How to Survive NaNoWriMo

by Mariah Castillo

Ahh November, the month of Thanksgiving, the final push before exams, and the end of Daylight Savings Time messing up your body clock. There are so many things to do in November, whether it be studying, spending time with family, or planning for the holidays. Many of us are probably not going to have time to do anything else.

You too can write your own novel! 

I, along with hundreds of thousands of budding writers, am going to try and prove that wrong.

November is National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo, where aspiring writers have to write a novel, or part of a novel, with a word count of 50,000 words by the end of November. You can write anything you want (yes, smutty fanfiction counts) as long as you haven’t started writing before 12:01am on November 1.

The point of having a deadline with such a huge word count is to force writers to get their ideas down on paper, etched on a clay tablet, or typed. The idea for the story I’m writing came into my head almost a year and a half ago, and I’m sure other participants have had their future novels in the back of their heads for a lot longer. However, the pressure from the outside world, as well as the pressure we put on ourselves to not botch up a perfect novel, has stopped many of us from actually writing it down. If you really want to win NaNoWriMo, you have to let the words you’ve been keeping inside come out.

The actual NaNoWriMo organization itself does not give out any prizes for meeting the 50,000 word requirement, but other websites and companies may have cash prizes, and a few novels written during NaNoWriMo were even published. The primary “prize” of winning NaNoWriMo is the satisfaction of writing a story. The final product is not going to be perfect, with possible alternative plots to be discovered, characters to be further developed, and word-vomiting to be cleaned up, but now that you’ve actually written your story, what’s stopping you from finishing?

I signed up on a whim, making an official account on October 31. I suggest not doing this. I later learned that many participants sign up a long time in advance, using the time between then and November to create an outline of their novel. I had an outline of my story made when the idea first popped into my head, so thankfully I wasn’t fully unprepared, but I didn’t realize that it would be such a time commitment. It also doesn’t help that I have several papers due in the last week of November and the first week of December. I jokingly told my friends that I wouldn’t be seeing them for the next month because the only relationship I’ll have will be with my laptop.


As week two comes to an end, I sincerely hope that I can keep up the pace. I’ve been writing more than the magic 1666 words (the number of words per day you’ll need to finish your novel in time) this past week, but the time I had during Fall Break made that possible. Usually weeks two and three tend to have a slump in writing, after the initial euphoria of NaNoWriMo has died down and reality comes to bite you where it hurts. Whether or not writing your novel loses its appeal, don’t give up!

For my fellow NaNoWriMo participants, whether it’s also your first time or you’ve been doing this since its inception in 1999, here are a several tips that I’ve found really useful:

  • Have someone hold you accountable. Tell your friends and family that you’re doing this, and let them know about the deadline and the word count.
  • Just write. Honestly, you might read what you wrote a few days later and cringe at how horrible it was, but keep it. Keep adding to your word count, not bringing it down! If you don’t make 1666 words by the end of the day, remember every word counts. You’ll thank yourself later when the number of words you have to write on your make-up day is much smaller.
  • Make time. Block websites that normally drain your free time, tell friends that you can’t hang out for the whole day, and set up days to make up for lost time.
  • Did you think of an alternative plotline? Write it! Put it in brackets or make a note to show that it’s not exactly relevant to the current story, but you’ll debate later on whether it’s worth keeping or not.
  • The writing process doesn’t start and end in November. As I’ve said before, a typical NaNoWriMo piece is going to be crappy (if you’re truly happy with what you wrote in the first shot let me know so I can correct myself). Really take the time before November to plan and outline your work, and then edit what you’ve produced beginning in December. Write something you’ll be proud of!

Week two is coming to a close, and I’ve already shed tears over this novel. This week is tough, but if I can keep it up, I may be able to say that I conquered NaNoWriMo.

To all the people who know me: if you see me on Facebook and Tumblr please tell me to get off.

To my fellow Wrimos, why are you still reading this?

Mariah Castillo is a sophomore at Barnard and the Food and New York Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of CW Books and Wise Geek.


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