In case you don’t already know NaNoWriMo stands for “National Novel Writing Month.” A bunch of writers all over the world take up the challenge of writing (at least) 50,000 words in the month of November. 

It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a great way to build your author network and meet other writers. However, it’s also a lot of work (and self-inflicted pressure). So, how do you know if this challenge is right for you?

// Ask yourself tough questions

Each year, when September rolls around, I start asking myself if I’m going to take up the challenge that year. Of course, I want to go with a resounding “yes” every time, but that’s not usually how it works out.

I start by asking myself two questions.

  • Does participating in NaNoWriMo align with my writing goals? If you’re working on a novel (or any other project, really), participating might align with your goals of starting or finishing said project. If it does, then that’s one point for ‘participating.’ If it doesn’t, then I just nix the idea right away.
  • Do I have the time and resources to participate in NaNoWriMo? Just because you want to participate doesn’t mean you’ll have the time, energy, or other resources. Writing 50,000 words in a month if a huge challenge, and if you’re already short on time, you may want to skip out.

There’s more to it than that, though. Just because it aligns with your goals and you have the time doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Ask yourself one more question.

  • Do you enjoy the challenge? I’ll be honest, writing that 50k in one month can add a lot of pressure to your writing. I think it’s fun most of the time, but if you know you do not do well with this kind of pressure or that you straight-up hate it, then don’t participate.

// It’s okay to say no

There’s a lot of pressure on social media to join in on NaNo. Whether it’s your writing group asking you to join their cabin or simply experiencing FOMO by seeing everyones’ posts, NaNoWriMo can feel like something you must do. 

All the other writers are doing it, right?

A lot of writers do participate, but don’t feel like you have to. You’re still very much a writer whether you join in the NaNo challenge or not.

There were several times in my earlier years when I wanted to participate so badly because I thought I had to. As it turns out, I’m still a writer even though I skipped 4+ years of NaNoWriMo.

// It’s okay to lose the challenge

I’m also still a writer even though I’ve never won NaNoWriMo. In the last three years, I’ve gotten about ⅓ of the way through a project and then I’ve hit a wall.

Every. Single. Year.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a lot about my own writing process, though. I’ve learned valuable lessons from failing NaNo, and they’ve made me a stronger writer and a stronger writing coach.

If you take on the NaNo challenge and lose, don’t be upset. Instead, reflect on what you did well and what you could improve next time. Every challenge presents new opportunities to learn, and that’s what NaNoWriMo is really about: developing your writing habit and skills.

// Why NaNoWriMo IS a good exercise

So far, we’ve talked about why you may or may not want to participate in NaNoWriMo… but there are some really great aspects to the challenge.

Even if you don’t write that 50k in one month, NaNoWriMo helps you develop a consistent writing habit. It’s hard to establish on our own, but if we have a tracker on a website and are playing this game with others, it’s easier to begin to stick to your routine.

Successful writing is about showing up day after day, not winning a challenge. But if that challenge can train you to keep showing up, then it becomes a fantastic exercise in creative writing.

If you can’t participate in NaNo this November, you could join one of the “Camp NaNoWriMo” sessions held in the spring and summer. These challenges still have a default goal of 50k words, but you can actually set your own word count goal.

Or, you can set up your own writing challenge with your friends. For example, I challenged myself to write 35k in September 2019 in preparation for my NaNo project. I did it by asking friends to keep me accountable and posting about it on social media.

// Your Next Steps

If you’ve decided that NaNoWriMo is, in fact, something you want to try, head over to the NaNo website to create your account! There, you can track your word count and find your regional participants. You can even add me as a buddy if you want!

And if you’re participating, make sure you read my post about getting organized for NaNo.

If you’ve decided not to partake in NaNo this year, that’s okay! Acknowledge that you’re making the right decision for you (even if everyone else is posting about participating) and move on.

Questions? Comments? Need an editor? Email me! NaNoWriMo participants may be eligible for 20% off of a manuscript critique service (limited availability).