Navigating NaNoWriMo

By Daisy Jasmine, Staff Writer


J.K. Rowling. George R. R. Martin. Octavia Butler.

You may not be any of these people, but if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you can still write.

November is upon us, and that means it’s time for NaNoWriMo—the shorter, catchier name for National Novel Writing Month.

NaNoWriMo Crest. Courtesy of NaNoWriMo

As the temperature drops to the brisk high 70s and pumpkin spice lattes make way for peppermint mochas, brave artists of the written word take on the great and terrible challenge of writing a 50,000-word novel by November’s end. Despite the word “national” being part of the title, NaNoWriMo is a program run by an international nonprofit of the same name. In other words, anybody who wants to participate from anywhere in the world can freely do so.


“But, Daisy,” you ask, “why would anyone ever want to commit themself to such an undertaking during the school year?”

Simply put, NaNoWriMo is a fun, open-ended challenge that anyone can take on in their own style. Some writers put the world on hold to get cozy with a cup of tea and write for days straight, while others congregate in public libraries and 24-hour diners to race each other to word count milestones during whatever free time they can find. Hosted by volunteer Municipal Liaisons, Write-Ins allow local writers to meet and exchange ideas, trade secrets, and encouragement, as well as fostering a sense of friendly competition.

Occasionally, trying to reach your daily word count goal feels a bit like this. Courtesy of Imgur

Participating in NaNoWriMo gives you an excellent opportunity to meet new people who share a love for literature, gain a new confidence in your creative ability, and make a decent dent or even complete the first draft of a project that’s all your own. Even for a busy Thunderbird student, NaNoWriMo is worth a shot. After all, most Thunderbirds can recall a certain piece of wisdom from Foundations, involving bacon and pancakes as a metaphor for seeing a challenging goal through to its completion. In our world of case brief and conflict memorandum pancakes, the opportunity to build something that’s limited only by your own imagination just might be the creative bacon that helps you make it through the semester!


If you decide to give NaNoWriMo a shot, here are a few tricks and traditions that add to the fun and can help you break through a writer’s block.

Fifty Headed Hydra

An intense variation of the basic time challenge known as a “word sprint,” the Fifty Headed Hydra involves attempting to write 500 words in five minutes. In order to even come near this goal, you’ll have to fly by the seat of your pants and resist any temptation to backspace and revise for any reason. One of the core ideas behind NaNoWriMo is the importance of getting all of your ideas on the page before you even consider editing. The urgency of this challenge forces you not to dwell on what you’ve already written, and it can help you see your story from a new angle if you don’t know what should happen next.

The Travelling Shovel of Death

A trading card depicting the trusty Traveling Shovel of Death. Courtesy of WikiWrimo

Do you have an annoying character you’re beginning to regret creating? Or, perhaps, your plot is caught in a lull and you need to throw in something exciting right away? Simple: kill someone with a shovel! In your novel, that is, of course. For years, NaNoWriMo participants looking for a way to add conflict have included the humble gardening tool as a murder weapon, as a tongue-in-cheek nod to other writers who have done the same. When a NaNoWriMo writer reads a published novel in which a character dies by shovel, that writer knows that there’s a good chance they’re reading the work of a fellow NaNoWriMo participant—and so a subtle, if gruesome, solidarity between authors takes root.

NaNoWriMo’s Discussion Board and Word Counter

Accountability and inspiration are never hard to find when taking part in NaNoWriMo. On the organization’s website, participants sign up and are encouraged to make connections with other authors, sharing ideas and suggestions. Additionally, uploading a writer profile and synopsis of your novel is a good way to welcome positive and constructive feedback. Built into the site is a word counter which allows you to seamlessly ensure that you’re on track to meet your goal for the month, and registering with your region can connect you with Write-Ins and similar events with other local writers. One more fun motivational asset is an archive of several encouraging “pep talk” letters from renowned authors.


Maybe someday we’ll have a pile just like this one, of novels by Thunderbird authors? Courtesy of Jane Austen Runs My Life.

At the end of November, when the dust clears, you may find that you’ve done the seemingly impossible and reached your word count goal—that magic number of 50,000. You might purchase a winner’s shirt for the bragging rights. Or, you may donate to support the NaNoWriMo nonprofit, which also runs a Young Writer’s Program to encourage students to have confidence in their writing skills. And now, you have a first draft of a novel, or most of one. The community and support system for creative writers doesn’t end with this challenge. NaNoWriMo provides resources after the challenge so that participants can confidently take their draft and move forward into the revision and publishing process.

If you’d rather not try to juggle a task like NaNoWriMo with your late-autumn responsibilities, or if you love the challenge so much that you can’t wait a whole year to do it again, the smaller event of Camp NaNoWrimo takes place in the summertime. Whichever event you participate in, it’s an exciting experience that’s worth a shot for anybody with a story they’ve been waiting to tell. And to quote the minds behind NaNoWriMo’s nonprofit themselves, your story matters.

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