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To NaNo or Not? 4 Tips For a Successful NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo logo in black block letters next to a blue shield containing writing symbols of coffee, pends, computer, and stacks of paper. The shield has viking horns.

Just what IS this NaNoWriMo thing?

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), known in the writing world as THE month to write your entire book –or at least 50K words of it. Participants have from November 1st until November 30 to complete the task, which averages to a daily word count of about 1,666. Those that make the 50K goal have “won” NaNo.

NaNoWriMo, which began in 1999, is a non-profit organization that raises money to support its focus: to offer structure, community, and encouragement to creativity within a writing community. It also reaches out to expand that community, helping writers connect with other writers through online and offline networking groups and forums. Over 400,000 writers participated in 2021 in this month-long event. Each year in November, they encourage writers from all over the world to focus on crafting a manuscript before month’s end.

Insecure Writer's Support Group Logo

As part of the November Insecure Writer’s Support Group monthly blog hop, writers are discussing thoughts on NaNoWriMo and our experiences participating. I’d like to thank this month blog hop hosts: Diedre Knight, Douglas Thomas Greening, Nick Wilford, and Diane Burton!

Here are my tips from my NaNo experience:

There really great things about NaNo

  • It focuses writers to complete a manuscript, setting aside procrastination and diving write in (see what I did there?).
  • It helps develop a daily habit of writing.
  • It helps people that thought they would never, ever be “writers” to become novelists
  • For many “wrimos,” going from brainstorming or plotting to actually writing gets over the fear factor “what ifs:”
    • What if it’s terrible?
    • What if I can’t really write?  
  • It connects writers with other writers from across the world

My NaNoWriMo

In fact, these are some of the very reasons I did my very first NaNoWriMo, having no idea what I was getting myself into. I mean, 50k in 30 days? Heck yeah! Of course I can do that!  

Of course… at the time I had a full-time job and parenting responsibilities, complete with going to the kids games, finding time to do laundry, and getting food on the table. (There may or may not have been any house cleaning that entire month.) I had no outline for a story, just what I thought was a great story concept.

I had a “what if.” I jumped in feet first.

And failed.

I drug myself to that computer every night after everyone was tucked in and typed away, falling farther and farther behind the daily word count. I watched the word count line graph on my NaNo page fall well below the target line. At one point, I calculated I’d have to write 5,000 words a day for several days to just catch up.

It was just too much.

Emotional impact of not making the word count

I became despondent, began to dread the evening writing sessions. They became more punishment for me than reinforcement.

I watched all the Wrimo winners post their status, with a mix of grief, self-doubt, and even thoughts of quitting writing. These are some of the same sentiments I see every single year posted to social media, as others go through the process of determining if NaNo is a right for them. Each writer that steps up to their NaNoWriMo typewriter needs to make that assessment.

NaNo learning points

What I found out was that, at least for me, NaNo was not compatible with my daily obligations, not to mention the month of November is generally pretty full, from Fall Break for schools to preparations for Thanksgiving and family gatherings. I ended up with a partial manuscript—one that needed so much editing that I had to start it all over again. The document I made during NaNo, though, became usefuls as a large brainstorming session.

Lots of writers thrive during NaNoWriMo. But for me, I realized I don’t thrive in that high pressure environment. This year, I have chosen to not be a Wrimo, but to write at my own pace. I have even completely steered clear of daily word counts and write only in scenes, or “story quilting,” as dubbed by my author buddy Jenny Hansen of Writers in the Storm Blog. I do so much better this way. (Interested in story quilting? Check out this and this).

Tips for a *successful NaNoWriMo

If you plan to do NaNo this year (and it started yesterday, but it’s not too late to jump in), here are some recommendations to be *successful:

  • Before rolling up those sleeves and starting in:
    1. Assess your willingness to write over 1600 words each and every single day, rain or shine, work or chores, in sickness and in health… throughout the entire month of November.
    2. Decide ahead of time how you should respond if you fall behind or decide to quit. Write it down. Keep it on a card next to your computer, so in those tough moments, you can stay focused on what is truly important about writing. The “why” you write. (Not sure about that? Check out this discussion).
    3. If you didn’t plot ahead of time during “Plotober”, embrace that you will probably have a manuscript needing lots of editorial love when November is over. NaNoWriMo does offer some January and February events to address that, as well.
    4. If this all sounds too much for you, consider using the creative approach becoming popular with many that previously didn’t “win.” Use the month to keep focused on writing, but choose your own daily goal based on what you realistically think you can do, such as:
      • A smaller daily word count goal. I know some writers that target 500 words a day. They don’t hit 50K, but they also don’t drown in overcommitment. They tend to reach their goal come November 30th. Notice, I never said *successful meant hitting that 50K! It may mean using November as encouragement to write, but choosing a goal that works with your own lifestyle.
      • Focus on finishing “x” number of scenes or just “Act 1” of the manuscript
      • Use the month to edit last year’s NaNo manuscript
      • Use the month to plot a new manuscript (sorry, pantsers!)

Hope after missing the 50K mark

Whatever you decide to do, if you don’t hit that 50K, don’t give up writing. Many writers who haven’t been able to “win” NaNo have gone on to not only finish their manuscripts, but to be published (self -published and traditional).

If you decide to do NaNo, make a point to keep yourself mentally and physically healthy, and rested, so you can thrive in the non-writing side of your life, as well. At the end of NaNoWriMo take some time to refuel your creativity tank, which may be nearly empty. Here are tips on how to do just that!

How about you?

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Were you a Wrimo in the past? What are your tips for a successful NaNo month?  

Connect with other writers and check out their tips and experiences with NaNo below:


  1. NaNo was a fail for me as well. I’ve tried it twice. I’m not a fast writer. I can’t “just get words on a page” I need time to think, envision, and work through the possibilities of the scene. I’m a pantser so planning ahead doesn’t help, in fact it hurts me more. One of my writing buddies is doing what she called a gentle NaNo. Not focusing on hitting the 50k, but instead focusing on hitting a daily word count that works for her life at the moment and I’m joining her in doing the same. Forward progress is more the goal than word count and that works better for us.

  2. Basically did it twice, won once, just missed the second. But both stories were finished the next month and eventually became published novels.
    Yes, you do need to assess if it’s going to work for your writing style and your schedule.

  3. I’ve never done NaNo, but I have made my own goals for probably about a decade, possibly longer, now. These are some great tips for people and hopefully they will help a few of those who don’t “win” through.

  4. Wow! Bravo to you with your new book about helping novel writers and screenwriters with drug information. All the luck with this release.

    Miffie, you’ve got your writer’s hat sitting firmly on your head. More power to you. You understand yourself and your writing more than most writers. Thank you so much for these solid tips and suggestions. Truly appreciated. Have a beautiful weekend!

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