a way to get some fast.

Some days I wrote more, some days I slacked off, but I always found the commitment to write a wonderful motivator.  I set up my laptop first thing each morning before work and pounded out the words.  Many mornings I had no idea where I would go in my story, but the regular writing was like turning on a faucet.  I always found stuff to write about.

The founders send a pep-talk email each week, sharing tips on how to keep going.  They offer ways to network with other nanowrimo writers; sometimes groups form to encourage each other along.

I've talked with some writers who customize nanowrimo to their needs.  I tried this the second year; I didn't want to take on a new novel draft when I had two manuscripts awaiting revision, so I outlined my revision ideas in a 30-day calendar and rewrote 1667 words each day.  This brilliant strategy got me so far ahead on my revision, I am close to finishing my novel now.

This Week's Writing Exercise
If a little kickstart of accountability interests you this month, visit and consider signing up for National Novel Writers' Month.  Try it for a week, see if daily word counts inspire you to really get into your writing.

Maybe, like it did for me, it'll help your writing soar ahead.

And just for fun, check out these funny (and insightful) questions to see if your novel is going nowhere fast.


  1. Hi Mary, this is my first time with NaNoWriMo and I am amazed at how much more I am writing. I usually end up with more than my daily word count. It'll be interesting to see what the final outcome will be. Reading that you have participated before makes me feel I'm not wasting my time, but then anytime you're writing you're not wasting time! And thanks for the suggestion of trying it with a rewrite of a novel already in progress. Will have to remember that for another year!

  2. Curious as to how you organized your revision effort for NaNaWriMo. Did you target revised and/or rewrite of 1667 words each day? Was the goal to have 50000 words of revised tale at the end of 30 days?
    Thinking of giving it a go on a troubled first draft. thanks

  3. TJC,
    Before NaNoWriMo began, I outlined my steps. Each day I worked on a target word count of 1667-2000 words of material within the manuscript structure I already had in place. Sometimes this meant reworking existing scenes, adding new depth. Sometimes this required fresh writing. My goal was to increase my draft to 120,000 words by the end of NaNoWriMo, because I knew I'd be cutting again in final revision. It worked well. Hope you consider trying it.

  4. Hello Mary, i'm from Brazil and i discovered ur amazing blog right now! Thx for all ur tips! I do need help about writting!