How to NaNoWriMo: Getting Started


It’s coming!

Writers’ most loved, hated, and feared month is almost here: November.

Years ago, in college, I had the time (and brain capacity) to participate in NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month.  Don’t ask me how I had time or brain capacity while taking classes and working 3-4 jobs; I couldn’t for the life of me tell you!  But since college, I have ended up working jobs an hour away that have felt like they sucked all my creative cells out through the day.  I have had nothing left for creative writing.

This year, however, is different!  Working for myself means that by participating in NaNoWriMo this year, I’m actually working.  I cannot tell you what a glorious feeling this is!  I have dearly missed writing, and I have a few ideas that have been tumbling around my head that I want to explore.

Now, What IS NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo, as National Novel Writing Month is better known, is an organized community event that encourages people to write.  The goal for each participant is to write at least 50,000 words of a story between November 1-30.  You aren’t allowed to write anything BEFORE November 1 in order to count.  As you go, you can earn badges, which are just for fun, but really can be encouraging!  You can also join communities of other real NaNoWriMo participants, which I’ll tell you more about in a few minutes.

How Do I Get Started with NaNoWriMo?

Easy!  All you have to do is head to their Sign Up page.   Make sure you select the correct time zone, or else you may lose out on valuable writing time because they think you’re 3 hours ahead!

Once you’ve signed up, you’ll get a verification email.  Click the link, log in, and you’ll be asked to choose the region closest to you.  This will let you find other people geographically near you.  You’ll also be able to join the region’s social media pages and whatever other links they have posted.  My region, for example, has the standard social media pages, as well as a link to a lecture series from Brandon Sanderson, who may be my favorite writer ever! (Yes, he has beat out Tolkien, I think.  Scary, but true.)  These kinds of things can be extremely helpful when prepping for and participating in NaNoWriMo.  They may also have things like webinars, in-person writing events, and more.  Even if you can’t get to anything in person, it’s still worth keeping an eye on things, just in case.

There’s more than just your region, though!

MyNaNoWriMo (The important stuff)

Dashboard: This is your headquarters.  Here you’ll find your badges, your Writing Buddies (more on that in a minute), a quick-glance of your region, and more.

Author Info:  Tell everyone a little about yourself (but not too much!).  This makes it easier for potential Buddies to get to know you.

There are some more options under this menu, but these are the big ones, besides. . .

Writing Buddies

Having a Writing Buddy (or five!) can be SO helpful.  Whether it’s someone you know offline or someone you met on the forums, get connected!  The encouragement, feedback, and accountability a Writing Buddy can provide could be crucial.  If I know that someone is waiting for something from me, I’m more likely to get it done on time.  You can also challenge each other, or you could just keep track of someone else’s word count and challenge yourself through that.  Either way, you should use the buddy system!


The NaNoWriMo forums are an endless fount of greatness. . . and a time suck.  While they can be insanely helpful if you need some feedback on a plot point you’re stuck on, or you need help finding some research material, you can also look up and realize you’ve spent three hours on them.  Since that’s three hours that could have been spent writing, it’s probably a good idea to set a timer when you get on the forums!

Now You Know NaNoWriMo.  Now What?

Now it’s time to plot and plan.  Yes, in October.

I know that may sound strange to first-time NaNoWriMo participants.  After all, you’re not supposed to write any part of your novel before November 1.  But hear me out.  You’re not writing your story.  You’re simply laying out the gridlines and the path for where you story will go.  If you don’t know the world, or the characters, or the general plot, how are you going to get anywhere?

My first year, I tried the organic approach.  I was a teenager, and I believed wholeheartedly that plotting your story before you wrote it was sacrilegious. If you plan your story, you leave no room for imagination!  I was wrong.  I fizzled out after less than two weeks, if I remember right.

Let’s try again!

The next year, I used a plot that had been rolling in my brain for a while. I didn’t plot it out as much as I probably should have, but I had a much better direction for the story, and I knew the characters better.  Looking back, I should have done more detailed plotting, but I slogged my way through to 50,000 words.  It wasn’t easy, though.

This year, I’m taking a different approach.  I’m using a plot that’s been stewing all year.  I’m developing the characters more.  I’m probably even going to try a bit of worldbuilding, after I check out Brandon Sanderson’s lectures on that.  Over the rest of the month, I’ll blog about what I’m learning from this, and I hope that you’ll join me in what is sure to be a whirlwind month of writing!

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year?  Tell us about your project on Twitter @sparkotter.


This post is part of the How to NaNoWriMo series.  Check out the other posts below:

Scintilla Studio