What is NaNoWriMo? Rules and Reasons to Do It

What is NaNoWriMo? Why do you participate? What are the rules? These are some of the questions we explore here.

What is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short) is an annual book run for the month of November each year.

During the event, writers from around the world attempted to write 50,000 words of fiction between November 1-30.

Founded by writer Chris Batty “accidentally” in 1999, NaNoWriMo has grown from 21 participants in its first year to hundreds of thousands of registered participants annually. Her soul is:

…to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds – on and off the page.


What are the rules of NaNoWriMo?

Heather Dudley provided the rules on the official NaNoWriMo forum (as of May 2019):

Write a novel of 50,000 words (or more!), between November 1 and November 30. Traditionally, this should have been in a new novel; Now, we allow you to continue your existing business.
– Count the words written during the month of November only. None of your previously written prose works can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (although diagrams, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are quotes from other people’s work).
Writing a novel. We define a novel as a long work of fiction. If you consider the book you are writing to be a novel, we consider it to be a novel too!
– Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two points.
Repeated one word more than 50,000 times.

Heather Dudley, “Welcome to Rules and Records! What are the Rules, Anyway?’, NaNoWriMo Forum.

What are the benefits of doing NaNoWriMo?

Some authors are on the fence regarding NaNoWriMo.

Shonta Grimes, for example, in a popular Medium article titled “Why I Don’t NaNoWriMo Anymore” calls for slowing things down if you want to build a sustainable writing career.

Grimes says something very true about the reward of progressive gratification (versus instant gratification):

It’s such a shining beacon that promises all good things now. But this is something I think someone should tell you: you might finish your first draft in November, but it takes much longer than that to produce a work of fiction fit for public consumption.

In fact, it took me longer to make this first book readable because I was in a hurry to get out of it.

Shonta Grimes, ‘Why I Don’t NaNoWriMo Anymore’, Medium, May 22 2019.

The counter to this is that you can view NaNoWriMo as a file a step In what is the end is yours Processing. Grimes admits exactly this when she says:

Doing this was magical to me, because once I knew I could write a novel, I knew I could learn to write a novel well.

So what are some of the benefits of NaNoWriMo, whether you’re keeping (or violating) NaNoWriMo’s rules on word count and other aspects?

6 reasons to do NaNoWrimo:

  1. Learn what you can do
  2. Make real progress in writing
  3. Build a writing habit that is worth keeping
  4. Strengthen connections with other writers
  5. Stay accountable with goals
  6. Gain perspective on the writing process

Let’s briefly explore the above ideas and ways to make a difference to the NaNoWriMo rules:

Learn what you can do

Although Grimes discontinues NaNoWriMo every year for the reasons she mentions, she touched on an important point: the creative process has valuable starting points.

These starting points might be collaborative processes such as working with a book writing coach, critic department, or editor.

They may deal with writing challenges that came up in your first NaNoWriMo and find creative solutions in discussion with other writers.

Whatever you use NaNoWriMo NS (making progress on a work already in progress or starting a new project “just for the kicks”), you’re bound to learn something along the way by dedicating as much time as possible to writing.

Make real progress in writing

Aside from the NaNoWriMo rules, you don’t necessarily have to write 50,000 words in the month of November alone.

As Grimes says, writing is Difficult Writing purposeful, polished scenes in a style that is clear, communicative, and playful takes time.

However, as Julia Cameron says in The Artist’s Way to ParentsStructure helps creativity flourish.

In limits, there is freedom. Creativity thrives within the structure.

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way for Parents: Raising Creative Kids (2013)

Having structure in your process, whether it’s a 30-day plan to write a novel or something slower and gentler, is helpful to be able to check your progress and goals. The structure helps us to keep putting word by word freely.

Infographic - Reasons to do NaNoWriMo

Build a writing habit that is worth keeping

Will the work you produce through NaNoWriMo be publishable?

If you’re racing to achieve goals, it’s probably not your first draft (although first drafts are rare).

In a recent Q&A on story planning, Now Novel coach Hedi Lampert talked about how having at least three drafts are worth making for a story. A ‘Draft Down’ to jot down your thoughts, a ‘Up Draft’ to catch nuances and anything big you missed, and a ‘Teeth Draft’ to polish up your language. This idea has been attributed to the late writer and writing teacher Anne Schuster.

To be able to complete even one of these drafts, it is also helpful to build a writing habit that consists of sitting and getting the words on the page regularly. Try writing morning pages every day to start each day of the writing challenge with a creative step.

Once you have that, you don’t need NaNoWriMo rules or goals to start working.

Now a new community

Be responsible with criticism and support

Get writing and accountability tools in online constructive writing groups.

learn more

Strengthen connections with other writers

There are benefits to NaNoWriMo’s work that go beyond the number of words you produce.

A great benefit is communication with other writers. Questioning each other and sharing tips and ideas is motivating in itself.

The value of the community often appears in our reviews as a motivating factor for being a member of Now Novel:

I like the site because the age range of the members is wide and reading and criticizing other people’s work really helps with my writing. Criticisms from other members often make me think of something from a different angle.

Now a Novel member Kristen, testified via TrustSpot

Whether you participate in the official NaNoWriMo Forums or join another free-to-share NaNoWriMo group like ours, support makes writing even more rewarding. You can even build incredible friendships along the way.

Stay accountable with goals

Accountability is a common struggle for writers because self-discipline is harsh. The instant gratification we get from entertainment like reading a simple book or TV or scrolling through social media is much easier than often writing.

This is why a program like NaNoWriMo is useful as with additional word count goals you set yourself to get to 50,000 words, you’re not typing in the dark. Clear and smart writing goals help.

Gain perspective on the writing process

As the Grimes Medium article states, doing NaNoWriMo gives you something money can’t buy because it’s experimental: perspective.

Once you know how difficult (or, if you’re lucky, how easy) it is to write a novel, you may find that you’re kinder to yourself about your “slow” writing days where 500 words (or less) feel like no progress at all.

Perspective is essential to the creative process because without it, it’s easy to get discouraged.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year?

Comment below and tell us why you are (if yes) or why you are not (if no). Talk to us in our online writing groups about your writing challenges.

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