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  • Writer's pictureMaria Berejan

The Secret to Winning NaNoWriMo

The NaNoWriMo theme is all kinds of awesome this year! Banner taken from the NaNo website.
The NaNoWriMo theme is all kinds of awesome this year! Banner taken from the NaNo website.

It’s that time again friends - It’s NaNoWriMo season!

For those of you uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, a massively popular writing challenge wherein hundreds of thousands of individuals from all walks of life take it upon themselves to write 50,000 words through the month of November. 50,000 words breaks down to 1667 words per day, which is about 3 word doc pages - about the length of a short school essay. In other words, totally doable… and if you keep at it for 30 days, you’ll come out of it with a (draft of a) novel! Yes, it’s a magical, somewhat mind-boggling undertaking that brings beautiful communities together, and yes, you should definitely do it.

But Maria, you might say, even broken down like that, it still sounds like a hard undertaking.

To which I’ll reply: it’s not called a challenge for nothing. It is difficult, and many people fail, but it’s important to remember that it’s entirely possible to succeed. There are numerous tips on how to do so (check out this podcast for some!), but beyond all that there is really only one huge “secret to success” that sets the winners apart from the rest, and that is simply this:


You’re probably rolling your eyes right now, but hear me out.

I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo with varying levels of success since 2007. In 2017 I officially and proudly won my first NaNo with 70k words, and I wrote a very long blog post of all the things I learned that led to my grand victory. In 2018 on November 18th, I ecstatically was the first to hit 50,000 words at the last ever Night of Writing Dangerously in San Francisco, and went on to fully finish the first draft of my first novel by the end of that month. This year I am going to begin NaNo for the first time in 7 years with a brand new novel idea, and while slightly terrified, I am confident that I will succeed because I am determined to do so.

It sounds like I’ve got it all figured out; after all, I did it not once, but twice, so why not again? I should be able to write 50,000 words whenever I want!

But here’s a hard truth: it doesn't gets easier.

Writing? It’s hard - really hard. Even when you’re not trying to write anything pretty (which, for NaNoWriMo, is definitely not the main goal), or when you love your novel idea to bits and know exactly what you want to happen next, or when you’ve written 50 books before this one, it will still leave you frustratedly tapping your keyboard late at night, staring morosely at your blinking cursor.

It takes sacrifice to keep writing: other hobbies, relaxation, time with friends and family. Maybe you’ve got jobs or schoolwork to balance in there too. Chores will pile up. Sleep will be sacrificed. And there you will be, day after day, trying to recreate this beautiful dream you have in your head onto the page before you, but all that’s coming out is awkward sentences and cliches and too many adjectives that still don’t get the job done. (This is normal; this is a first draft! But:) It’s frustrating as hell.

Inevitably, no matter how ready you thought you were at the beginning of this challenge, there will come a moment when you think to yourself:

I could stop. Catch up on all the things I’ve put on the sidelines. Relax, take a bath, get on with my life. I can always come back to this book later. Maybe it’s not the right time; I just have too much going on. Why should I keep going now, when it’s so difficult?

Is it really worth it?

It’s up to you to answer that, my friend. This, by far, is the biggest challenge of NaNoWriMo.

Good luck, and happy writings.

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