NaNoWriMo: Four Weeks of Marathon Writing

NovemberI heard about nano (National Novel Writing Month) after a decade as an isolated writer. I was already a member of a writers’ forum and had for a year been a dedicated, daily writer.

But 50k words in a month? It still felt like a daunting task.

As November approaches, I’d like to share my experiences and encourage everyone on the fence to give nano a try.

Why Participate? is the place to be every November. Each writer who participates in the challenge signs up with a username, creates a novel for the month, and has an opportunity to select a community based on different criteria. Whether you feel more comfortable with fellow nanos in your age range, or writing in your genre, the community aims to support writers and help them build a network that will continue to provide motivation throughout the remainder of the year. In fact the nano site allows a writer to enter their friends’ names as cabin criteria, meaning you can request to share your workspace with the friends you made in previous years.

While I don’t count nano as my main motivator, I look forward to participating as often as I can. 2011 was my first opportunity and since then, I’ve only missed one nano camp. Three months of the year, my word count is 50k and I get to meet other writers and share in their journeys. Who could complain?

If you’re debating whether to join in this year’s challenge, I wholeheartedly urge you to give it a try and create your username on the site. You’ve got nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain. As a nano veteran, I’ve learned tricks to make the journey feel less daunting from the get-go, so let me share them and hopefully tip the scale.


November can be a month that fills writers with dread, or it can be an exciting journey. The difference probably lies in how we approach the great task of preparing for the marathon. I’m not much of a planner, but this year I’m trying to head into nano with as much as I can muster between now and then. An outline is great, but even if you have no idea where to begin, a concept can be a fine start.

In the days that lead up to November 1, try and organize some time, a couple hours a day when you can find the time to write without distraction. In a world of jobs, families, social media, prime time TV and video games, it can be hard to find the time that nano demands. Some of us find it at 2am and others set up a structured schedule, forfeiting some other activity for four weeks. My only recommendation on that front would be to make it fun and not give up too much, whether that means too much of your sleep, or your only free time to unwind in the evening with your family. Writing doesn’t get easier when we stress out and chain ourselves to our laptops attempting to squeeze out more words before passing out.

Many libraries offer write-ins for nano, and if you might benefit from that kind of structure and atmosphere, I’d encourage you to check with your local community library. Nano posts a list of advertised events. For those writers in rural communities, or where libraries offer no such programs, consider planning a private write-in, or ask some online forum friends to join you in a weekend word count competition.

Anything you can do to make the writing easier and more enjoyable, will help you in the long run. And for the benefit of first-timers and veterans alike, nano sends motivational and instructional emails frequently, to help you along the trek.


Some people watch the clock strike twelve midnight on the first of November, and begin typing with a fury. Others crack open their laptop sometime on the second or third and look at their rough notes, wondering where to begin their story. Whether you open nano like a shepherd-mix with a pillow spot on the bed, or a terrier that found a toy still containing stuffing, pacing yourself is essential.

Falling behind is almost a given. Let’s face it, it’s easier to NOT write words than it is to hit a streak and not be able to stop. One major benefit of doing nano is that the goal of the challenge is word-oriented. Nano places no demands on the writer that the words be “good”.

So what does that mean? It means you get to lock your inner editor in the cupboard for a month and write with abandon. A bit more than 1600 words a day. It isn’t easy, but anyone, no matter how busy, can accomplish it in a couple dedicated hours a day. Maybe one in the morning and one in the evening.

All throughout the challenge, nano sends messages to your inbox. There, you’ll find information about locking up your inner editor, how to push past writer’s block, how to extend yourself if you fall behind, and motivation to never give up, even if the odds of crossing the finish line look bleak. If you don’t like daily or weekly messages, opt out and choose to receive only news on upcoming nano opportunities.


One thing that makes my nano really enjoyable is when I get placed in an active, friendly cabin. I’ve been in nine or so cabins now, but I remember one of them very fondly. Not only were we social and generous with encouragement, but we shared our work regularly, and I came up with one of my personal strategies, daily quotes.

I just did it for fun, posting a short line or two of my WiP to my cabin discussions, but when one of the young ladies told me how much my quotes inspired her to write, I was flattered. Others jumped on board and agreed, and by the middle of the month, most of us posted every day. It’s only one small thing, but each writer can contribute to a cabin, invent their own way to reach out and interact with your fellow nanos.

The flip side of the coin is I’ve been in some really undesirable cabins, too. By that, I mean that people don’t talk, half the people have a novel named some version of “WiP for nano” or “Fantasy Story 2014.” I try not to judge, because I’ve done it too, but when those people sit for three weeks and don’t bother to update their word count or say hello, they feel a bit more like driftwood than camping buddies. If you find your cabin less than motivating, remember, you can opt out of a cabin at any time and sign up for new placement based on new criteria. Placement happens something like every 24 hours.


Reaching the finish line is a great feeling, and in itself, it’s own reward. But to sweeten the deal, nano offers some goodies, like free or discounted ebooks from their publications, banners for your facebook or blog, or a winner certificate that you can print. Sponsors offer prizes including percentages off programs like Scrivener, free prints of your book from Lulu, and some other nice prizes for finishing and sometimes just for participating.

In addition to the winner goodies, nano offers real items like T-shirts, mugs, posters, and more, for purchase to support the event. And if you simply want to make a donation to help pay for the service nano provides its members, you can select any amount to donate, and receive some thank-you gifts. I donated to Campnanowrimo this year and supported dozens of writers’ participation. Not only did I earn my halo, I received a cute owl patch I can iron onto my canvas bag to let everyone know I care about nano and am a proud participant.

A Writer’s Pilgrimage

While nano doesn’t take you from your living room necessarily, to me, it’s a journey every time I do it. I try to prepare, set myself up to succeed, strive for my best work and my fastest pace, and almost always surpass the 50k mark. But even the time I didn’t make it, I still had fun.

So what are you waiting for? Sign up today. Join a cabin and get to know some new folks. Participate in the marathon.

My time spent in nano cabins has become just another tool in my writing arsenal. It taught me that I can write 50k words a month when I want to and there’s no reason I can’t do that more than once a year. Imagine what nano could teach you.

Make the Journey with Fellow Scribes

Looking for friends? Visit our NaNoWriMo forum, and share your nano username on our nano thread for this year.

If you’re a nano veteran, what advice could you share with first-timers?

If you still aren’t sure whether nano’s for you, let us know your concerns by leaving a comment.

A. Howitt
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Annie Marie Peters
6 years ago

Best of luck to everyone participating! I think we’re going to see some fresh ideas coming out of this challenge.

P. H. Solomon
6 years ago

Good luck to everyone! I wish I had a few projects out of the way to participate. I suppose this will be like babies being born 9 months after a snowstorm!

Carol Nicolas
6 years ago

Thanks for your article. My daughter introduced me to NaNo a few years ago, and last November I took up the challenge. In one month I wrote a novel. It was a heady, exhilarating experience. Of course nothing else got done that month. I’ve signed up again, but I have a lot of things going on, so I may not be able to get the whole thing done. But it will be fun anyway!

Reply to  Carol Nicolas
6 years ago

I’m glad you rose to the challenge again. It can be daunting, but when you have a good time, it’s pretty awesome.

Helena Kjellvander
6 years ago

It really is 😀 Nice forum you’ve got here, by the way, not sure if I dare joining since I’d probably sit there all days spamming instead of writing. If you like you can find me over at NaNoWriMo as Norna.

Reply to  Helena Kjellvander
6 years ago

we do a lot of procrastinating…but that’s part of the fun!

Anne Marie Gazzolo
6 years ago

I’m not entering it officially but I am using November to really focus on my fantasy and make a lot of progress! Thanks for this article. 🙂

Skip Knox
6 years ago

I, too, want to encourage people not to think solely in terms of writing a new novel for NaNoWriMo. People have used the month for editing, or for a rewrite, or for whatever.

Abandoning a WIP can be painful, but it can also be salutary. I did it last year, for Summer Camp (same event, in June or July). The work that came out of that is still sitting on a back burner, but it was very satisfying to take an idea and see it far enough along to know I will finish it. Meanwhile, I’ve returned to our original program, already in progress.

Reply to  Skip Knox
6 years ago

right on. this, “to take an idea and see it far enough along to know I will finish it” is a very big deal. Thank you for sharing.

Daniel Adorno
6 years ago

Hello there,

I’ve never officially participated in NaNoWriMo, but I did read Chris Baty’s book, “No Plot? No problem!”, which motivated me to get my fantasy novel completed in just over a month. I really like the idea of NaNoWriMo and I keep telling myself to participate, but I’m on the fence because I’m in the middle of writing a novella right now and I don’t want to shift gears to start a new book. Of course, I could “cheat” and just keep writing my novella, but that wouldn’t be in the spirit of the marathon. What I’ll probably end up doing is finishing my novella and pushing myself to the NaNoWriMo word count daily limits, so that I’m least participating in the event passively. Still thinking on it, but that’s what I’m leaning towards right now.

Reply to  Daniel Adorno
6 years ago

I don’t consider it cheating at all to use nano as motivation to finish something. I think part of nano’s goal is to encourage hobby writers to try a 50k word work, but for those of us who are daily writers, nano serves us best by encouraging us to pick up the pace, lock up our inner editor (in some people’s cases), and work with other writers, developing a structure of mutual support.

I would never recommend someone set aside a WiP to begin a new nano project. To me, that’s counter-productive (though this year, I’m doing just that). I’ve twice now created a hodgepodge word doc titled Nano 2014, and in it I pasted every word I wrote in several projects. While I always have a few irons in the fire, I’m not always willing to take on something new. I like to use nano for word count goals alone, so if I’m working on two things, I paste all my progress into one combined document that jumps back and forth from day to day, and it becomes my progress-tracker for my month’s word count.

Helena Kjellvander
6 years ago

I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo for several years, and this is what I could say:

Sit down and write for five minutes. During these five minutes you dont write on the actual story, you write about what you’d like to write during this session. These five minutes have given you a good flow, and you have a clear idea on what to do next, in what order to write things and so on.

If you feel like the story isn’t yours anymore, let it stay, go to the next page and start writing something else. It’s about writing down the words, not about making a perfect story.

DON’T EDIT WHILE WRITING! This is my biggest problem. Just write.

And remember, it’s supposed to be fun 😀

Reply to  Helena Kjellvander
6 years ago

Thank you. All good advice. It’s so hard sometimes to stop editing. I actually think newer writers struggle with that more than those with more years under their belts, which is a surprising observation for me, because I began in 2001 as a hobby writer and my inner editor wasn’t occasionally popping out of her closet-prison to ruin my day and ensure I deleted more than I wrote, she was on a permanent hiatus!

As I get to talk to more writers, I learn about other journeys and how writers hone their crafts, and I’m thoroughly convinced, the more I know, that nano is a great way for newer writers to not only get their feet wet, but to jump right in and learn the crawl stroke in the deep end. What a great opportunity.

Helena Kjellvander
Reply to  A.Howitt
6 years ago

Oops. My reply is up there ^^

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