NaNoWriMo: A Useful Writing Tool

Francesca Capaldi Burgess tells us of her experiences during National Novel Writing Month  (NaNoWriMo) and how it can be a useful writing tool.




I did my first NaNoWriMo in 2009, and have completed 50,000 words every year since then (a total of a quarter of a million words, I have just realised!). I find it’s a really good discipline, and although I write all year round as a freelancer (mostly short stories), I do more words per day during this time than any other. It always gives a good boost to whichever novel I’m working on. One year I was half way through NaNo when I finished the novel, so used the other 25,000 words for short stories.

 NaNoWriMo, for the uninitiated, stands for National Novel Writing Month, and always takes place in November. It was started in 1999 in California, by freelance writer Chris Baty, and that year had only twenty-one participants. This year it has 308,035, spread over five continents. The idea is to write 50,000 words in a month, roughly 1,667 a day. If you sign up on the NaNo website, you can add your word count each day and watch your graph head upwards (hopefully). During the month you get regular emails with pep talks, often by well known authors. There are also local regions you can join to meet up with fellow NaNo members, who often have write-ins. Well over one hundred novels written during NaNo have been since been traditionally published.

For the past four years I’ve done a writing retreat during the last week of NaNo with four fellow writers, the self-styled ‘Ladies With Laptops’. I’ve found this very useful for that last push.

At the creative writing school I help run, we have many students who take part in NaNo. They don’t always reach 50K but end up writing more than they would have otherwise. We have a thread on our face book page to support each other, posting daily word counts and encouraging anyone who’s dropped behind. We make sure no one feels guilty if they don’t reach the target.

An editor from a publishing house has recently shown an interest in the novel I was working on during last year’s NaNo (Ten Years Later), and I’m waiting for a verdict on that. I’ve sold some of the short stories I wrote on NaNo a couple of years ago. The first two novels I worked on, Sea Angel and How To Handle Plan B are teen novels, but so far I’ve not had any luck getting them published. The one I’ve been working on this year, Windy Corner Café was inspired by a café in Whitstable, which was handy as our retreat this year was literally up the road from it!

I finished NaNo two days early this year, but I still have another 40,000 odd words to go on the novel. December slows right down in comparison, but I’ll be back to speed (though not quite NaNo speed!) in January to finish it off.

8 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo: A Useful Writing Tool

  1. Francesca, it is so encouraging to other writers to learn that through hard work and dedication you have completed NaNo not once but several times. For those who say ‘I’ll write a book when I have time” you are proof that, where there is a will, a way can be found. Interesting too to learn that one year when your novel was completed half way through November you used the remaining time to very good effect by writing short stories.

  2. As one of the ‘Ladies with Laptops’ I have witnessed Francesca’s prodiogious word count. I can testify that the discipline is worthwhile and even though I’ve never reached fifty thousand, there is a definite feeling of achievement as you watch the words mount up. I think the important thing to remember is that what you write will never be perfect the first time, what you achieve is the basic structure of a novel on which you can work.

  3. Francesca, this is a very informed piece. The most I have achieved is 38,000 words last year but it is definitely worth the effort of trying to achieve as much as you can, it’s a great feeling when you’ve beat a personal best word count in a month.

  4. NaNoWriMo is a great tool, especially for beginners, as it has a stuctured goal as well as the all important networking which all writers need. Writers at all levels in their careers attempt NaNo as it can give legs to a new project or just boost the current WIP. The next step is to get that book polished and out to a publisher. Good luck, Francesca!

  5. Pingback: NaNoWriMo, Part 2 | The Claire Violet Thorpe Express

  6. Pingback: A Review of My Strategy for NaNoWriMo | Melissa Janda – A Time to Write

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