Beginner’s Guide to NaNoWriMo

What is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every November. NaNoWriMo started in 1999 to encourage would-be novelists to just sit down and have a go at writing a novel in a supportive environment (and to encourage those procrastinators to just get on with it). Writers all over the world who are game for the challenge sign up and commit to trying to write 50,000 words in just one month. It may sound impossible, but last year alone, over 300,000 writers signed up to NaNoWriMo. We think it’s an amazing challenge and would encourage all of you to give it a go. Before you run for the hills, let us explain why in our Beginner’s Guide to NaNoWriMo.

Why NaNoWriMo Works

  • You are in it together – never underestimate the power of a community. Writers are expressive, articulate, communicative souls, but conversely, writing can be quite a solitary and insular process – hours spent on your own (in your study/garden shed), tapping out words on a keyboard. It is no surprise that they appreciate the support and encouragement of other writers.
  • You are against the clock – because you know you only have one month to write 50,000 words, you will squeeze in as much as you can each day. Left to our own devices it’s easy to put things off and make excuses, but with such a tight deadline, there is just no room for that.
  • You are motivated & rewarded – you can work towards milestone and personal achievement badges to help keep you on target.

Still don’t think it’s possible to write 50,000 words in one month? In 2014 they surveyed the participants and 86% of respondents said that NaNoWriMo helped them learn what they can accomplish when determined. See what you can do when you put your mind to it.

How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo

1. Sign up. No excuses – if you’re going to do this, you’re going to do this properly. Head over to

2. Schedule your time. Get your diary out and make a plan as to when and where you are going to write. Most writers juggle writing with work and family (E. L. James famously wrote Fifty Shades of Grey on her BlackBerry on the way to work), so settling into a routine will help. Will you get up an hour earlier and write before work? Will you close your office door and furiously write through every lunch break? Can you clear whole days at the weekend to work on your novel? Think about what is going to work best for you. Be honest and realistic – do you work better in the morning or evening? 50,000 words in a month works out at around 12,500 words a week (with a couple of days off). So where are you going to fit these into your week? You may want to cut some of the time you spend socialising with your friends out this month (they’ll understand), but don’t cut all the fun out as you will need some rewards to keep you going, e.g. go for coffee with a friend when you have written your first 5,000 words.

3. Go local. Find your regional NaNo group here: In London, there is a lovely NaNo community that gets together for write-ins before work in bakeries, after work at coffee shops, and even hosts weekend sessions in bookshops. The advantage of going to one of these events is that if you are sitting around a table with other people working towards the same goal of writing for 45 mins, then having a break together for 15 mins, then getting back to it, you will be more productive (with the bonus of making some writer friends too). If you can’t venture out, there are virtual write-ins where everyone will knuckle down for a certain amount of time then have a chat then repeat. Top tip: Try to go along to one of your local write-ins early in the month, that way if you like it, there will still be plenty of others you can go along to.

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4. Get to know your characters inside and out. You need a really solid understanding of who you are writing about before you start. This will not only make the writing process easier, but it will also make your writing better – a double win! Many professional writers will spend months building up “bibles” for each character they develop. They might tear out magazine clippings of people who look like their characters, they may take photos of the types of clothes their characters would wear when they are out shopping, they may collect cards from the types of restaurants they think their characters would go to etc. It is kind of like stalking but in reverse. As well as these visual clues, our NaNoWriMo Character Checklist (download below) will help you flesh out your characters (as well as set you up for writing great dialogue and strong descriptions) by asking you in-depth questions about your characters. Putting them in the hot seat and seeing how well you really know what makes them tick before you start will make your characterisation much more believable.

5. Organise your ideas before you start. If you really are going to write a novel in a month then you need to get organised. This doesn’t come naturally to all creatives, but find a method that works for you. By now, you should at least have a shadowy outline of your story in your head. Try to get that down on paper. You might find brainstorming a good way to get started, in which case, a brainstorming app such as MindNode might be useful. If you are more of a list person then Trello is a great tool for building and managing lists and tasks. Or, you may want to use the J. K. Rowling approach and create a big grid for each element of each chapter. Find out more about the J. K. Rowling method here. Having a strong plan before you start writing will enable you to be more productive.

So now you have accepted the challenge, sorted out your diary, looked into local meet ups, got to know your characters really well and organised your story… you are ready for NaNoWriMo! If you have any other tips on how to prepare for NaNoWriMo, please let us know in the comments box below. And don’t forget to let us know how you get on throughout the course of NaNoWriMo by tweeting us @Iamselfpub. Good luck! You might want to check out our blog post: 5 Best Productivity Apps for NaNoWriMo to make writing 50,000 words just a little bit easier.

We’ll leave you with some motivational words from a hero…


How to prepare for NaNoWriMo 2


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