Writers: What Are You Doing This November?

by | Oct 26, 2010

November is a month of traditions, more than most months. We’ve got football, homecoming, Thanksgiving holidays and the beautiful fall colors, not to mention election day.

But for the last 11 years, we have a new November tradition: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Every year, writers put up badges and word counters on their websites and blogs, and start writing a novel with the aim to finish in one month.

Sound impossible? Thousands of writers are doing it every year. Starting in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2009 by Chris Baty and a bunch of fellow writers, last year saw over 119,301 adult participants, 21,683 of whom completed the challenge and “won.”

Here’s an introduction from the NaNoWriMo website:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30. Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

There are no prizes for completing your book in NaNoWriMo. Writers do it for the joy of writing and having someone else give us a deadline so we can actually get some writing done. The NaNoWriMo website has translations in German, French and Spanish, and the whole concept has spread over the years.

Who is it good for? To produce 50,000 words in 30 days, you’ll have to have the time to average about 1,666 words per day. Every day. Here’s more from the website on how this is possible:

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

This is a lot like the freewriting I’ve written about here before. To be able to really let go and allow the story you have in your head take shape—by itself—on your screen is a powerful writing practice.

To do this and turn out 1600 words a day for 30 days in a row would really test your skill and resilience as a writer. If you’d like to find out more about joining the fun, head on over to the NaNoWriMo website and sign up there.

But What About the Nonfiction Writers?

In response to NaNoWriMo, author and blogger Nina Amir began WriteNonfictionInNovember, a much looser association of writers without the trappings of Amazon sponsorship, multilingual participants and hundreds of thousands of participants.

But Amir created the structure to give nonfiction authors the same kind of enforced deadline that can lead to the discipline to get a long-planned project off the ground.

While NaNoWriMo brings in well-known authors to deliver “pep talks” to participants, Write Nonfiction in November runs off a blog that features expert guest bloggers throughout the month to enhance participant’s move toward publication.

Here’s what Amir says about her project:

This blog challenges nonfiction writers to spend the month of November writing and completing a work of nonfiction. It also discusses nonfiction writing and provide a forum for nonfiction writers to comment on their writing experiences during November each year. This is not a contest!

Just by gathering writers and guests and giving them a place to interact and encourage the completion of nonfiction books, Write Nonfiction in November is a terrific gift to anyone who wants to participate.

So whether you’re a novelist or a nonfiction author, November offers you a chance to make a big leap in working on a project you’ve been meaning to get to. I’m curious: Do you plan to participate in one of these events?


NaNoWriMo — main website and registration
Write Nonfiction in November — blog
Each site offers a 10-step process to help you get started. Happy Writing!

Image: Stock.xchng via https://tikideputy.com/

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Lynette Benton

    Thanks for much for remembering us (we?) nonfiction writers!

  2. Maggie

    I’ve often thought about giving it a go, but I write the way I quilt. Get one piece perfect, then attach the next piece and get those two pieces just the way you want them before attaching a third. Unlike a novel, you can’t throw a quilt together and go back and fix it when it’s all done.

    Back in the day when all I had was a borrowed Selectric (and before I became a quilter), I banged out my kids’ books in less than six weeks. Whatever landed on the page tended to stay there unless it was truly egregious. And they sold, to major publishers, no less.

    I’d be hopeless at NaNoMoWrite, but I admire (and envy) those who can cope with it, and I wonder if anyone who banged out a first draft on NaNoMoWrite went on to win a publishing contract with it.

    • Joel Friedlander

      I’ve heard stories of NaNoWriMo books being published, and I don’t see why not. Obviously, at that speed, you would be producing a first draft only, but hey, it’s a great motivator if you’re stuck.

  3. Ren

    I’ve participated in the past 2 NaNo’s and managed to just barely crank out 50k each time, both of which resulted in being the core foundation for my two novels. The thing to remember about NaNo is that even if you DON’T hit the mark of 50,000 words in the time allotted, any quantity of writing you can accomplish in that time is a success. Simply put, it’s a marathon; the participation alone is a fabulous event.

    My two books ended up with 92,000 and 126,000 words respectively, so at the same time the initial chunk of writing that NaNo pushed me to generate resulted in less than half of the overall projects, but there’s also something very satisfying and encouraging about setting a goal which superficially seems so very impossible, and then managing to accomplish it.

    A big part of being successful is just showing up; in this case, I’d translate that to “a big part of being a successful writer is just… writing.”

    • Joel Friedlander

      Ren, you said it well. Writers are . . . people who write. I think each person ought to judge for themselves whether they are successful or not. Congratulations on completing the awesome task that NaNoWriMo presents to writers. It’s no mean feat.

  4. Kelley

    I’ve heard of NaNoWriMo before, but I never looked too closely at the page or word requirements, and I never felt I had the time. Might be fun to give it a shot though. I did find it interesting when I did the breakdown on words per page and got less than 300 words a page. I checked a couple of my (incomplete) stories I’ve been writing in Word and noticed that I have about 700 or 800 words per page (one of them is 29 pages and nearly 20,000 words); I suppose either they’re thinking a different page format or I just write extremely dense prose. Which begs the question: if I were to participate, would I want to try to reach the page count or the word count? Definite food for thought.

    • T. B. Wright

      As a former NaNo-er, I can tell you that the most important thing about completing NaNoWriMo is the word count. The entire goal is 50,000 words in 1 month. I have always been in a similar position as yourself. With my page format I get about 600 words per page. It’s all relative and pagination, in the end, doesn’t matter one bit. It’s all about the word count.

      Helpful tip to completing on time? Write or Die. https://www.writeordie.drwicked.com I easily get about 2k words a day with WoD, in about an hour and a half. Just for your consideration. I hope you join in. It’s intense.

      • Joel Friedlander

        Thanks for the link and the encouragement, T.B. I’ve heard a lot of people swear by write or die. Maybe next year for me, this November I’ve got too much on my plate already. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. bettymingliu liu

    joel, this idea is so crazy that it might be worth considering. over the last decade, I completed two novels that are stuffed into a closet shelf. never went back to working on a book because for the longest time, I didn’t have a story that i cared about. but that recently changed and this writing month project might help. my only fear is that i have a hard enough time managing my blog, twitter and Facebook page. how the heck am I gonna make this writing project work??! suggestions?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Yeah! Crazy idea looks for crazy writers to bed down with, why not? My suggestion is that a) it’s only one month, it can’t be that bad. If you cut back on FB and do 1 or 2 fewer blogs, it won’t have a big longlasting effect. and b) use the month to write FB and blog entries about the NaNoWriMo project = instant topics for updates and posts! And if you write one, I promise to read it.



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