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Quick naNoWriMo Guide

 Note: This post is out of date since they’ve redone their website. Most of the info is still valid, just be aware the screenshots aren’t accurate. I’ll be doing an update post in preparation for Nano2019. Stay tuned. 

What is it?

NaNoWriMo (NaNo for short) stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a contest/Personal writing challenge/website set up by the nonprofit organization of the same name. Their mission statement is:

The goal is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. Don’t panic at that number. There’s no penalty for not meeting that goal. Lots of people don’t reach it (including me last year) it’s just a number picked by NaNo as being challenging but still attainable. It boils down to 1,667 words a day for 30 days. If you do reach 50,000 words you don’t win any money or cars, but you get a pretty cool digital certificate, congratulations video, and can wear your winner t-shirt with pride. Not to mention the fact that you’ll have a shiny new novel of your very own.

Just by participating you will also receive the following, including but not limited to: new friends, resources for current or future writing projects, good times, good memories, and fun experiences. While none of these things will bring about world peace or let you retire to your own private island, they should not be undervalued.

How do I get started?

Getting started is really easy. Go to and sign up before November 1st. Fill out your profile. If you don’t have a title or synopsis for your story yet, don’t sweat it. You can just make something temporary up and change it later. That’s it. You’re officially a Nanite. Ok, so that’s not the official term, but I think it should be. I think you’re just a NaNoWirMo Participant. In either case, now you just wait for the 1st to start writing.

To Prep or not to Prep?

People often ask if they need to prepare for Nano. That’s completely up to you. The first time I participated I only had a rough idea of what I wanted to write, and one scene that I didn’t know where it would fit. I just showed up and started writing on November 1st. I finished on November 30th with slightly over the 50,000 goal. Last year I tried to do the same and failed miserably, only achieving 35K. Of course, that’s an accomplishment in itself, I just expected to win since I had the year before. This year I plan to go in with a pretty well developed outline. You can also start with a work already in progress or no idea what you’re going to write. It’s your choice.

I recommend, if it’s your first year, and you’re stressing meeting the goal, that you have an outline or at least an idea what you’ll write about. That way at least one thing is decided and it may help alleviate some of the anxiety. In reality though, this contest is not about stress or worry. It’s about helping you get the words to flow. It supposed to be fun and productive so don’t stress it.

So what happens on November 1st?

Some people stay up until midnight and make it a party, counting down the seconds. That sounds like fun to me, until I remember I’m older now and don’t do well with all-nighters. I prefer to log in whenever I have at least a couple hours to kill. That way I can settle in and get off to a good start.

I recommend you sign up in your region so that you will get all the news and events in your local area. It’s also how you can find out about and join a write-in nearby. A “write-in” is a cool little writing party at your local coffee shop, bookstore, or restaurant. Your regional moderator will organize it. There you’ll meet other NaNo participants in your area, do writing games like Word Sprints, get motivation and support to keep on writing, and generally have fun. They may even have a kick-off party of sorts on the 1st and usually have another on the last day of the month. To find your region and sign up, after you log in use the drop down menu. It should look like this:

Each day of November, after you’re done writing using your favorite software, log into the site. At the top you’ll find a little bar where you can manually type in your day’s total word count. Microsoft Word is awesome at calculating this but I’m guessing any writing software can tell you what it is. The site will then tell you how many words left to write, how many to average each day to finish on time and other stats.

On the navigation bar, under “conversation” you’ll find the forums. There you’ll get help on everything from plotting and character development, to naming your fictional town and much more. I recommend you stroll through them before NaNo starts to see how they’re structured and learn your way around. You may even post and see others posting before the official start date.

Keep an eye out for badges. They’re just a cool little way to celebrate your milestones and motivate you to keep going. There are some you get automatically for things like reaching a word count goal (like 5,000 words) and donating to their non-profit. Others you can give yourself like for attending a local write-in or backing up your novel.

It’s November 30th, now what?

Sometime before midnight, copy and paste all your words into their counter. They may have a way to upload the whole document, but I’m not sure. Don’t worry, they don’t keep the document. If there’s 50,000 words or more, congratulations! You win! If not, it’s no biggie. You can always try again next year, and no one can take away all the fun and friends you met while trying.

Here’s the stats from my first year, when I won.

And here’s my stats from last year, when I suffered a horribly tragic defeat 

As you can see, neither year did I keep to the average word schedule, although I did a much better job of it the first year. That year I got to spend the last week of the month at our family’s cabin. While my hubby went out and hunted, I settled into the loft and wrote like a mad woman to catch up. Apparently the pressure of failing works for me… if I’m not too far behind.

Anyway, there’s my experience with Nano and how to get started. There’s so much more on the site I didn’t mention, so go explore, have fun with it.

Have you participated in Nano before? Have you done other writing contests? Do you agree we should start a petition to have participants be called “Nanites” officially? What questions did I not answer? Feel free to leave a comment below and let me know if you’re going to try Nano this year. Maybe we could be writing buddies.

Let's chat! :) Let me know what you think.