2020 NaNoWriMo Challenge: Prep Work

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Happy Day! NaNoWriMo is upon us, fellow writers!

For anyone not in the know, NaNoWriMo is the abbreviated name for National Novel Writing Month, also affectionately nicknamed NaNo. Taking place each November, NaNoWriMo is a free, voluntary challenge for all writers to put 50,000 words to paper in thirty days. Completing the challenge unlocks a number of prizes which are usually discounts to various writing software, masterclasses, and other NaNoWriMo paraphernalia. Yet if you ask anyone who has ever competed and completed the challenge, they will tell you the real reward is the sense of accomplishment and the 50,000-word rough draft you can add to your folio of work. The bragging rights don’t hurt either. Telling your family over the holidays that you wrote a 50,000-word novel in a month may blow their minds, although they may ask you about publishing—but that’s a whole different matter.

I have taken part in NaNoWriMo for the past four years, making this year my fifth. My record is two completed challenges and two uncompleted. You might think that writing 50,000 words in 30 days is tough for a gainfully employed person, and you would be right. It breaks down to 1667 words a day, which—if you are typing at the average 40 words per minute—will take you about 42 minutes. That, of course, means you are constantly typing and not pausing to think about what you want to actually write and that you can actually type at that speed to begin with, which isn’t a given.

The NaNoWriMo challenge does become more daunting as you consider it. Let’s say you have a concept you are quite excited about (I have been at least four times on record now). First week is easy—you find that hour each day to get your roughly 1667 words down and even get some extra words on the day. But maybe you are not writing at your top words per minute as you consider how to word sentences and structure dialogue and paragraphs. Maybe you hit stumbling blocks with creativity as you get beyond all the things you were really excited for and find yourself needing to find another 15,000 words to fill before you get to the exciting climax you’ve planned. Maybe you miss a couple days with work or family. Thanksgiving is right at the end of November and whether or not you carve out time to write along with your turkey can mean success or failure. 

The first day you miss means you need an additional 58 words. So what? That’s only two more minutes of writing, right? Two days is 119 more words per day and three days is 185 more words per day. Every missed day puts an ever-increasing burden on all your other days’ quotas, and that burden increases at an exponential rate. Now we see the true challenge of NaNoWriMo. Coming up with a story of 50,000 words is not terribly difficult. The undoing of many excited authors is consistency and time management, not the often vilified writer’s block.

So, how do I intend to reclaim a winning record and complete my third NaNoWriMo challenge in five years? Well, I’m doing a few things differently this year, and I’m all too happy to