Every year, during the month of November, tens of thousands of writers across the world participate in something called NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The top line of this challenge is that participants commit to write 50,000 words of a new novel during November (1,667 words per day).

The challenge first began in 1999 in San Francisco, with just 21 participants. These days, NaNoWriMo (which is pronounced Na-No-Rye-Mo) attracts in the region of a quarter of a million writers from across the globe. The attrition rate is high – something like one in seven of those who sign up before the 1st of November actually register their 50,000 words and collect their goodies – online, downloadable certificates and social media badges, with discounts from some of the challenge’s sponsors.

I’ve attempted this challenge 16 times so far. 2020 was my 17th attempt. I managed to write 50,000 words (50,014, actually) of my next novel, Body In The Hut. It was my 16th ‘win’ overall, and my 12th in a ‘winning streak’.

Why did I do this? Why should anyone do this? Why, indeed?

  1. It’s a chance to write your first draft of a novel. Tell yourself the story, see if the story has enough in it to work in a novel, to see if the characters work well together (or against each other). Within a month, you have something you can look at, and rework and expand and edit until it is a viable novel.
  2. It’s a chance to develop a consistent writing habit. Sometimes, it’s easy to let our targets slide, and suddenly find ourselves with other things we should be doing. NaNoWriMo gives us that ‘excuse’ to put our writing front and centre.
  3. It’s a chance to connect with other writers who have a similar goal. This year, alas, it won’t be in person. I’ve made some good friends and got to know some great authors through a local NaNoWriMo group (Essex, UK) and real-life meetups.
  4. It’s a chance to ‘try out’ something different – maybe try writing in a new genre, or a completely different style. Or you could be a “rebel” and write 30 short pieces of fiction during the month, or 30 poems. A lot of people use NaNoWriMo as a guide to help them despite not writing a novel.

So, overall, I’m happy with how November went. And here’s a discussion between myself and my partner, [ Anita Belli ] about NaNoWriMo, and using the challenge to advance your own writing.


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