writing, Writing Prompts

How to Make Your Own NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo has reared its head again. Here’s how to make the most out of your November even if you don’t have time for 50k.

Hey, everyone! Happy November! For many people, November 1st is the kick-off of the Christmas season. I’ve been using this week to get the most out of my lingering spooks, but I definitely feel the pull of Pentatonix’s Christmas album…

For writers, November means something else entirely: NaNoWriMo, which is short for National Novel Writing Month. Even if you’ve never actually participated, pretty much every writer who uses the internet has at least heard about NaNo. They even hold events in schools (which is totally awesome).

If you need a refresher, NaNoWriMo is an event where a person commits to writing a 50,000-word original novel in a month. 

It’s a massive undertaking and many people are drawn to it because of its absurdity; others are intrigued by the prospect of getting into a daily writing habit, while others are hopeful that the sheer pressure of having to produce such a high volume of words in a month will help them barrel past the self-doubts that hold them back in their writing.

I get it, and I’ve tried it. I did NaNo when I was a teenager, and while the book I wrote wasn’t really a book so much as 50,000 words of nonsense, it was still fun. I also participated again a few years ago when I was trying to finish the second or third draft of my novel. I’d postponed writing so often that I thought NaNo would help me finally break through all the things holding me back. And it did.

I reached 65,000 words on that draft and, although it wasn’t even complete, I understood what I needed to change to make the story shine. I’m working on the final draft of that novel now.

So maybe you are intrigued by the prospect of NaNo, but you also know that you won’t have the time to commit to 50,000 words. It’s easy to feel like if you don’t hit that number, then you automatically “lose” and all your writing over the past month was for nothing.

Stop thinking that way. Right now.

Yesterday, I tweeted that I wasn’t  doing NaNo but was still trying to write 500 words a day. I finished last night with 557. Then, a fellow writer replied, “NaNoWriMo is whatever you want it to be!” I thought that was such an inspiring thought and refreshing approach, and her words are what inspired this article. I’ve challenged myself to write 500 words every day in November. Now it’s your turn.

Here are three suggestions on how to make your own NaNoWriMo challenge.

Set a Word Goal Every Day

You could do this in one of two ways:

  • Stick to a set figure every day of the month, e.g., 500 or 1,000 words per day.
  • Gradually increase your output each day to read a maximum figure, e.g. start off at 500 and increase by 50 to 100 words per day for a week until you’re ultimately writing 1,500 to 3,000 words per day.

This approach is good if you want to start a daily writing habit or if you’ve put off writing for a while and want to ease yourself back into the swing of things while staying accountable.

The benefits of this NaNo challenge allow you to focus on the present day and not stress over meeting a large deadline. Rather than worrying about writing an entire book, you’ll only have to concentrate on one scene or one chapter per day.

You don’t even have to write a set project the entire month; if you decide you want to write one 500-word flash fiction every day, that’s great. It will stimulate creativity and would make for some pretty fun blog posts.

If you go this route, be sure to find a good progress tracker to stay on top of your game. Word Counter is free and easy to use in your browser! You can also download free word counter apps for your phone to track your daily progress on the go!

Create Word Banks

Do you remember those vocabulary worksheets from elementary school that would have word banks at the top? It turns out they’re useful beyond acing 4th grade Language Arts! Word banks are easy to make and can help get your creative juices flowing because they force you to think around words—you wind up using words instead of your own ideas as catalysts, which can make for some interesting results as your mind works to make something that clicks on paper.

You can get started in a few ways. Here are my favorite:

  1. Popular Words and Word Lists at Miriam-Webster
  2. Words for writers Pinterest boards
  3. Random word generators like this one

This is a great NaNoWriMo challenge if:

  • You struggle with wordiness in your writing and want to find alternatives to filler words
  • You want to expand your vocabulary
  • You just really like words and enjoy the challenge of incorporating a strange/formal/ uncommon/otherwise unused terms into your everyday writing

Bonus challenge: Try finding words from a specific era or choosing slang from another region. This will influence the type of content you write and provide some interesting knowledge!

Start a Verse Novel

Verse novels aren’t easy to pull off; they’re a crisscross of poetry and prose where each chapter is a standalone poem that must work as part of a greater narrative. They aren’t for everyone, but they’re definitely a fun challenge. I unintentionally began a verse novel earlier this summer, and so far, it’s been a highly rewarding and engaging experience.

Verse novels don’t have to ascribe to any poetic structure, so feel free to just commit yourself to writing one free-verse poem a day. Just make sure you’re keeping a larger story in mind. You may be shocked at how writing a verse novel alters your perception of traditional novel writing.

All the elements that we consider when writing a book are present but condensed when writing a verse novel; you may start to realize which parts of storytelling you love the most and which ones are holding you back on larger projects.

Recommended reading: Writing Verse Novels

How do you NaNo?

Whether you’re a panster or a plotter, are writing 50k or just trying to write a bit every day, how do you tackle NaNoWriMo or writing challenges in general? If you’ve never tried anything like this before, now is the time to start! You’ll be amazed at how much your approach to writing develops through challenges like this. You learn just as much from the aspects you love as the ones you loathe.

Tell me your favorite NaNoWriMo surival tips and/or writing challenges in the comments!


2 thoughts on “How to Make Your Own NaNoWriMo

  1. I wrote recently about my idea for transforming NaNoWriMo attempts into NaNoWriMo success. Anyone who’s attempted it will agree that NaNoWriMo requires a great deal of self-discipline, whether you’re attempting the full 1,667 words a day or a custom goal centered on progress rather than wordcount.

    In my experience, the greatest potential for NaNoWriMo failure came from attempting to compartmentalize the requisite level of self-discipline within my writing sphere. It became an effort of maintaining an island of self-disciplined work at the writing desk while surrounded by a sea of entropy—the more laidback norm of rest of my life.

    When the going got tough, I was seduced by a return to the comfortably familiar, only a step away. My idea for a solution was to approach NaNoWriMo with a more holistic outlook. To extend, if only for a month, that same degree of increased self-discipline into all areas of my life, such that my effort to stay on task with my writing was bolstered by the surrounding example I’d set for myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What an interesting viewpoint. I agree wholeheartedly. Attempting to commit to such a dedicated project does require you to change your entire life to a certain degree. Self-discipline is hard to keep up at such an intensive level unless that’s your general lifestyle, so I think NaNo in and of itself is a fun experiment for a lot of people, but like you said, it can also be a doorway to disappointment and failure if you don’t think about it on a larger scale.


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