NaNoWriMo: the pros and cons of National Novel Writing Month

NaNoWriMo: the pros and cons of National Novel Writing Month

A creative challenge's impact on writers and their novels

by Suswati Basu
1 comment

Every November, the writing community comes alive with excitement and anticipation as authors, both amateur and seasoned, embark on the creative rollercoaster known as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. This annual event challenges writers to complete a 50,000-word novel in just 30 days. But does this popular writing initiative truly help writers finish or even start their books? The answer is as diverse as the participants themselves.

Does NaNoWriMo actually work?

In 2022, NaNoWriMo (apparently pronounced na-no-rye-mo) saw an impressive 51,670 writers meeting their goals, including 21,326 young writers, as reported on the official website. The allure of it lies in its ability to instil discipline in wayward writers, as well as providing a sense of community and motivation. However, the experience can be a double-edged sword, as some writers find themselves grappling with self-doubt and a sense of inadequacy.

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The downside is a bit like how Harry Potter’s Neville Longbottom puts it – “the only problem is, I can’t remember what I’ve forgotten.” It’s 10 days into the challenge (at the time of writing), and I still haven’t made a start. This sentiment echoes the feeling of many participants who, despite their best intentions, find it challenging to maintain momentum and produce quality work amid the intense deadline. My own issue stems from the fact that I’ve spent 17 years writing in a journalistic format, and transitioning away from it is not as simple as it sounds. Reporting really is the killer of creativity.

A writer on Credible Ink shared their perspective, stating that while they successfully completed NaNoWriMo for four consecutive years, they eventually realised that it had given them a false sense of ability and identity. They admitted, “I was not a writer or a storyteller, I was a typist. I could type 50k words of crap out onto a page. Big whoop!”

Even established authors like Dale Thomas, a science fiction writer, have their reservations about the challenge. Despite his love for the project, Thomas concedes that his wins have resulted in yet another “vomit draft” collecting digital dust on his hard drive. However, 43 million people on TikTok clearly have found some solace with it, spurring each other on to get their pen to page. Book Editor John Matthew Fox outlines these three key tips to succeed.

So, what are the rules of NaNoWriMo?

While the guidelines are relatively simple and self-enforced, they are designed to provide structure to the writing process.

  • Participants must write a novel of at least 50,000 words between November 1st and November 30th.
  • Writing completed before November 1st does not count, though outlines, character profiles, research, and citations can be included in the draft.
  • The definition of a “novel” is broad, but each participant should be the sole author of their 50,000 words.
  • However, co-writing is discouraged due to the already tight timeline.
  • The writing must be coherent, meaning that copying and pasting single sentences or words to reach the word count is not allowed.
  • Participants must be at least 13 years old, with an option for those under 17 to sign up for the Young Writers Program.

NaNoWriMo was originally conceived by writer Chris Baty in 1999 with just 21 participants in San Francisco and has now grown into a nonprofit organisation with nearly 800,000 active participants worldwide. It has expanded to include programs like Camp NaNoWriMo. But the primary goal of NaNoWriMo is to ignite creativity and challenge writers to cultivate discipline in their craft.

A mixed bag of NaNoWriMo success

Terena Bell, an independent publicist and author of “Tell Me What You See,” believes that NaNoWriMo can be a great motivator for writers looking to start or complete a project. However, she points out some challenges, such as the busy travel week of Thanksgiving and the shorter duration of November, which can make it difficult for some participants to meet the ambitious goal. She told How To Be Books that it can lead to “incredible despondency” for those who don’t make the deadline, and that because of the timing of the scheme, fledgling writers “are being set up for failure.”

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“[In] a way, all these baby writers who need that helpful push are being set up for failure. They’re being given less time to complete what’s already a crazy goal (an entire novel in one month). If NaNoWriMo is supposed to prove that ‘yes, you can,’ the message these writers receive is ‘no, you can’t.'”


While Rebecca Forster, a USA Today bestselling author with over 40 books to her name, highlights the importance of community that NaNoWriMo fosters. Despite never needing to do the challenge herself, she believes that the event provides a much-needed boost to creatives, often resulting in great books.

“Community can be hard to find for writers. I say these events are a much needed shot in the creative soul for those who choose to participate—sometimes a great book even comes out of it.”


Dr. Jan Yager, an Adjunct Associate Professor at John Jay College, emphasises the value of accountability in writing. The veteran writer, who is about to publish her 62nd book “Celebrating Friends and Friendship”, believes that NaNoWriMo’s structure, with its firm deadline, can be a helpful tool for authors to stay on track and complete their tasks. The sociologist has featured on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show for her book “Friendshifts,” and has has a chapter on how to get your work finished in her book “How to Finish Everything You Start.”

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“Anything that helps an author to have accountability makes sense! I’ve been in the writing and publishing industry since my early twenties. Over the years, I’ve seen that self-imposed deadlines are fine of course, but too many authors don’t take those deadlines as seriously as having something like a contest deadline or a deadline from a publisher to keep an author on track.”

Dr. Jan Yager, Sociologist and author

Stacy Ennis, CEO and founder at Creatively LLC, stresses the benefits of consistency in writing habits and believes that NaNoWriMo’s clear goal of 50,000 words provides writers with a tangible target to aim for. Ennis states that consistent, shorter writing sessions, four to five days weekly, are scientifically proven to boost productivity, forming effective writing habits and neural pathways.

Finally, Dawn M. Hardy, Founder at The Literary Lobbyist, stresses the importance of the sense of community that NaNoWriMo offers to aspiring authors. She believes that this event can provide the motivation and support needed to turn a dream of becoming a published author into a reality.

“Will it be perfect? No. It will be the first draft that can now get some forward motion on a life long dream of becoming a published author. The community is what most newbies need, and that is what NanoWriMo offers.”

Dawn M. Hardy, The Literary Lobbyist Founder

While NaNoWriMo offers discipline, motivation, and a sense of community to many, some writers find it overwhelming and question its effectiveness. Ultimately, whether the scheme helps you finish or start your book depends on your personal writing style, goals, and how you navigate the challenges and opportunities it presents.

Enjoying our Friday opinion pieces? Check out: Authors’ mental health and publishing: navigating an emotional journey

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NaNoWriMo board addresses 'grooming' claims as users leave - How To Be Books November 19, 2023 - 10:30 am

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