Using NaNoWriMo For Your Own Purposes

So you are thinking about NaNoWriMo.

You'll see a lot of your keyboard if you choose to embark on the roller-coaster they call NaNoWriMo.

You will spend hours with your keyboard if you choose to embark on the roller-coaster they call NaNoWriMo.


No, seriously. Why do you want to take part in this mad burst of writing frenzy?

Before you start, think about what you want to achieve.

If your goal is to prove that you can write 50,000 words in a month, you don’t need advice beyond what you can get from the NaNoWriMo website, but if you are interested in using the challenge to improve as a writer, it is worth setting more specific personal goals.

What could those goals be?

  • Write fast. Increasing your writing speed can help silence your Internal Editor, help you tap into your unconscious more strongly, or simply increase your output. If perfectionism is a problem for you, writing too fast for your editor to keep up is a great technique to develop.
  • Write a complete plot. This is easiest if you plan in October. A full-length novel is closer to 100,000 words than 50,000 words, so this goal could increase your word count substantially. I have a friend who sets this goal every year, doesn’t outline in advance, overwrites, and usually reaches 180,000 words to finish November with a complete story. I can’t make time to do that, but I can finish the first draft of a middle grade novel in 50,000 words.
  • Focus on a weakness in your writing. Maybe you could benefit from some deep exploration of setting, or you would like to focus on dialogue or plot or character development. Setting daily mini-foci could turn NaNoWriMo into a personalized writing course.
  • World-building. Speculative fiction requires deep world-building. You could do this in narrative form.

This year, I will be using NaNoWriMo to build the backstory of the world I am planning for my next novel. The novel requires a parallel fantasy universe that has been torn apart before the protagonist gets there. I’m planning to use NaNoWriMo to write the prequel. How did the world get so messed up that my hero needs to fix it? Maybe a novel in its own right, but certainly work I need to do for my next novel.

What are you going to do during NaNoWriMo to get more than simply 50,000 words out of the process?

16 thoughts on “Using NaNoWriMo For Your Own Purposes

  1. Hi Kate!
    Y’know, I’ve tried NaNo twice in the past and it didn’t work for me very well. Of course, once was when I was in grad school (mistake!). November is usually such a bad month for me. I wish they’d move it to January or February when it’s cold and dreary, there are no major holidays, and people are stuck at home. What better time than to write? 😉 I actually did a month-long writing marathon in January one year and invited other writers to play along. It was great fun.

    Actually, as I just finished a novel and am preparing to launch into the next one, NaNo would be great for writing down the bare bones first draft. Hmm. I may have to think on this…

    • Kate Arms-Roberts says:

      One of the things I have learned from NaNo is that I can make time to write despite all the things that come up.

      This year is going to be especially challenging, though, as we have to sell our house.

      Good luck if you decide to try again this year.


  2. Sara Daniel says:

    I’m with Melissa. November is a bad month for me too–planning kid birthday parties, gearing up for the holidays. I would love a January/February writing month. Those are the months when I have the time AND really need the kick in the pants. Kate, I like your ideas for using NaNo for more (better) than just word count. Great tips for things to focus on. Good blog post.

    • Kate Arms-Roberts says:

      I tend to stall out after Christmas. A January challenge to get back on track is a great idea.

      One advantage of doing NaNoWriMo from Canada is that we had Thanksgiving in October and November is spent waiting for Christmas.

  3. Patrick Ross says:

    Hi Kate,

    You know, I know a fair number of people via social media who use NaNOWriMo, and a writer in my local group does it. I love the idea of having that group pressure to apply goals and deadlines that don’t have weight otherwise. I’ve been curious about something, though. Is the point just to get words on the page? For me, it’s not hard to pound out a long stream of words, 1,000, 2,000 or more at a sitting. Where I labor is in the rewriting. It might take me seven or eight drafts to get something where I want it, and that 10,000 words usually becomes more like 5,000 when I’m done. What kind of focus is put on revising?


    • Kate Arms-Roberts says:

      NaNoWriMo puts NO effort on revising. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The official word from the NaNo office is no revising til December. We need a new tool to push us through revision.

      One of the things I have learned about myself is that 50,000 words without revising gets me into trouble. My plan this year is to read what I wrote the day before before writing new material and see if that helps me with some of my continuity problems.

  4. Patrick Ross says:

    Well, I get that no-revising approach. I was at a conference recently where a Pulitzer Prize winner said he sits down every day and instead of picking up where he left off, he starts by revising from the beginning, until he gets to the end of what he’s written, then starts writing. That’s okay for someone who writes full-time and has that kind of time, but he admitted it’s silly, and that the beginnings of his works are far better than the endings.

    If I were to do this program, I suspect I’d cheat a bit, and write twice as much as expected one day, then not touch it for a day. I find I write better when I pull back occasionally and let the story percolate in my subconscious for a bit.

    Good luck with your next NaNoWriMo!

    • Kate Arms-Roberts says:

      Knowing your own strengths and weakness and acting from that knowledge is powerful. As long as I keep learning from NaNo, I expect I will continue to participate.
      I keep thinking in December that I won’t do it again, but by the following October, I have found a new way to approach it that I think will help me grow as a writer, so I dive back in.

  5. Kitty says:

    Wow – hat’s off to your friend who reaches 180,000 words in one month! It would be fantastic to come out of Nanowrimo with a completed first draft. After my first Nanowrimo experience, it took the whole next year to finish the draft (beyond the 50,000 words) and then edit, edit, edit. And that’s because I didn’t have the pressure of Nanowrimo pushing me. I think, though, that the best part of Nanowrimo for my purposes is your first bullet-point: writing so fast that the inner editor can’t keep up. My inner editor is what made finishing up that draft sooooo sloooowwww!

  6. Great article, Kate. I’ve never done NaNo (I’m a screenwriter ahead of feeling like a novelist) but if I was going to do it, I would want to think about these kinds of questions you’ve posed. I’ve already proven to myself that I can write fast and still end up with a reasonable treatment or first draft to work from, so the word count would not be the issue. Growing as a writer would be, and you’ve really zeroed in on the issues.

    Best of luck with your prequel. Spending the month writing about a fantasy universe sounds wonderfully absorbing!

    • Kate Arms-Roberts says:

      Thank, Milli;

      I write dialog very slowly. One of these years, I am going to see if Script Frenzy can help me increase my speed there.


  7. Capital Mom says:

    You have some good advice here, thanks. I am thinking of attempting it for the first time and feel overwhelmed by the time committment. I have an outline already so I hope that will help.

    • Kate Arms-Roberts says:

      The first time I did it, I had no plan and was sure I would be up all night writing, but it was okay as long as I truly refused to let my Inner Editor say anything and just kept moving.

      The first time I used an outline, I was paralyzed by it. The second time, I typed a chapter heading into Liquid Story Binder for each plot point in my outline before I started and skipped around between chapters when I was feeling stuck. I ended up with some very short chapters and some very long chapters, but had written something at each plot point by the time I was done and bypassed all the rational thinking that had blocked me the previous year.

      Good luck if you take it on. And there’s always next year if it feels like too much now.

      And thanks for stopping by. I really enjoyed your Canada Writes Twitter story about the unopened wedding presents.


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