Just over a decade ago, I had never thought about writing a novel. As someone who had only written short stories up to that point, something like a novel felt so big and insurmountable to me. Then, talking with my cousin at Thanksgiving, I learned about National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short). Since then, I have participated and won the challenge 12 times in a row and am now nine years into my role as a Municipal Liaison (ML) for my local region. I almost exclusively write the first drafts of my novels during this annual challenge, and I have published at least five manuscripts that started out as a flurry of late nights writing in November.

Before we continue, let me set the stage by answering the first question many people have: what is NaNoWriMo? Founded in 1999, the NaNoWriMo challenge is to write 50,000 words of a first draft of a new novel in the 30 days of November. This does not mean the plot of said novel is complete with 50,000 words, but the goal is to develop daily writing habits to get words on the page that can go through the editing process later. Finishing the challenge is based on the honor system, as nobody (other than the author) checks, reads, or publishes the words written for NaNoWriMo.

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While participating in NaNoWriMo is almost a habit at this point, there are many reasons I keep coming back to it when I want to write a new book. First and foremost, 50,000 words is a concrete goal and writing these words in a month is a concrete deadline. As someone who loves data, I enjoy tracking this goal via my spreadsheet graphs because the 50,000 words can be discretely divided into 1,667 words written in each of the 30 days of November. Overall, NaNoWriMo follows most of the S.M.A.R.T. goal outline by being…

  • Specific: writing a first draft of a novel
  • Measurable: 50,000 words
  • Achievable: it only requires 1,667 words written each day
  • Relevant: depends on the writer
  • Time-bound: 30 days of November

After I completed NaNoWriMo the first time—finishing the 50k words with one day to spare—I knew it was something that could be done. Since it took care of the brunt of writing a first draft, I figured I could then write whatever novel I wanted to by adhering to the NaNoWriMo formula. However, even if I could apply this to other months of the year, I only write my first drafts during these November events. Why is that?

As I wrote a few months ago, writing should not necessarily be a solitary activity. While having a S.M.A.R.T. goal with NaNoWriMo is nice, one of the best motivators for me is the community aspect of the event. I may sit at home late at night, typing away on my laptop, but I am connected to a large community of writers who are doing the same thing I am. We are all living life and trying to release the story in our heads. Some days are good, some days are bad, but we are all in it together. Plus, finding a writer who is ahead of you on the road to 50k is a great motivator. You want to write more than them, and the competition (even if they are unaware of it) is a great push to keep writing. It’s a moving milestone that might get me close to the next even thousand words, or the next day’s word count goal, thus pushing me toward that hefty 50,000-word goal.

NaNoWriMo is about the people and the process.

Ultimately, NaNoWriMo is about finding the time to write. We all have busy schedules in our lives, so dedicating a few hours to writing might seem impossible. And yet, sacrificing some time scrolling social media or streaming a TV show can produce results. It also helps my family to know that I only need one month out of the year where I dedicate my evenings to writing instead of isolating myself from them for the entire 12 months. I can easily crank out the needed 1,667 words for a day in about 90 minutes, but I usually have to wait until my family goes to sleep so I can have that dedicated time to write. Even if I’m ahead of the needed words for that day, I still sit down and put an additional 1,667 words into my manuscript. Giving myself a buffer just in case I have a bad day has allowed me to develop the writing habits I needed to finish the 50,000-word goal in about 14 days (on average). These are just some techniques I’ve used to develop my writing over 13 years of NaNoWriMo.

I always encourage anyone who says that they want to write a novel “someday” that the NaNoWriMo challenge can be that someday. If you’re looking for a buddy to join you on your NaNoWriMo journey, I am BMW the Author. Since I also co-run NaNoWriMo for the Colorado Springs region, you are welcome to join our Discord server and engage with this great community of writers.


Have you written a novel before? Do you want to?
What techniques do you use to develop your writing habits?
Where can you find an extra 90 to 120 minutes a day to write?

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