Setting out to write a novel can be daunting. This fact is true for both the seasoned veteran and the first-time novelist. Fortunately, all writers can participate in a free event called NaNoWriMo, which provides support and encouragement through an annual month-long writing challenge.

What is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) occurs every November, throughout online and various local communities. Chances are, if you’re part of a writing group, you can find others in your circle of friends or local area who will also work toward the NaNo goal.

Participating authors are challenged to write 50,000 words of a fiction novel in 30 days. The challenge is supported by a nonprofit organization committed to “help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds.”

What do I need to get started?

Officially, all you really need is a desire to write, but here are two recommendations:

NaNo Website – Prior to November 1st, create an account on nanowrimo.org. You can interact on the forums that interest you and fill in some information about your project. These steps can help you (and fellow writers) get excited about the next 30 days.

Plan – While some NaNoWriMo writers choose not to plan at all, many prefer to have a road map before they start writing. For ideas about planning and the amount of outlining that’s right for you, check out our recent article, “The Plotting-Pantsing Continuum.

How can I set myself up for success?

There are many great tools, tips, and strategies for reaching 50,000 words in 30 days. Setting up your resources and schedule are good first steps.

Electronic Resources – One essential tool is a word-count tracker (like the one on the NaNoWriMo website), or some spreadsheet for measuring progress. It is highly recommended that you use a digital word-processor, instead of writing by hand or—dare I mention—using a typewriter. Some writing applications also help with outlines and reference material.

Schedule – Determine the usual days and times you can write. You might discover that you need to decrease or pause another pursuit for the month—prepare ahead!. If you already know how long it takes you to write between one- and two-thousand words, that makes it easier to set up writing blocks. If not, you will soon find out by participating.

Why should I try NaNoWriMo?

Whether you’re an emerging author or have a casual interest in writing, NaNoWriMo can be an excellent event to teach you a great deal about your writing process and goals. Although the event is set up with one stated goal for everyone, there are many different ways to achieve it.

For example, if you are trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days, that means an average of 1,667 words a day. You might think that sounds difficult, but discover that it’s very doable once you establish the habit. Or you might discover that to write the way you want to write, averaging 1,000 or 500 a day is more realistic. If you commit to writing every day, you might also find out that you do your best work right when you wake up every day, or during a six-hour Saturday session.

Because NaNoWriMo is a free event, every participant gets to set their level of commitment. Sure, the challenge says you “win” at 50,000 words, but you might do half as much in a project you really enjoy and then decide to write the next three quarters of the full-length novel in the three months that follow. Regardless, any progress you make in 30 days on a project you love is time well-spent in pursuit of your writing goals.