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> > > NanoWrimo, National Novel Writing Month

Have you ever wanted to write a novel? What about writing one in a month? November is the start of NanoWrimo, National Novel Writing Month. John O'Donoghue discusses the initiative and gives five top tips.

drawing of a man running with a large pencil in his hands. underneath are the words national novel writing month

NanoWrimo logo

November is the start of NanoWrimo, National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. The project was started in July 1999 by Chris Baty in San Francisco with just 21 participants. It soon spread: by 2010 over 200,000 people took part worldwide, writing a total of over 2.8 billion words.

NanoWrimo has a website – – and after you’ve registered you find your way to your local ‘Lounge’. Here you’ll meet fellow writers based near you in virtual forums – so in my case the Brighton Lounge – and you can get help with your work, such as putting out queries about characterisation and plot points; make a ‘buddy’, a fellow NanoWrimo writer you can receive feedback and support from; and get details of face-to-face events, such as get-togethers in cafés where you can meet fellow writers, play a few ice breaker games, or join in write-ups as you take on other Lounges and try to beat their word count. The Lounges are very supportive and a lot of fun.

What about the actual writing?
The idea is to bypass your Inner Censor, the picky Editor who’s always stopping you getting beyond Chapter Three. You write fast and intensively and by the end of the month you have 50,000 words. That might sound a bit light in terms of novels, but The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Brave New World, and The Great Gatsby are all roughly 50,000 words in length. And of course, once the month is over, you will have a substantial manuscript you can edit and add to at your leisure. You’ll be way beyond Chapter Three by then.

In 2007 I was teaching Creative Writing for the OU in Brighton. After the course one of my students, Julia Crouch, asked me, ‘What next?’ I told her about NanoWrimo. She had a go and after finishing and a bit of editing secured a three-book deal with Hodder. Her first novel, a psychological thriller, Cuckoo, was published this year and is doing very well. Nor is Julia alone. There are quite a few NanoWrimo success stories. It can be done!
Fancy having a go? If you so – see you in the Brighton Lounge. NanoWrimo is fast, free and fun. I’m back this year and looking forward to a busy, productive month of writing.
My Top Tips for NanoWrimo are:

  1. Plan.
    You have have 30 days. So break that down. Is that a book in three parts of 10 chapters each? A day-by-day Diary of A Month In The Country? An event such as a funeral 30 people are attending, all with differing viewpoints of the deceased? Perhaps you’re writing a novel aimed at the Children and Young Adults? 30,000 words might be all you need – word counts here are much shorter than for adult novels.
    The more time you spend planning the easier the writing will be.

  2. Break down your writing sessions.
    50,000 words works out 1670 words (more or less) a day.
    If you broke that down into four writing sessions – four scenes x 400 words – you could accomplish you daily target perhaps more easily than thinking you have to churn out the whole 1670 words at once.

  3. If you fall behind – don’t panic.
    I wrote a completed story of 30,000 words one year. I thought I’d fallen way short. But then I saw that this novella could be the first part of three linked novellas of 30,000 words, and was glad I’d spent a  really busy but happy three weeks of NanoWrimo working away. Life got too busy to give it another week, but I had a good 30,000 words I wouldn’t have had without NanoWrimo.

  4. Have some back up texts you can interpolate if you do fall behind.
    Does one of you major characters have a cache of letters you can quickly invent and insert into the novel? Or a diary? Or a report, or some other kind of document? Can you place a flashback into the novel when you’re running behind? Can you suddenly switch narrators, and have another character comment on the action?

  5. Seek help from your Lounge.
    Stuck for plot ideas? Need help with a character? Need encouragement? Your Lounge, and the other parts of the NanoWrimo website can all be of help.