It's November, and that means it’s time for NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month is an annual writing challenge where participants attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days.
There is no prize, per se, although you do get a cool graphic to display as your profile picture on social media and can purchase a neato t-shirt as well.
But the main reward is the knowledge that you did the thing and succeeded, and now you have a completed book to show for it, however much of a mess it may be.
In my observation, there are two types of writers during NaNoWriMo. Let’s call the first one The Hardcore Wrimos.
These are the people who spend most of October counting down the days to November and sketching out the plots of their soon-to-be novels…but not actually writing. That would be cheating, and a Hardcore Wrimo never cheats.
Instead, they wait until the stroke of midnight on November 1 to begin writing, when the clock officially starts.
The Hardcore Wrimos are driven beyond belief. They are as meticulous with numbers as they are abandoned with their creativity. They post their total word count on Twitter every five minutes. They do “word sprints” where they try to generate as many words as possible in short periods of time.
If they deviate from their plot outline and crazy things start to happen, they call their friends and brag about it, because darn it, that’s what NaNoWriMo is all about.
I’m not making fun of Hardcore Wrimos. These people have an energy level that is impossible to match. Believe it or not, I was one for one long-ago NaNoWriMo season. My novel, which started out as a true crime thriller, ended up being a sad, lame piece of Bruce Springsteen fan fiction.
So now that we’ve covered these Ride or Die authors, let’s move on to Type B: The Spectactors. Spectators are no less dedicated to their writing than Hardcore Wrimos. They just aren’t doing NaNoWriMo, even though many of them wish they could.
Typically, Spectators gonna spectate for a few reasons:
1. They don’t have time. Life obligations are just too much and time is too little. With family stuff, work stuff, and of course, Thanksgiving stuff, they’ve counted the cost and NaNoWriMo just ain’t gonna happen.
2. They get too overwhelmed. For some people, the idea of writing a set amount of words is too much to handle. It takes the fun out of writing by forcing them to reach a particular word count goal instead of really thinking about the story. Which brings us to…
3. NaNoWriMo just doesn’t fit their writing process. Some people are simply much more deliberate with their writing and have a work style that isn’t conducive to nonstop creative insanity. It’s about quality for them, and the quantity over quality process really gets frustrating.
As a result, Spectators tend to feel a little left out during November. They obviously have writing friends who are going to town on that 1,607 words per day goal, not to mention posting about it online.
They might even start wondering whether there’s something wrong with them, whether their process is wrong or they are just doing this writing thing wrong to begin with.
Here’s the thing, though: if we really want November to be a celebration of writing and creativity the way it’s also a celebration of turkey, shopping, and excessively long beards, then no one should be left out.
We all have different writing processes and goals. And just because writing 50,000 words in 30 days isn’t really your thing doesn’t mean you’re shut out.
You can still celebrate your love of writing, set your own goals, and feel just as accomplished at the end of the month.
Here are four alternative ways to do NaNoWriMo and still find yourself with new material to work with.
Write Short Stories
I know what you’re thinking. But it’s National NOVEL Writing Month—how can I write stories?
Answer: why the heck not??
NaNoWriMo isn’t the mafia. It doesn’t have you under surveillance. It isn’t some kind of corrupt puppet government.
NaNoWriMo doesn’t make the rules about your work.
That means if you want to write 20-30+ page short stories like Alice Munro and Flannery O’Connor, then go for it. If you want to write flash fiction, knock out some 500 word pieces.
For example, set yourself a goal of writing one draft of a short story per week, or maybe three flash fiction stories per week.
If you really feel up to it, do a flash fiction piece per day.
At the end of November, you’ll have some stories to revise and can later begin to shop around for places to submit them.
By the way…if you want to just write one short story, that’s totally okay, too. I am writing nonfiction right now and my single NaNoWriMo goal is to finish an essay I wrote my first draft of back in September.
The point is that if writing a novel doesn’t work for you, a short story can still let you participate and feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the month.
Write a Novella
Depending on what source you consult, a novella ranges in word count from around 10,000 words to 40,000 words. There’s also an even shorter form, the novelette, which can be as little as 7,000 words long.
Novellas are by no means a lesser genre than the novel. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that some books that are widely studied in English classes are novellas, including Of Mice and Men, The Metamorphosis, The Awakening, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
If you think a shorter novel might work better for your schedule or creative parameters, go for this as a NaNoWriMo alternative.
Create Your Own Challenge
Just because the primary key performance indicator of NaNoWriMo is word count doesn’t mean you can’t come up with your own goal that has nothing to do with how many words you write. After all, isn’t the primary objective to write?
Therefore, if writing short stories or lowering the word count still doesn’t do it for you, think about what kind of goal would make this month meaningful for you.
Do you want to start journaling, or have you been inconsistent with your journaling? Then set a goal to write one journal entry per day.
Do you write poetry? Write a poem a day, or even two or three poems a week.
Maybe you don’t want to write at all, but would like to revise some existing work and submit it to literary journals. Set a goal to submit to five places by the end of the month.
You don’t have to follow prescribed set of rules in order to make this month meaningful for your writing.
Be a Cheerleader
There’s also a fourth option, and it’s probably the most important one on this list. Even if you choose another one of the ways to modify NaNoWriMo, you should still be doing it.
Your friends doing this challenge need encouragement. NaNoWriMo is not for the faint of heart, not even for the greatest of Hardcore Wrimos among us.
That means that even if you don’t write a single word during November, you have participated simply by giving them the support they need.
You could send an encouraging text, put a “like” on their word count updates, make them a writing playlist, drive snacks over to their house, offer to watch their kids so they can write…you get the idea.
Writing is all about community, and just being a part of the community is enough.
Have you found a community for your writing? Do you need someone to be a sounding board for your work? I’d love to volunteer, and I do that through what I like to call a Virtual Meetup.
In just 30 minutes, you’ll have the answers to your most pressing writing questions as well as a plan to develop your work-in-progress.
Best of all? It’s completely free.
Click here to learn more and get scheduled in.