CRAFT: Embracing NaNoWriMo as nonfiction writers

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Like many writers, I’ll be spending November trying to churn out 1,667 words each day in order to end the month with a complete novel of at least 50,000 words. National Novel Writing Month has become a fun tradition for many writers who struggle to find the motivation to write a novel-length story any other time during the year. There’s something motivating about joining thousands of other writers from around the world who all have the same goal of completing a novel in the month of November. Novel writing tends to be a lonely endeavor, translating thoughts and ideas that exist only in your mind into scenes on the page. But during November, at least you know you’re not the only one, and NaNoWriMo provides plenty of opportunities for writers to “buddy” up and provide encouragement throughout the month. Even though NaNoWriMo is about writing a novel, there’s no reason you can’t spend the same time writing narrative nonfiction.

Still, 50,000 words in thirty days is a lofty task. How do you make sure you’re up to it?

Begin With a Plan

Typically, there are two types of writers who dive into NaNoWriMo, those who like to begin with a detailed scene-by-scene outline before writing and those who like to just dive in and see where their imagination takes them. Writers who spend a little time on their initial story idea tend to launch into NaNoWriMo with a greater chance of success. If you’re writing nonfiction, spending time on a preliminary outline will give you something ready to flesh out when November 1 comes.

Perhaps you should spend November 1 just working on your outline and begin writing on November 2. You’d just have to add 57 more words per day onto your daily goal to reach 50,000 words on November 30.

In my case, I’ve had an idea forming for several weeks before November 1, so I’ll be ready to begin translating all these ideas onto the page as soon as NaNoWriMo begins. Chances are, you’ve been sitting on an idea for a novel for some time, and you’ve just been waiting for the opportunity to write it to come. NaNoWriMo is just what you’ve been waiting for.

Embrace Imperfection

The most significant benefit of participating in National Novel Writing Month is the writing itself.  The 50,000 words you write in November aren’t likely to be the next Pulitzer prize winner, but at least you’ll be able to say at the end of November, “I finished a book.” For many writers, the feeling of having completed something is worth the time spent. Having a finished book also creates the opportunity to take that book and shape it into something better.

I like to compare writing with creating a sculpture out of clay. Without clay as the raw material, you won’t be able to form anything that matters. The rough draft of any story is like the clay an artist works with to create a beautiful sculpture. During NaNoWriMo, you’re creating the raw material out of which you can shape a story you’re really proud of.

This is important to keep in mind as you’re working on your daily word output. The idea isn’t to write something perfect, so making the backspace off-limits is a good idea. December will be a great time to go back and fix all the mistakes you created in the first draft. November, however, is all about getting the bones of your story down so that you have something to work with in the revision stage.

Now is the Time

If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity to join with thousands of other writers around the world and sprint toward a finished first draft. Make sure to sign up at and chart your progress along the way. NaNoWriMo provides many resources to encourage you along the way as well.

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