November is fast approaching, which means it’s almost National Novel Writers Month!
What’s this NaNoWriMo thing anyway?
I’m going to let NaNoWriMo explain (they do it better than I can)…
“Each year on November 1, hundreds of thousands of people around the world begin to write, determined to end the month with a first draft. They enter the month as elementary school teachers, mechanics, or stay-at-home parents. They leave novelists.”NaNoWriMo.org, About: Our Story
If that little blurb didn’t give you goosebumps, I don’t know what will.
The Motley Writers Guild initially formed as a NaNoWriMo group
That’s right! This entire website, blog, and community was born out of a bunch of creatives getting together in the fall of 2021 to cheer each other on, keep each other accountable, and just have a good ol’ time. From there, we evolved from bourgeoning WriMos (aka: people who participate in NaNoWRIMO) into the Guild you know today. But our beginnings will always be rooted in NaNo comraderie.
I was the only Guild member to “win” NaNoWriMo in 2021 (people who complete 50k words by the end of November are called “winners”, but the only person you’re really competing against is yourself…and maybe your inner saboteur). And I participated/won again the following year. That time only a few other Guild members were still on board to challenging themselves to NaNoWriMo 2022. I used to be the person most consistently invested in NaNoWriMo, but I am still a novice compared to others. It’s been going for 25 years, after all.
With the addition of new Guild members, we actually have a real Guild NaNoWriMo “expert” who’s been involved for a long time: M.T. Decker. She has been participating in NaNoWriMo for decades, and has repeatedly volunteered as the Municipal Liaison for her region.
So if you’re an expert, novice, or a complete unknown, please read on for my guide to prepping and getting through NaNo to emerge a winner.
How can someone write 50k words in 30 days?
Whether you’re a pantser, plotter, planner or plantser (like me!) you can write a novel in a month. It just takes some good ol’ fashioned preparation. (Curious where you fall on the Pantser/Plotter Spectrum? Check out this MWG blog post by A.D. Moseley.)
Once again, NaNoWriMo says it best…
“There’s no one right way to write a novel (or a story, memoir, poem, essay, message in a bottle, birthday card to your gecko, etc.). Some writers at NaNoWriMo like to dive headfirst into a rough draft with nothing but their imagination and something to write with—we call them pantsers, since they write by the seat of their pants. Even if you like to prepare (hello, planners!), there’s still no one correct way to do it, and what works for one writer or story might not work for another. That’s the beauty (and the hair-pully-outtie-ness) of creativity!”NaNoWriMo.org, NaNo Resource Hub
The “hair-pully-outtie-ness” is right. You may go into the month thinking you’re going to kick arse and write 1667 words a day to complete 50,000 words by the 30th…then you may end the month with less than that, and a belly full of frustration (I don’t know why that’s where writerly frustration settles, it just IS.)
It’s important to remember that no matter how much you write, you are still a writer and your creative process still matters. You are enough.
But let’s not kid ourselves…we really do want to end the month with those 50k words saved safely in our favorite drafting software. (Trying to pick one that’s right for you? The Motley Writers Guild recently detailed the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of our three favorite writing programs! Part 1: Google Docs, Part 2: MS Word, Part 3: Scrivener.)
So let’s get you from planner to writer, the Motley way…
The Guild Guide To NaNoWriMo
All the best NaNoWriMo stories need to start with preparation. I know some of you Pantsers out there are already rolling your eyes at me. While I’m sure your characters and stories will lead you to the best and most creative places in other projects, I highly recommend you consider doing at least some basic preparation for NaNoWriMo. One of the worst things that can happen to a writer during November is the Dreaded Writer’s Block (check out our great blog post about it HERE!). Or lack of time/energy (but that’s not necessarily something we can help you with)…
Preparing for NaNo
NaNoWriMo has a really great section on their website, NaNo Prep 101, which is a 6 week course that can help you get ready for the challenge. As it’s already the second week of October, we’re going to give you the quick and easy way of prepping:
- Story comes first:
- We’re sure you have a million stories in your head, or already drafted and outlined in your notebook/on your computer. Whether this is a fresh new one, or an old one, you’re going to want to approach it the same way: by fleshing it out and getting it ready for you to write it in 30 days. What do you do if you haven’t got any ideas at all? This NaNo worksheet “Sparking an Idea” may help you with that.
- Pick an existing idea or create one from scratch.
- Flesh it out: To get you through each day of NaNo, you’ll need a road map. You can start by getting to know your characters. This is a great NaNo Worksheet on “Character Questionairres”. The basic questions you want to answer are:
- Who are they?
- What do they want?
- What’s their barrier to getting what they want?
- And what will happen if they don’t get it (stakes)?
- OR, you can start with the story: I usually begin planning my novels by writing out what I know about the story, and then filling in the blanks with key points I need to hit. I follow the standard 3 Act Structure. You don’t need to do it super detailed unless you want to, but you can go as deep or as bare-bones as you want. I tend to start out loosy goosy, and get more detailed as I go.
- Act 1: Beginning, inciting incident, reconsider, and climax of Act 1
- Act 2: (ascending action) Conflict, obstacles, midpoint party/big twist, obstacle, disaster, crisis, climax of Act 2
- Act 3: (resolution) Climax of act 3, descending action, obstacles, denouement, final images/ending
- Then create a more detailed map for yourself, to get you from day to day of NaNoWriMo without losing your way. I’m not saying all Pantsers need to become methodical Plotters just for NaNo. But I am urging you to break down what 50k words of your novel will look like, and then divide that into easily achievable goals. I’ll go into further details about this in the next section titled “Breaking down your novel into easily digestible parts”.
- Find your community. NaNoWriMo has an incredible existing community for people participating in the month-long challenge. You can join a local/regional groups through NaNo, connect with buddies, or find other communities on the NaNo Forums. Try to find at least one or two folks who are committed to doing the whole month too, and get a group chat going. Each day, check in and encourage each other. In this case, teamwork really can make the dream work!
- Plan for time to write. Whether your schedule is already packed, or wide-open, you’re still going to want to pencil in time specifically for NaNo writing. Some people do it every day, and gradually achieve the 50k goal in the 30 days. Some people do it in bursts on alternating days or weekends/days off. Whatever way you do it is FINE. The key is actually doing it!
Breaking down your novel into easily digestible parts…
I find this part to be very important for an individual’s success at NaNoWriMo, whether its your first time or your fifteenth. Or twenty-fifth, as this is the 25 year anniversary!
Novel word counts (as per Reedsy article, “How Many Words In A Novel”):
- Short story: <7000 words
- Novelette: 7,500 – 17,500 words
- Novella: 17,500 – 40,000 words
- Novel: >40,000 words
- Average novel length: 40,000 – 70,000 words.
- Average Commercial and Literary Fiction novels: 80,000 – 110,000 words
- Average Fantasy novels: 100,000 – 140,000 words
- Average Romance novels: 80,000 – 100,000 words (Note: Regency and Paranormal Romance MUST be >40k words to meet industry standards)
- Average Mystery novels: 75,000 – 100,9000
- Average Thriller novels: 90,000 – 100,000
- Average Western novels: 45,000 – 75,000
- Average Memoirs: 80,000 – 90,000
- Average Middle-grade novels: 20,000 – 55,000 words
- Average YA novels: 55,000 – 70,000 words
As you can see, the word count goal of 50,000 words for November is totally achievable. Don’t get too hung up on word counts in the first draft though. It might balloon up or shrink down, as writers often find they are the type to have to cut, cut, cut during revisions! Or add, add, add! Remember that the goal is to get those 50k words in just 30 days.
Whatever genre you’re writing in, aim for the final product to fall squarely within industry standards. For NaNo, that means you’re going to prepare for the challenge by planning your novel to meet the guidelines of your overall story, and then trying to hit the marks that are needed to complete 50k words of it.
Writing a Paranormal Romance novel for NaNoWriMo? Your word count should be between 80,000 and 100,000 words. The 50k NaNo goal would make up approximately 62.5% – 50% of your overall novel. If you are aiming to have your novel complete at 50,000 words by the end of the month, then hopefully you’re the kind of writer who adds, adds, adds in revisions. Because you want to make it to a minimum of 80k words overall. But this can put you in a bit of a quagmire if you’re not the “adding” type of reviser. That’s why I suggest you plan your overall novel with the end-goal word count in mind, and aim for whatever percentage of that you need to achieve just for NaNoWriMo.
If you want your novel to be 100k words: Plan to get halfway through it by the end of November. Don’t stress about completing the whole thing! JUST HALF! That will make you a winner at 50,000 words in 30 days, and you can continue to work on the project after the month is over. Make up your outline and chapter breakdowns accordingly.
I find this is really important for the success of NaNoWriMo, because writers can often get waylaid by frustration when they can’t get to the whole 100k words in 1 month (technically “completing” their “novel” in the required timeframe). 1667 words a day is manageable. 3,333 words a day? That’s a totally different situation!
By breaking up your goal into these bite-sized pieces you can keep yourself on track and hopefully stave off discouragement at the same time.
If you’re a Pantser/Writer who just can’t get on board with that much pre-planning…
Never fear, the Motley Writers Guild is still here.
Many times the biggest NaNo setback for Pantsers is writers block, and/or writing yourself into a corner which you aren’t sure how to get out of. That’s fine. It’s all part of the process.
Try to pre-plan for those possibilities, so you don’t get 40k words into NaNo and then hit a spot you can’t write past. What are some methods that have helped you in the past? What are your tried and true plot devices that inspire you in times of need? Utilize those, and have them in your writers toolkit to use when necessary.
- Plot points/tropes/arcs you want to hit.
- Plot points/tropes/arcs you want to avoid.
- Plot TWISTS you could use.
- Emotions you want to evoke in your novel at certain times and OVERALL.
- Completely outlandish ideas to be used only if absolutely necessary.
If you get stuck, try asking yourself these questions:
- Which parts of your Pantser Pre-Planning brainstorming could you slot into this scene? Emotions you wanted to evoke? Plot twists you could utilize?
- What’s the scenes you know your story needs to be complete?
- What does your character need right now?
And if you’re really stuck….
- What’s the worst possible thing you could do to a character right now? Then DO IT.
Sure, these tips might not work for everyone, but hopefully with a little preparation you’ll be able to write yourself out of that corner and continue on your NaNo project with a fresh start.
What if you feel you can’t write 50,000 words in 30 days?
Maybe you’re a slow writer. Maybe your month is packed and there just isn’t going to be enough time to write to make your 50k word goal. Whatever the reason, you can still participate in NaNoWriMo.
On the NaNo website Wrimo’s can fill in their word count goal for their own projects–and it doesn’t have to be 50,000. Full disclosure: I don’t have this issue, as I’m a very fast writer. I usually put my goal as 80,000 words because I know I’ll be able to achieve that in 30 days, but every creatives journey is different and they are all valid. Just because I speed write doesn’t mean you have to also. Go at your own pace, set your own goals, and enjoy your personal victories. You earned it!
Make sure to sign up on NaNoWriMo.org so you can track your progress! The great part about the website is that is gives you handy graphs and stats for your project.
Add the project to your profile
Get all your ducks in a row. Print/write out your outlines/breakdowns, whatever you use to organize things. Break them up into bite-sized portions with the end goal of 1,667 words a day to equal 50,000 in 30 days.
Hype up your NaNo buddies/group. Set goals for yourselves, and keep each other accountable. Doing NaNoWriMo is a daunting ordeal, but so much fun! So hopefully you can look forward to it, instead of dreading it… (remember, it’s optional! You don’t need to put yourself through this if you don’t want to)
You’ve planned. You’ve plotted. You’ve found your writing buddies. NOW IT’S TIME TO DO THE THING!!
Thankfully, NaNoWriMo.org automatically tracks things for you. Pretty great, right?
You can see your progress in charts and graphs…
And then it compiles it into easy to understand terms…
As you go, you’ll earn badges and fun things to keep you motivated.
For more motivation:
Try to check out some Twitch and YouTube streamers who do writing sprints and livestream their NaNo projects. This can be a fun way to keep you going.
@EmVanMoore (I livestreamed NaNo 2022 and I’ll be doing it again this year!)
So you Won NaNo, eh?
Congrats! You did it! After completing 50,000 words in the 30 days you’ll receive a fun little badge and congratulations. You’ll also unlock great promo codes for discounts on certain products (such as Scrivener, ProWritingAid, Hermit, etc.) and you’ll get to crown yourself The Winner Of NaNoWriMo 2023! It’s not a real crown though…so don’t expect to receive one in the mail.
NaNoWriMo.org even has some great resources on what to do with your book baby now that NaNo 2023 is done. Check them out here: NaNoWriMo.org “The Now What? Months” page.
What if you didn’t get to 50k words?
That’s fine. The important thing is that you tried, and hopefully you had fun too! You can continue to work on your project after the month is over, and those NaNo resources I mentioned above will still be useful to you.
The Motley Writers Guild wishes you good luck and happy typing!
We’d love to hear from you about your experiences with NaNoWriMo! Have you ever done it before? is this your first time? Did you find our Guild Guide helpful? Did you “win”? Tell us in the comments below, or tag us on social media #MotleyWritersGuild or via our individual author handles (mine is @EmVanMoore on all socials).
The Motley Writers Guild’s – Em Van Moore
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