NaNoWriMo: The Speed Writing Challenge

By Shelley Widhalm




Every fall, do you start thinking about NaNoWriMo’s built-in goal and deadline as a Yea or a Nay?

Like me, maybe you’re a veteran author who’s done it before, or possibly committing to writing 50,000 words during November is new to you. Divided up to a daily count, it is 1,667 words. A big commitment. Still, it also has many advantages as you try to complete the rough draft of a novel, memoir, or another project.

The official National Novel Writing Month started in 1999 and became a non-profit in 2006 boasting more than 798,100 participants and 367,900 novels completed. Each year, 500,000 writers participate in the challenge.

I’ve tried NaNoWriMo twice, the first time in 2013 when I launched a new novel project, a YA, about a homeless teen girl wanting to save her family. I wrote 51,004 words, just above the goal. 

My second go-round was two years later when I wrote a light psychological thriller about a stalker roommate on the heels of an even worse romance. That time I wrote 51,700 words but continued for another six weeks, reaching more than 113,000 words.

I’m considering returning to the challenge this year since it’s been a while.

I just came from four months of fast, furious writing, trying to meet a deadline for a potential movie deal. A producer is interested in making my memoir into a movie based on the concept. I wrote 160,142 words in 170 hours, starting the project on May 1 and finishing on Aug. 28 at 5:01 p.m.

Yet, 160,000 words is too long since the average length of a novel depending on genre is about 75,000 words up to 90,000 words.

Yea to NaNoWriMo


Joining NaNoWriMo gives you an automatic and concrete goal and an excuse to carve out time for writing. Also, it helps you:

Keep it Daily: You are inclined to set up a writing routine, tracking when and how often you write. Your characters and storyline seem like they’re happening in real-time. And you don’t have to go back and review what you’ve written before since it’s only been a few hours since the last writing session. 

Immerse in the Story: Frequent writing makes the process easier and more manageable. It allows you to keep writing without worrying about the little details, giving you the freedom to make up and dive into whatever comes along. You can become immersed in the story, letting your focus become the word count and not the silly internal editor. You’re encouraged not to edit, rewrite, and overhaul the plot and characters, because the idea is to move forward, not backward.

Build Momentum: Writing daily helps keep the story going and maintains the narrative flow. The story becomes more immediate by taking on consistency from the continual input instead of a scattered, occasional approach. You become more cognizant of the story details, less likely to mix up names and places, and tend to take on a more consistent tone, pace, and voice. 

Gain a Community: Writing is no longer a solitary act since there are multiple communities to join through NaNoWriMo. You can connect with other writers in a variety of ways. Participate in online forums and local write-ins, and receive pep talks from published writers. You can check your progress and earn awards for achieving project milestones.

Bonuses: You also can receive prizes for reaching the final goal, such as a winner badge and certificate and discounts on writing apps like Scrivener or Novlr.


Have Fun: Whether you “win” by finishing or “lose” by not, NaNoWriMo is all about having fun. You might make some new writing friends. Be challenged to write more than you usually do, participate in word wars and speed writing contests, and share your writing for feedback. 

Though NaNoWriMo is meant to be a positive force, there are a couple of Nays to consider.

Nay to NaNoWriMo


More Editing: Sometimes slowing down is a good thing, but trying to keep up the momentum may mean a big knot to untangle. If the draft has unresolved plot lines and underdeveloped characters, the editing step will take longer to fix those issues. There’s a National Novel Editing Month in December if you haven’t had your fill.

More Stress: Taking on a challenge can be a commitment, but if life gets in the way of the daily quota, be forgiving. Try the next day, or give yourself an extra two weeks to pick the best pace.

More Defeat: Not finishing may leave you feeling defeated. But accept that life is busy and it’s the holidays. Next time, think about how to set realistic, achievable goals that work for you. Maybe aim for 25,000 words in two months!

Less Relaxing: If you focus too much on your goals, your creativity may be hindered. Creativity arises when you’re relaxed, able to make connections, and unfocused. Avoid being formulaic, derivative, and full of clichés just to meet the word count. 

Give it a Go

Given the pros and cons, or Yeas and Nays of NaNoWriMo, the best advice is to try it. Constant, daily writing can give you inspiration and motivation to dive into a project. The quantity you produce will result in quality—some cuts will be made, but the rest will be good writing.

Sure it’s a commitment, but as I’ve found, there’s a bit of magic that seems to happen with fast, furious writing. You see and discover things you wouldn’t have if you were thinking too hard about it or hadn’t shown up in the first place.

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