What is NaNoWriMo?

What is Nanowrimo? A Complete 2021 Guide

A 2021 guide to all things Nanowrimo! Including Nanowrimo rules, word counts, and tips for a successful Nanwrimo!

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As I’m writing this article it is late October, which means we are nearing one of the major collective writing events of the year- Nanowrimo! But, before we cranking out over 1600 words a day, there are a few questions to be answered. Today we’re going to talk about the significant elements of Nanowrimo, and how you can finish a successful National Write a Novel Month!

What is Nanowrimo? 

Nanowrimo is a challenge- write a 50,000-word draft of a novel in 30 days. 

Nanowrimo is also a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide free tools and resources and a community for creative writers. The organization is named after its signature event, Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, every November. The goal of Nanowrimo is to complete a 50,000-word novel during November. 

You can also connect with other writers. When you sign up for Nanowrimo, you’ll have access to a social network with author profiles, personal project libraries, and writing buddies. Nanowrimo claims to host over a million writers. 

Many well-known authors have completed commercially successful novels during the Nanowrimo challenge. According to the Nanowrimo website, Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Hugh Howey’s Wool, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator, and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder.

Connect with Nanowrimo: 

Check out the 2021 Nanowrimo calendar for a schedule of events, or visit the Nanowrimo forums here. 

Nanowrimo Social Links: 






Nanowrimo prep

Nanowrimo prep

If you would like to write an entire novel in thirty days, you’ll need to do some upfront work. Luckily, the Nanowrimo organization has you covered with a ton of free coursework and resources. I’ll link Nanowrimo’s prep page at the bottom of this article.

To complete your thirty-day challenge, Nanowrimo suggests that you start your prep work two months in advance. So, if you’d like to complete your work in November, you’ll begin in September. But don’t worry if September has already passed. You can start your thirty-day challenge at any point during the year! 

Nanowrimo recommends six weeks of prep work, with each week dedicated to a different goal. The organization also provides free coursework for each week. You’ll want to check out their free resources here- Nano Prep. 

Here’s how the six weeks of prep work is organized, and I’ll provide some links to articles here at Art of Narrative that would be helpful during each week. 

Week 1: Develop a story idea you’re passionate about

If you’re going to dedicate hours a day to creating a world and filling it with colorful characters, then this needs to be a story you’re in love with. Having a passion for your story is the only way you’ll find the endurance to keep writing hour after hour, day after day. 

Luckily, Nanowrimo has created a terrific tool to help you develop your passion. Check it out here!

Week 2: Create complex characters 

Engaging characters are the most enjoyable part of any story. I’ve sat through many predictable plots because the author took the time to create characters I loved (or hated!).  

It’s crucial to know your characters before you start so that they will act consistently throughout your plot. If a character is going to work, your reader will need to know the motivation behind that action. Character arcs are a vital part of most successful plots. 

So, ask yourself where your character will start and how they will change throughout the plot of your narrative. 

Helpful articles: 

Creating a Character

How to Write Character Motivation

Creating the Perfect Character Arc

Week 3: Construct a detailed plot or outline

Coming up with an entertaining plot is not as hard as you think. There are a lot of plot structures to lift from. Why reinvent the wheel? 

It’s essential to know the beats of your plot before you start writing. Don’t spend your limited time trying to figure out what your characters should do next. Know where your story is going before you even begin writing it. 

There is a litany of helpful plot structures to choose from. I’ve written about a lot of them on this blog. There’s the classic hero’s journey or monomyth, and there’s the even older three-act structure. Or, if you’d like to go with a more contemporary plot structure, I recommend Dan Harmon’s Story Circle.  

Helpful articles: 

What is Plot? A Writer’s Guide

Three Act Structure

Dan Harmon’s Story Circle

Week 4: Exploring your Setting 

The setting of your story isn’t just where your story happens. Treat the setting of your story like another character; give the setting life and personality! 

The setting makes your story feel real, and if you’re lazy with your setting, your story will never come alive for your reader. You can use real-world settings, but you’ll need to describe them in painstaking detail. 

Or, you can create other-worldly settings, but you’ll still need to describe them in painstaking detail. 

Another critical aspect of the setting is that it creates boundaries and conflicts for your characters. There are even stories where the primary antagonist is the setting. For instance, in the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks acts solo as his character grapples with the harsh environment of a desert island. 

Here’s a valuable article on creating settings: 

Writing a Powerful Setting 

Week 5: Organize your life to support your writing goals

Writing over sixteen hundred words a day is a huge undertaking. Unless you’ve developed a regular writing routine, this amount of writing will disrupt your life. It’s essential to prepare for the amount of time you’ll need to dedicate to your writing project. 

You’ll also want to tell your family and friends about this undertaking. You’ll need a support system, and your loved ones should know that you’ll have less time than usual over the next month. 

Start with this helpful checklist from Nanowrimo! 

Week 6: Find, schedule, and manage your time

For most of us, finding time to write is probably the most significant challenge to our productivity. You’ll spend week six coming up with your ideal writing schedule. 

Time management is critical, and it will make things easier if you choose a consistent time of day to do your writing. 

You can begin by taking Nanowrimo’s Writing Schedule Quiz.

Nanowrimo Word Count 

The official word count for Nanowrimo is 50,000 words. That word count is the size of your average novel. Here’s how your word count will break down: 

# of wordstime frame
50,000 wordsper month
12,500 wordsper week
1,667per day
208 wordsper hour for 8 hours
417 wordsper hour for 4 hours
834 wordsper hour for 2 hours

Nanowrimo rules 

Nanowrimo rules are pretty simple, and there’s no massive pot of prize money or governing board to enforce guidelines. You’ll be working on the honor system here, and there are no consequences for not following the rules. But, following these five guidelines will help you have a successful and satisfying writing month. 

Rule 1 

Start drafting a novel after midnight, November 1. 

Rule 2 

You will draft a brand new novel, not a work in progress. 

Rule 3 

Pre-writing and outlining is acceptable and even encouraged (see Nanowrimo Prep) 

Rule 4 

Writers should average a word count of 1,667 a day. 

Rule 5

When you hit 50,000 words, you will upload your work on the Nanowrimo website for verification. 

Winners of Nanowrimo receive a downloadable certificate, but more importantly, you’ve completed a 50,000 word first draft of your novel! 

Nanowrimo YWP 

nanowrimo ywp

Nanowrimo also hosts a Young Writers Program. Nanowrimo YWP supports writers under the age of 18, as well as K-12 educators. The Young Writers Program takes part in the November National Write a Novel Month. Still, Nanowrimo also provides other writing challenges throughout the year.  

For Young Writers 

Writers under 18 can accept the Nanowrimo challenge to write 50,000 words in thirty days, or they can set their personal goals. The Nanowrimo website will help young writers keep track of their word count and provide resources that writers can access from their dashboard. 

Young writers can also participate in forums to connect with fellow novelists and earn badges for completed goals. The site also provides tools like the “dare machine” to keep young writers motivated. 

Sign up for Nanowrimo YWP here. 

For Educators 

Just like for young writers, Nanowrimo provides a host of resources for educators. These resources include student workbooks, common-core aligned lesson plans, and a virtual classroom for your students. Teachers can also connect via Nanowrimo forums. 

You can enroll your students into your virtual classroom using a unique code if you are a teacher. Once registered, students will have access to their own Young Writers profile. Students will be able to draft their novels, track their progress, and participate in challenges. 

Learn more about the educators’ program here. 

Tips for Nanowrimo Success 

tips for nanowrimo

Write, but don’t edit

Remember that the point of Nanowrimo is to complete the draft of your novel. You don’t have to have a book ready to publish at the end of the month. Finishing a story that is ready to publish is a project that takes a year, if not longer. 

You have over 1600 words to write each day, so get those words down on paper and worry about editing later. Don’t go back and look at the work you did yesterday; just write each day. Hit your word counts, and you can go back when the month is over. 

Do the Prep Work 

Nanowrimo offers a six-week course of prep work to do before you start your 50,000-word draft. The prep work includes things like outlining your plot and developing your characters. Having fleshed-out characters and a plot outline is going to make your writing much smoother. If you go into this project blind, you’re likely to write yourself into a corner or experience writer’s block. There’s no time to waste with only thirty days, so don’t try and develop your story as you go. 

Schedule your Writing Time 

I wake up at 5 am every morning and write for two hours before I go to work. That’s the only way I’ve managed to get any work done for this blog. If you want to finish a 50,000-word project in thirty days, I can tell you from experience you’ll need to schedule writing time in your day.  

Pick a time that is quiet and free from distractions. Early in the morning or late at night are perfect times because everyone is asleep. But, pick the time that works best for you. If you don’t have a scheduled time, writing will not be a priority, and you will miss days. 

Don’t start over

During your prep work, you hopefully picked a story you’re passionate about. But, know that your passion will fade. Writing is hard work, and it’s not always fun. Some days, writing feels downright monotonous. You may find yourself losing focus or passion for your story as the days stack up. 

Don’t stop writing. Don’t say to yourself, “this is a bad story; I’ll just start over with a new idea in a new month.” 

If it’s a bad story, it’s a bad story, but finish your lousy story. You have to respect the work that you’re doing and respect the challenge. Even if you don’t love the story that you end up with, you’ll know you have the endurance to finish another one.

Connect with the community

Nanowrimo provides forums for a reason because it’s crucial for writers to talk to each other. When you find yourself losing focus or passion, jump on the forums and ask for advice. Or, maybe you hit a scene in your novel that you are unsure how to write. Go to the forums and ask for some advice. 

Remember that some fantastic writers take part in Nanowrimo each year. They are available to you as a free resource. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you hit a roadblock. And, believe me, you will hit a roadblock.  

Respect the process 

Nanowrimo is a lot of work, and it’s work that you’re not getting paid for. For some people, thirty days of unpaid writing can feel indulgent or, worse, silly. But, remember that this is for you, and the time you spend writing is valuable. If you start Nanowrimo, please make sure you finish it!

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