Are you in? I’m in! #NaNoWriMo


My first sentence for this post was going to be, “If you haven’t heard of NaNoWriMo, you must be living under a rock,” but then I thought that sounded a bit judgey. After all, I do live in a writer-centric household and I’ve been in the book and writer business for a long time.

NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. This event has taken place each year since 1999 when freelance writer Chris Baty started it with a group of friends. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel between November 1-30. That breaks down to about 1,667 words each day, which seems quite do-able. Of course, we’re talking shitty first draft, not polished manuscript.

I first heard about NaNoWriMo back in 2000 or maybe 2001 when I was working in events and community relations for Borders. I promoted the event back then, but didn’t sign up as a member of the community until 2006. I haven’t participated every year since then. Some years I didn’t log in to the official website. Some years I attended meet-ups and write-ins. It’s all flexible. The point is to encourage more people to write.

“Don’t forget – no one else sees the world the way you do, so no one else can tell the stories that you have to tell.” — Charles de Lint

This year, I’m feeling the pull. For the last couple days I’ve been thinking about some ideas I’ve had percolating and this morning I started outlining.

How I outline for NaNoWriMo is über simple:

I take a sheet of lined paper, write the numbers 1-30 down the left hand side, next to each number I write a few words on what I think the flow of my story will be, kind of like this:

  1. Girl meets girl
  2. Girl falls in love
  3. Girl is in the military
  4. Girl has to go fight a war
  5. You get the idea — I keep it short and sweet

This was helpful in early years because it took the thinking out of the process. I sat down each morning and just wrote whatever I was supposed to write that day. I’d write for an hour or until I hit my daily goal. On the far right side of the sheet I record how many words I wrote that day. According to my profile, my wordiest day was 5,498 words on November 27, 2011.

nanowrimo crest

And speaking of that daily goal, I’ve found it’s better to have a higher daily word count goal than the bare minimum and to plan for a day off each week because life happens. I’ve also scheduled one day a week with longer writing time because, for one, it’s fun, and then there’s also the catchup factor. Keeping track of a weekly goal also helps because you don’t want to find yourself scrambling on November 27th, like I apparently may have been in 2011.

Some years my simple plotting plan has worked like a charm. Other years it was like pulling teeth. One of the best years was when I started out smoothly and then things got wild. My story went completely away from what I had in mind. And that’s when I experienced that fiction writer thing that I’d heard writers talk about — characters started to do their own thing. So amazing!

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, break a leg! If you’ve never participated and have the teeniest desire to write a novel, I hope you jump in! If you want to make it official and create a profile, there’s great support and much fun to be found at Also, check your local library or bookstore–they might be hosting some write-ins.

If you’d like to connect as writing buddies, my NaNoWriMo handle is Schreibkrampf (German for writer’s cramp).


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  1. This sounds super challenging to me – writing is such a painful process because I am constantly revising what I’ve written. So I might put in the hours but the output won’t show that. You sound far more driven!

    • I know we all have our own writing process, but NaNoWriMo is definitely about pumping out an rough, rough draft. For years I wrote “morning pages” — Julia Cameron’s concept where you wake up in the morning and immediately write three long-hand pages of brain drain. Natalie Goldberg’s books also helped me let go of my internal editor when drafting. That said, I’ll gladly take your compliment that I seem driven. Thanks! 😇

      • Wish I could give the heave-ho to my internal editor too – it would save me hours of effort. But I’ve been operating that way now for 30 years so I guess its a bit late to change now

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