• H.A. Worthington

National Novel Writing Month: 6 Steps to Success

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a challenge to write a brand new 50,000-word novel within November.

The goal of the challenge that started in by the 501©(3) nonprofit in 1999 is to: "Encourage people to find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page."


455,080 writers participated in the 2019 challenge. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, WOOL by Hugh Howey, and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell are just some of the challenge's success stories.

Image courtesy of NaNoWriMo

How you're going to succeed:

1. Commit

"Whether you say you can or can't, you're right."

The first step to success in any endeavor is your mindset. As Jack Canfield, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul series says: "The self-esteem, self-confidence, or self-assurance, to believe you have what it takes." Hundreds of thousands of writers have completed this challenge every year, and they are no more talented or creative than you. They just put in the work and stuck to a goal, and so can you.

Picture holding the finished manuscript in your hands. Feel the sense of accomplishment, triumph, and pride you will have when you see this challenge to the end and make this goal a reality. It all starts with telling yourself—every day—that you can.

2. Schedule a Time to Write

"No one plans to be a failure; it's a lack of planning that leads to failure."

50,000 words (100 pages) a month breaks down to 12,500 words

(84 pages) a week or 1,667 words

(3 pages) a day. Don't "find the time," time isn't lost under the couch. Create the time! Schedule writing like you would an appointment and keep it.

Time yourself for 30 minutes to an hour and see how many words you write and adjust your schedule accordingly. If you write an average of 1,000 words in 30 minutes, then you know to plan to write for 45 minutes to 50 minutes seven days a week to reach the goal. You write 3000 words in an hour, great! You only need to schedule four to five days a week to write.

3. Designate a Workplace

"A clear space allows you to think and act with purpose."- Erika Oppenheimer

Limit your distractions to create a space where you can focus. Put your phone on "Do Not Disturb" —matter of fact, take it out of the room. Turn off the TV, put the pets outside, play wordless music, clear your workspace of any clutter, and close the door.

You may need to leave your home and work in a coffee shop or library to truly find peace from your housemates, the dishes sitting in the sink, the siren call of social media, or the dog that suddenly needs a walk. If you find that when you sit at your laptop to write and five minutes later you’re shopping online or scrolling social media, maybe you’ll need to write your novel in a notebook to cut off that easy access to temptation. Do what you need to, to set up your life to support you.

4. Create a Support Group

"Great things are never done by one person; they are done by a team of people." -Steve Jobs


Tell the people in your life about the challenge. Make them feel invested in the process and a part of your success by asking the people in your immediate circle to keep you accountable. Instruct them to call you out when you're not writing during your scheduled times or to ask how many words you wrote today. If they feel a part of the process, they will be more like will encourage and assist you by picking up more responsibilities around the house to give you more time to write.

You may be hesitant to tell people about the challenge in fear of their ridicule. You may already who won't be supportive or who will outright laugh at you. It's okay if everyone doesn't believe in you, just as long as you're not one of them. It's not your job to change their opinion or prove yourself to them; this challenge is not for them, it's for you. Their ridicule is not a reflection of your abilities but a lack of faith in their own. They couldn't take on a task like this, so they think you can't either, and that's their problem, not yours.

You don't have to tell the people in your what you're doing, but do let them know you may not be available in the same capacity during the month, so they don't take your absences personally.

Join a writers group on Meetup.com, at your local library, or other community groups to surround yourself with others who will motivate you if you don't have a supportive community.

5. Write

"Creativity is muscle. It’s a habit, not a skill. It’s a process, not a product" -Chase Jarvis

You will not always be motivated by inspiration to write, but you can be disciplined. You can show up every day and be consistent, and with consistency, you will find the creativity. Plotting out your novel's scenes with storyboarding before starting the challenge will reduce writer’s block and ensure every writing session is productive.

If you don't already have a story in mind to write, go to Pinterest, and search for writing prompts to spark inspiration. Look through captivating photos and tell the story captured in the image. Borrow a plotline from a movie or book and put it in your own words. Write the further adventures of an already well-defined character from a book or movie that you love.

Yes, every story has been written and told, but no one has heard you tell it.

6. Don't Edit

"Perfection is the enemy of good."

This a quantity, not quality challenge. Edit and rewrite passages when you have 50,000 words. Doing it before you reach that goal to make it "perfect" is just an excuse to procrastinate.

Procrastinating doesn't mean you’re lazy or don't have the time, especially since you scheduled time to write, so I know you've already created the time, right?! Procrastination is a sign that you are stressed, and why wouldn't you be. You are taking on a time-sensitive challenge that may be out of your comfort zone and in an arena you've never entered before. You or those around you may be saying: "Your writing isn't that good, so why bother?" or "You of all people could never meet the deadline."

When these thoughts arise, or you find yourself cleaning the dishes or watching TV when you're supposed to be writing:

1. Catch yourself.

2. Acknowledge that you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing, which is writing.

3. Remind yourself why completing this challenge is important to you

4. Forgive yourself for going astray

5. Write!


In the end, a 30,000-word novel is better than a blank page.


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