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We’re now knee-deep in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the ambitious writer’s one-month sprint to 50,000 words.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of writers take on the challenge, and thousands succeed, saying adios to November with a first draft of a shiny new novel in tow.

It’s a truly amazing feat. But it’s not for everyone.

4 NaNoWriMo Principles for the Rest of Us

NaNoWriMo Isn’t for Everyone

You may be a slow writer, or perhaps other demands in your life don’t allow you to take the required time to reach NaNoWriMo’s particular goal.

If you’re the kind of writer who isn’t the best fit for NaNoWriMo (like me), I’ve got a secret for you: You can still put NaNoWriMo to work to make yourself write more, even without taking part in the official challenge.

But You Can Learn from NaNoWriMo, Even Without Participating

How is this possible? Well, NaNoWriMo works because of the productivity principles it’s founded on. Even without participating in the official event, you can use these principles to challenge yourself and write more—no matter what month it is.

So what are these NaNoWriMo principles, and how can you use them? Let’s take a look.

1. Set Your Sights High

NaNoWriMo writers take on a hefty goal: 50,000 words in a month. It’s a little extreme. A little crazy, even. But it’s attainable if you work hard and make it a priority.

NaNoWriMo works for a simple reason: Its goal is big enough to inspire, difficult enough to force writers to focus, while staying within reach (for many writers, at least). It strikes the aspiration sweet spot.

How to Make it Work for You:

What’s your aspiration sweet spot? For me, it’s boosting my morning word count from 750 words each day to 1,000. For someone else, it might be simply getting 100 words on the page every single day, no matter what. Or completing edits on your work in progress.

Whatever you choose, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. But also make sure it’s realistically within your reach. There’s no point in making grandiose pledges if you know going in you won’t be able to really do it.

2. Start the Countdown

The aspiration sweet spot isn’t the only reason NaNoWriMo works. Credit also goes to its just-right time frame. After all, meeting the end-of-November deadline is half of what makes NaNoWriMo a challenge… and so much fun.

The drop-dead date at the end of the month is just as important as the word count itself. This is the part that forces you to focus—it takes reaching your goal from a leisurely stroll to a sprint.

This urgency forces writers to focus under pressure and get the job done.

Make it Work for You:

Set a deadline. Keep this deadline long enough to accomplish something real, but short enough to force you to maintain focus. And don’t be afraid to light a fire under your booty—if your goal doesn’t make you a little nervous, take it up another notch.

But again, don’t go overboard. If you already know it’s not possible to reach your goal within your given time frame, it’s not going to help you.

3. Go Public

You don’t have to make it public when you do NaNoWriMo, but the community surrounding the event strongly incentivizes it.

We’ll talk about the power of community in a moment, but the simple power of publicly declaring your intentions is huge.

Make it Work for You:

Go out of your way to declare your intentions. Talk to your girlfriend about it. Talk to your parents about it. Talk to your coworkers about it (maybe). Post about it online. Blog about it.

I’m officially giving you permission to be the obsessed weirdo that everyone rolls their eyes about.

Because when you make your goal public, all of a sudden, you’re accountable for following through, accountable to your friends, to your family, to online writing buddies you’ve maybe never even met in person.

Want to save face? Put the work in!

4. Work with a Community

What’s even better than accountability? Support. With chat forums, hashtags and local meetups, NaNoWriMo does an awesome job of connecting its participants so they can cheer each other on.

This is a big deal. NaNoWriMo is a serious challenge, and there are a million ways for a writer to fall behind. When someone else who’s going through the same thing assures you that you can keep going, it can be the difference between success and failure.

Make it Work for You:

There are plenty of alternate creative challenges out there—if one fits your needs, you can leverage that challenge to build your community.

But if not, just create your own. Tap your writer friends to create a similar challenge for themselves, and then check in with each other regularly for cheers and support.

There’s more than one way to skin a novel

NaNoWriMo is an awesome way to accomplish a major writing goal, but it’s hardly the only way to get it done.

If NaNoWriMo just isn’t for you, or if you’re not in a position to pursue it this year, that’s okay. You can still put the principles to work to make big strides toward your writing goals.

Put these NaNoWriMo principles to work, and you’ll be well on your way to success.

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, how’s it going so far? If you’re taking the year off, what are you doing to improve your writing habit instead? Let us know in the comments!


What is your aspiration sweet spot? 100 words a day? 1,000? Whatever it is, do it. Write your daily goal, and then post the first three paragraphs in the comments section.

And if you post, please be sure to cheer on your fellow writers there as well.

Emily Wenstrom
Emily Wenstrom
By day, Emily Wenstrom, is the editor of short story website wordhaus, author social media coach, and freelance content marketing specialist. By early-early morning, she is E. J. Wenstrom, a sci-fi and fantasy author whose first novel Mud will release in March 2016.
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