NaNo Prep

NaNo Prep: What exactly is NaNo?

You might be a seasoned NaNo participant. (Yay! So am I!) But some of you might be confused by all these references to NaNo.

I’m here to clear up the confusion.

NaNo is short for NaNoWriMo, which is short for National Novel Writing Month. It’s kind of an international phenomenon at this point, but it started out with one guy (Chris Baty; we like him) convincing four or five of his closest friends to do something outrageous: write 50,000 words in one month.

And they did it.

Gradually, this little group grew to include other people in the San Francisco area, and that grew into what is now something that literally millions of people undertake throughout the world.

What is NaNoWriMo?

I kind of already answered it, but in case it’s not clear, here it is again. The goal is to write at least 50,000 words during the month of November.

Way back when, the rules were strict. The rules were:

  • It had to be a novel–not non-fiction or poetry or screenplay.
  • It had to be a new novel with no prior words written for it, except planning.
  • You had to write the novel, not edit it.

Now, people are more lenient, and they even have a name for people who don’t adhere to the traditionalist rules: NaNo Rebel.

As for me, I tend to be a traditionalist. There’s a certain adrenaline rush when November draws closer. It’s a palpable feeling for me, and it consumes me. I just can’t wait to start this idea that has been bouncing in my mind from anywhere between a month to an hour. I want to rush the keyboard and stay there until I pass out, then maybe type some more.

I find that when I start a story before November, that magic (for me) is lost. I don’t feel that same level of anticipation, and, in fact, if I’m in the middle of a novel when November starts, I dread going to the computer. This isn’t about NaNo but more about the mid-novel slump where it feels more like shoveling crap rather than breaking out of the gate with something new and shiny.

I like new and shiny things, which is probably why I’ve finished one novel to date. (And it’s pretty shitty since I haven’t edited it nor did I have any kind of outline.) But my ideas are endless. There are always more new and shiny things to gravitate toward.

[And that’s why I gave myself an ultimatum two years ago: finish a novel during NaNo or quit writing forever. That was my one finished novel, and it’s buried forever. Really, it’s password protected and encrypted.]

I intend on giving myself the same ultimatum this year again, though I’m going to be more lenient since I now have two kids to look after (not to mention getting stable being a newly single mom).

Which brings me to…

What’s the purpose of doing NaNo?

There are no hard answers for this. My reasons for participating has changed drastically over the nine years I’ve done this. Here are a few of mine:

  • To get the story out of my mind
  • Because I was bored
  • To give myself an ultimatum
  • To see if I could write that much
  • To finish short stories for anthologies
  • To prove someone wrong when they said I could never be a writer
  • Because it’s spiritually and emotionally satisfying for me
  • For the camaraderie, knowing other people are doing this ridiculous challenge

My suggestion for you is to find a reason you want to participate and see your story to 50,000 words before the month starts. There comes a time when there’s a slump, somewhere between the second and third weeks, where you seriously doubt your rationale for putting yourself through this. If you have a compelling reason to continue, you’re more likely to finish. Write this reason down and put it up where you can see it while you write. Bonus points: Put it everywhere–on the mirrors, on the door, in your phone, in your wallet, on your bookmark, on your TV, everywhere. Hopefully, it’ll inspire you.

You don’t have to go it alone.

Writing is a solitary occupation. We sit at a computer–butt in chair, hands on keyboard–and we create worlds using language. We bring the images inside our mind onto the page (or screen) and make them come to life so that a reader can occupy our world with us.

It’s solitary, but it doesn’t have to be lonely. At least, not in November.

The beauty of NaNoWriMo is the forums. Millions of people flock to the forums to talk everything about writing (and some things off-topic too). There are local meet-ups called write-ins where you can meet local authors also participating in NaNo, and you can challenge each other in word wars or simply sit next to them knowing they’re also bringing a world into existence just like you. It doesn’t matter what time you write either. There are always at least a thousand people lurking the forums at any given time during November. [Some people, myself included, sometimes spend more time in the forums than in the novel.] You’re sure to find someone lurking who knows what you’re looking for.

What do I need to start?

Nothing. You don’t need an idea. You don’t need a college degree or a high school diploma (or its equivalencies). You don’t even need a computer.

Okay, maybe you do need something. You need the dedication to see yourself through the month, if your goal is to write 50,000 words or finish a novel (usually longer than 50K words).

But 50,000 words doesn’t have to be your goal. Sometimes, my goal isn’t to write 50,000 words, though, even though that’s the official challenge. One year, my goal was to just write something for the story every day, regardless how many words that was. (I wrote nearly 15,000 words, but I made a daily effort so it was a win for me.) You could do something similar if you want to build a daily writing habit.

The only thing you need to do is start. (And, trust me, that can be more difficult than it sounds, even though it doesn’t have to be.)

What I do recommend are:

  • A computer or notebook with lots of pens/penciles/sharpeners
  • A dedicated place you can go to to write (It doesn’t have to be a desk.)
  • A comfortable chair that supports your back
  • A wrist brace if you need one
  • A separate notebook to keep your ideas (I actually purchased Scrivener using the discount codes you get when you win NaNo, and I keep research stuff in there, but I still use a notebook to brainstorm.)
  • Snacks and refreshments (I always recommend caffeine, but I know some people choose not to drink it, so any way to hydrate or refresh yourself is good.)


How do I sign up and get involved? [Includes screenshots!]

Easy peasy! [And congratulations for taking that first step.]

Go to this website. Click on sign up.

You’ll be directed to a page that looks like this.

Fill out the information and check all the boxes. [Share your username in the comments below if you’d like to be buddies!] For this, I created a new profile to be able to take screenshots of the process. My actual username, if you’d like to connect is anonymouskitten.

The Office of Lights and Letters (the people who run this entire thing) will congratulate you.

They’ll give you instructions to watch your email to verify you are who you say you are. It took less than two minutes for it to hit my inbox. Click on the link in the email. [Please don’t spam my email.


Sign into the NaNoWriMo website using your username and password. When you log in, you’ll see a pop-up that looks like this:

Get excited! Click on the little blue box at the bottom of the pop-up to add your novel. (It’s okay if you don’t have a “real” name for it yet. You can use “Untitled” or any random word you like.)

Cool. You’ve created your novel, so what’s next? You need a home region, of course. Home regions are where you connect with local authors to meet up for write-ins.

Navigate to the Find a Region field and click on it.

I did a search for my city (Salt Lake City) and didn’t find anything, so I moved to the county (Salt Lake County), and it’s there. You can search by country, by territory (outside the US), by state (inside the US), or by county. You’re less likely to find a city region, unless it’s a massive city. I’d try territory/state/county first. [Country first if you’re in a small country, like Lithuania.]

Great! Now, you’re connected. You can navigate to your home region and introduce yourself so people can get to know you.

Now what? Your profile will look pretty bare since you haven’t filled out anything on it. You can choose to write a bit about yourself (recommended if you want buddies) or not. If you want to edit your info, go here.

And it will take you here: 

Click where it says “edit” next to Fact Sheet, and you’ll be taken here:

Fill out as much or as little as you’d like. Explore some of the other features. You’ve already entered your novel info (maybe), so check out some of the other tabs at the top.

Okay, finally, the bread and butter of the whole website: The Forums. It’s truly a magical place. To navigate, go here:

And you’ll be taken to here:

You can see I’ve marked off the NaNo Tips & Strategies section. I recommend all those boards underneath it. Other ones I recommend are:


Go forth and explore. Make friends. Create worlds. And smash those writing goals!

I’ll see you in the forums. 🙂




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