National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo): An Expert's Advocacy Guide
November is National Novel Writing Month. Otherwise known as NaNoWriMo, this is an annual event during which writers attempt to complete a novel in just 30 days. The event was first held in 1999, with just 21 participants taking part. However, it has since grown tremendously in popularity, with over 798,162 active novelists and 367,913 novels completed in 2022.
Fern Brady, founder and president of Inkling’s Publishing and an author herself, has participated in NaNoWriMo since 2015: “The challenge is that you write 50,000 words during November,” she shares. “Many authors get bogged down in either pre-writing where they are trying to plot things out a lot, or they get stuck in a revision loop, where they write the first couple chapters, and then start revising those. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to say, Okay, put away the editor, don’t worry too much about the plotting, and just write.”
While the event is open to writers of all experience levels, it typically attracts novice writers looking for a challenge. Many participants find the event to be highly motivating, as the fast-paced nature of NaNoWriMo encourages them to focus and get their ideas down on paper quickly. For many writers, the event is a valuable opportunity to start progressing on a long-held dream of writing a novel. And while not every participant completes the challenge, the experience is often seen as valuable regardless.
As someone with her fair share of experience with NaNoWriMo, Brady encourages writers to “not pressure yourself to make the 50,000 goal. Just do the most that you can. Life happens, and it can be easy to get discouraged. Consider this month an opportunity to write more than you usually would.”
Keep reading to learn more about NaNoWriMo, alternative careers for novel writers, and top educational programs for professionals interested in this career.
Meet The Expert: Fern Brady, Author and CEO of Inklings Publishing
Fern Brady is the founder and CEO of Inklings Publishing. She holds multiple master’s degrees and several certifications. She began her professional life as a foreign correspondent and taught for 15 years in Alief ISD. She has published numerous short stories, two children’s picture books, and a couple of poems. Her debut novel, United Vidden, which is book one in her Thyrein’s Galactic Wall Series, was given a glowing review by Dr. Who Online, the official site of the fandom.
Brady has returned to the leadership of the Houston Writers Guild, with whom she previously served as CEO for four years. She co-hosts two podcasts: Author Talk and The Hot Mess Express. Besides being Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo Houston, she is also a member of Blood Over Texas, Romance Writers of America, and the American Booksellers Association.
The Importance of National Novel Writing Month
For the past 25 years, writers have been setting aside the month of November to work on their novels. Participating in NaNoWriMo has become a routine that helps combat writer’s block and helps get words on the page. Editing can be done later. While the writing must be done individually by each novelist, many NaNoWriMo participants rely on each other for encouragement and support.
For Brady, NaNoWriMo is a chance to carve out time for her writing and work alongside other writers: “Most writers have jobs, families, and other things going on in their lives. Finding that dedicated time to write can be a challenge,” she shares. “However, with this community of writers, you can dialogue and encourage each other. Everyone is posting their word counts or progress towards their goal, which creates accountability that helps get you through to your writing goal.”
This month has evolved from just a handful of participants to a full-fledged non-profit that hosts events all year long. According to the website, “NaNoWriMo is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people use their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.” Not only do they support traditional novel writers, but they also have dedicated efforts to support young writers.
In 2021, more than 88,000 young writers participated in NaNoWriMo, both in the flagship November event and through other events during the year. Young writers will set their own word counts and work toward their goals. Educators also have resources to get their whole classroom involved in this exciting month-long challenge.
While some may see NaNoWriMo as simply a fun challenge, the reality is that there are many good reasons to plan and prepare for the event. First, writing a novel is a big undertaking, and it is important to have a clear idea of the story before any writing happens. This means creating an outline or a detailed plan for your story. Secondly, it is important to set aside enough time to write daily during NaNoWriMo. This can be difficult if you have other commitments, so it is crucial to make a schedule and stick to it.
One happy side effect for Brady of this dedicated writing time is discovering how much time she really has. “One of the biggest benefits to NaNoWriMo is that I begin to look at my schedule and find where I actually have time. A lot of people don’t realize that they have time built into their day to write. They’re just not using it,” she says. “There’s this idea that you have to sit down and have two hours to write, and that’s not really necessary. You can train yourself to write in shorter time periods. Particularly if you are prepared with your clear storyline.”
Careers Related to Writing Novels
While some novel writers can pursue this career exclusively, many have other full-time jobs. Here are three careers that can complement novel writing.
Become a Teacher
One career Brady highly recommends for novel writers is that of a teacher: “If you’re an English language arts teacher, you are guiding the kids through the writing process,” she says. “As they are learning to write, you can be the model. Having someone interested in writing as a novelist in a classroom is great because the kids get a sense for the love for writing.”
As an added benefit, Brady notes that often language arts teachers have built-in times in their school days to write alongside their students. This can help aspiring novelists complete their books even faster.
Become an Editor
An editor reviews and revises written material before it is published. This career is important because it helps to ensure that published material is accurate, clear, and free of errors. Editors also help to improve the overall quality of writing by offering constructive feedback and suggesting revisions.
In addition, editors often work with writers to develop ideas and refine their arguments. Aspiring novelists who work as editors will have the skills to produce high-quality, error-free work and may even be publication-ready.
Become a Journalist
Journalists collect, write, and edit news stories for publication in newspapers, magazines, or news websites. Journalists play an essential role in society by keeping the public informed about what is happening in the world around them.
To be a successful journalist, it is important to be able to write clearly and concisely and have a strong understanding of the principles of journalism. Good journalists are also curious and inquisitive, always looking for new and interesting stories to share with their readers. While journalistic writing differs from novel writing, writing daily and developing strong investigative skills will benefit an aspiring novelist.
Online Creative Writing Programs
Here are three online options for pursuing higher education in creative writing.
The Lesley University online master’s of fine arts in creative writing provides an opportunity for writers to develop their skills in a nurturing and challenging environment. The program offers residencies in Cambridge, where students can utilize the city’s literary resources and partnerships with prominent publishers, agents, and organizations.
The program also provides small-group learning opportunities and mentorship from award-winning writers. Students in this program pick which genre they want to pursue, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, comics, writing for stage and screen, or writing for young people.
- Location: Cambridge, MA
- Duration: Two years
- Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).
- Tuition: $875 per credit
Southern New Hampshire University
The online creative writing bachelor’s of arts program at Southern New Hampshire University helps students develop their writing skills and allows them to explore a variety of genres. The program offers a general track or the option to add a concentration in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or screenwriting.
After completing the program, graduates are prepared for various writing careers, including journalism, publishing, filmmaking, copywriting, and novel writing. Classes are taught in flexible eight-week terms that allow students to work through material quickly.
- Location: Manchester, NH
- Duration: Four years
- Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Tuition: $320 per credit
The creative writing bachelor of fine arts degree at Full Sail University is offered entirely online. This degree enables students to explore different media platforms and genres while examining modes of publication and distribution. The program is designed to give students the skills necessary to tell stories that shape the world.
Due to the fast-paced nature of degrees at Full Sail, students can complete their bachelor’s in as little as 29 months of full-time study. Additionally, qualified campus students can receive up to $15,000 with the Academic Advantage Scholarship.
- Location: Winter Park, FL
- Duration: 29 months
- Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
- Tuition: $608 per credit
Advice and Resources for Getting Involved with National Novel Writing Month
The first step to getting involved with NaNoWriMo is registering for the event: “You can sign up on the website for free. You create your account and your project. This is where you will also track your progress,” says Brady.
The primary benefit of formally joining this event is the community that comes with it: “Once registered, select your region, which will connect you to your local forum and municipal liaison. This is where you would find out about write-ins that are going on this week and have an opportunity to begin to connect with people,” she encourages. Through these forums, writers can get help if they are stuck on their plot, solicit feedback for story ideas, and encourage other local authors.
For many writers, the 50,000-word goal can seem very daunting. “Don’t pressure yourself to necessarily make the goal. Consider it an opportunity to write more than you usually would,” Brady says. “Looking at it this way puts less pressure on yourself, but you still have the challenge.”
Brady continues, “Don’t beat yourself up if your writing isn’t 100 perfect the first time. Be open to revision after you finish the drafting process. A lot of writers are very eager to publish and hold their book in their hands. However, they may rush the process and not give the book time to develop into something that’s going to be more substantial. Sometimes that takes more time than you would like, but it’s worth it in the end because you will produce much stronger novels.”
The most successful NaNoWriMo participants carefully strategize before the event ever starts: “Plan your schedule. You have Thanksgiving right smack in the middle of it. You have to plan your writing time,” says Brady. The online platform allows writers to connect with other participants and even meet up for write-ins.
Write-ins happen all year long but are particularly common during November. They are a time for novelists to sit together and keep each other company while individually working on their goals. “It’s a time where you work as a community of writers to get words on the page to push forward your projects,” shares Brady.
To register, learn more, or volunteer, visit NaNoWriMo.org.