How you can use Nanowrimo to build a year-long writing practice

Five days into November, the fireworks are flying, the coffee is flowing, and all over the world, novelists from all walks of life are furiously scribbling away, aiming to reach the goal of writing 50,000 words by the end of the month.

Started in 1999 when Chris Baty was told, in no uncertain terms, that it was impossible to write a novel in a month, National Novel Writing Month — most often abbreviated to NaNoWriMo, or even more conveniently, simply NaNo — has grown over the course of 20 years to become a world-wide celebration of novel-writing. Every year, it attracts a range of word enthusiasts from first time writers to published authors. Over the course of November, local branches organize communal write-ins, and everyone caffeinates furiously. 

It’s amazingly fun, but if you’re a word-addict, then there’s no reason that the excitement and noveling have to end come December. In fact, if you’re serious about shifting your writing habit into high gear, then NaNoWriMo is just the beginning. Here are three tips for using the month-long challenge to build a year-long practice that will keep you writing well into the non-November future.

1: THE KEY TO NANOWRIMO: JUST KEEP WRITING

Let’s get one thing straight: 50,000 words in thirty days is an ambitious goal. While it is entirely doable, it’s definitely not easy, hence the “challenge” part of writing challenge. But one of the best things about NaNoWriMo is that it provides participants with the tools to face that challenge head on — daily goals, progress trackers, accountability and milestones, not to mention prompts and inspiration. When you break it down, as they do on the NaNoWriMo website, 50,000 words over the month of November is really just 1,667 words per day.

For most of us, that’s still a heckton. But, if you’re looking to sustain your writing in the long term, then it’s brilliant, because it means that you’ve got a concrete goal, every day, to sit down and write to your word count, along with reminders and a way to track how much you do. And even if you don’t hit your goal every day, guess what happens when you train yourself to sit down and write every day for 30 days?

Chances are, on day 31, you’re going to find it a lot easier to find the time and motivation to sit down and write. For me, this has been the number one thing about NaNoWriMo that keeps me coming back. Though my daily writing practice may slip over the months, especially when it comes time to redraft or edit, November always gives me a chance for a reset — the opportunity to just sit down and write, as much as I can, every single day. The 50,000 word skeleton draft of a new novel is just icing on the cake.

And if you’re having trouble getting started, then here are some more tools to get you to just write — butt in chair and fingers on keyboard, or pen in hand.

  • Write or Die – if you’re struggling to find motivation to write, this website gives you a simple choice….
  • Prompt of the day – for a daily bite-sized idea, look no further…
  • TVTropes Generator – which not only gives you the twists and character types to use, but explains and explores various tropes with examples

2: IT’S DANGEROUS TO GO ALONE, TAKE A BUDDY

Everyone knows that writing can be a very lonely profession. Still, anyone who has been writing for a while can tell you how important critique partners, writing buddies, and beta readers are to keeping up motivation and making your work the best it can be. While writers may work alone, putting down words in the small hours of the night or morning, huddled in bed or in the corners of their favourite cafes, no writer creates anything in a vacuum.

NaNoWriMo is the ultimate chance to meet like-minded wordsmiths, both online and IRL. The NaNoWriMo community is one of the most open and friendly writing communities I have ever had the honor of joining, and over the course of two international moves, it wouldn’t be going too far to say that NaNoWriMo has even, on occasion, saved my (non-writing) social life.

Taking advantage of the write-ins run by your local liaisons is the number one thing you can do to ensure that you’ll have writing cheerleaders in your corner for the rest of the year — and who knows? You might even make the sort of writing friendship that lasts a lifetime. 

3: EVEN THE ADRENALINE DOESN’T HAVE TO END IN DECEMBER

When December dawns and you’ve finalized your November word count, when you face the daunting prospect of redrafting and editing the 50,000 word monstrosity that you’ve created, when Christmas carols start haunting your every waking moment and the prospect of a year until the next NaNoWriMo stretches, bleakly, before you — take heart! Because there are definitely a whole host of other writing challenges that can fill the NaNoWriMo-shaped hole in your soul.

For one thing, you’re going to want to edit that bad boy (please tell me you didn’t think that putting 50,000 words on paper was all you had to do to write a novel!), but even that can be a challenge rather than a slog. Check out these month-long editing challenges, which promise to bring your manuscript to a whole new level.

If you just want to keep the wordcount flowing, though, there’s a few other low-key challenges that continue all year long. Imagine writing 300,000 words in a year! It’s definitely doable, though how many novels you’ll get out of it rather depends…

  • 750 words a day – exactly what it says on the tin
  • Write Year – because November only comes but once a year
  • CampNaNo – a choose your own adventure setup from the people who bring you NanoWriMo

Finally, novels don’t have to be your only outlet. If you’re a die-hard wordsmith looking to expand your range across all shapes and forms, it’s definitely worth your time to join these challenges, which range from poetry to twitterature. 

Have you signed up for NaNoWriMo and are you hitting those wordcounts? I’d love to hear what you’re working on and how it’s going for you — so let me know in the comments how you’re using NaNoWriMo, or let’s connect on nanowrimo.org! And remember: just keep writing

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