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NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month

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TL;DR: To be successful in your writing, know when, where, and for how long you’re going to write. And then stick with it.


Every November, hundreds of thousands of aspiring novelists dust off their notebooks, cancel Netflix, and throw their social calendar out the window as they attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in just 30 days. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

For the unfamiliar, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) might sound like cruel and unusual punishment. But for those looking to bring their stories to life, it’s an opportunity to stop giving in to excuses and start putting words to the page.

Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.

But it’s not easy. Writers of all levels live and die by time management and building healthy writing routines.

1 Writing routines

Like any other major creative project, learning how to write a novel in just 30 days takes serious dedication. But maybe even more than that, it takes a mastery of your daily schedule, habits, routines, and focus. As John Grisham, author of more than 35 New York Times-bestselling novels explains:

“Routine is what it’s all about. You’ve got to get into a [writing] routine that is second nature.”

Our lives are driven by habit and routine. In fact, most studies agree that close to 40% of our daily actions are driven by unconscious habits. In order to write consistently, you need to build a routine that gets you writing (and avoids anything that distracts you).

1.1 When: Set a specific time when you’re going to start and finish writing

Saying, “I’ll write on Tuesday night” isn’t good enough. When John Grisham first started writing novels, he followed a specific routine. He’d wake at 5am, get to his office, and write his first words by 5:30am. Today, he starts a little later (7:30am) and continues for at least 3 hours, but the idea is the same: pick a specific time and stay consistent.

1.2 Where: A distraction-free environment for writing

There are just too many things out there vying for your attention when you’re trying to write. And not having a safe space to get into writing mode is a recipe for distraction. Stay focused and block distracting websites and applications when you’re trying to write.

While it’s important to develop the right work environment and use the right tools, this shouldn’t take away from your writing time. Just look at Stephen King, who reportedly wrote both Carrie and Salem’s Lot in the laundry room of a doublewide trailer, “pounding away on my wife’s portable Olivetti typewriter and balancing a child’s desk on my thighs.”

1.3 How long: Set a “good” word-count goal

NaNoWriMo (and learning how to write a novel in general) is a marathon, not a sprint. And while time constraints can force you to commit to writing, you need to know when to call it a day. Having a set daily goal allows you to take breaks, stay fresh, and avoid burnout. To hit the 50,000-word NaNoWriMo goal, you’ll want to aim for an average of 1666 words a day.  As Grisham explains: “You do that five days a week for six months and that’s how the books are written.”

2 Stick to your routine

A solid writing routine will give you the conditions you need to write. But as anyone who’s tried to put down words every single day will tell you, a lot of that time is spent staring at a blank screen.

Learning how to write a novel in 30 days takes more than just planning. It also takes courage and dedication. For best-selling author Haruki Murakami, it’s all about discipline and keeping yourself both mentally and physically fit.

When he’s writing, Murakami wakes up every morning at 4am, writes for 5–6 hours, and then runs either 10km or swims 1500m before coming home and relaxing. As he explains in an interview:

“The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.”

And Murakami definitely isn’t the only writer who swears by physical activity.

Kurt Vonnegut was known to swim for half an hour a day. While Don DeLillo chooses to run outside. And Charles Dickens was famous for his ambitious nighttime walks (sometimes strolling up to 30 miles at a time!)

Discipline, healthy routines, and habits do more than just keep you consistent with your writing. They also help you get over the myth of the muse—the idea that you can only write when you “feel inspired.”

For, as writer Neil Gaiman explains: “If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist—because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not.”

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