Every November large swathes of the writing community band together for NaNoWriMo with the aim of writing 50,000 words of a new manuscript in thirty days. This competition has spread across the writing world since it began 23 years ago. The competition encourages new and existing writers to take on a difficult challenge and get their novels drafted. It encourages friendship and camaraderie between writers, which (thanks to social media) is not limited by international boundaries.
Don’t get me wrong: I think NaNoWriMo is a brilliant event. If it helps you motivate yourself to get your novel drafted then absolutely go for it: good luck and have fun! I’m not about to pee all over your firework.
However, I’m here to say that a. NaNoWriMo does not work for everyone, b. it’s okay if it doesn’t work for you, and c. remember that (like many things) it is most useful to people who are able-bodied, child-free, and don’t have additional responsibilities to juggle.
NANOWRIMO AS A PARENT
I’m not saying NaNoWriMo is impossible if you have kids. There are writers out there who do manage to write 50,000 words whilst juggling work and childcare, and to those writers I say: how are you surviving on two hours’ sleep a night?
In all seriousness, the parents who are able to win NaNo almost certainly have other factors in their lives which make the 50,000-word goal achievable. Maybe their children are older and more self-sufficient. Maybe they have fewer of them! Maybe they have a nanny, some other form of good childcare, and / or a supportive spouse who is able and willing to take care of the kids and household chores for large chunks of time.
You might have all of these things and the NaNo goal might still be unattainable for you!
You might have older relatives to care for. You might have chronic conditions or disabilities. You might be neurodiverse and struggle to focus for long periods of time. You might have kids who are clingy and don’t sleep very well (sigh). You might be a single parent (aka a superhero).
Our individual circumstances, writing styles, and kids’ personalities all vary wildly and it is difficult to compare situations.
The only situation I know in detail is my own. I am the primary caregiver for my two young children. I’m building my editing business. I have a household to manage. Not to mention endless life admin, basic self-care, and managing my five-year-old’s reading and homework schedule (don’t even get me started on that topic!)
To summarise… writing 50,000 words in a month is impossible for me (at least at this point in my life). And that is with me having some help with childcare during the week.
My writing style also influences this: I edit my manuscripts as I go. I end up with a fairly clean first draft at the end, but it takes longer for me to produce a first draft, and thus longer to produce 50,000 words. The NaNo advice is to turn off your inner editor completely while you draft, but I feel overwhelmed at the thought of editing many thousands of words of messy first draft at the end of the writing process, and I can’t move on in my manuscript until I’ve ‘tidied’ the previous scene and made required changes in the earlier part of the story.
Only you know your own situation and what you’re capable of. Only you know your writing style and preferences. You are the person who is best-placed to make the call as to whether or not NaNoWriMo might work for you. If the goal might be challenging but possible for you to achieve, and / or if NaNo sounds like fun and you’d like to join in, then here are some tips for taking part.
TIP 1: PLAN OUT THE THIRTY DAYS
Thirty days seems like a long time when you say it out loud. However, the only way to properly get a feel for how much time that realistically gives you is to make a chart for 1st-30th November. It can be pretty with coloured pens, stickers and highlighters. It can be scrawled on a spare piece of paper in biro and messy handwriting. It doesn’t matter!
Mark all the days on which you are scheduled to work. Mark any days on which you have help with childcare (if any). Mark any days when you have sole responsibility for childcare (if any). Mark any social events in your calendar (including holidays). Mark social events in your kids’ calendars. Mark your shopping days, or days on which you need to take care of other life admin, or days on which you might have to do prep for the C-word which takes place the following month (if you celebrate it).
Suddenly those thirty days start to look very busy!
Look at where there might be room for adjustments to buy you more writing time (e.g. asking your spouse to drive the kids to after school clubs). However, be realistic in noting how much writing time you actually have, and how much you might be able to achieve in that time if you challenge yourself. What is your normal writing pace (if you know this)? What is your writing style? Are you able to write after a full day of work / childcare, or are you too knackered on those days?
Unfortunately, I can only help with this so much as the person who knows yourself and your schedule best is you. Challenge yourself but be realistic: blind optimism is great for getting started but it will kick you in the nuts and run away around day ten if you don’t do some planning.
TIP 2: ADJUST YOUR GOAL
If you want to join in with NaNoWriMo (and there are many good reasons why you might want to!) then you might want to consider adjusting the word count goal / task / timeframe to suit you. In other words, be a NaNo rebel!
Each year I see more and more writers doing this, depending on personal preference, life events, and whether or not they have a manuscript idea which is ready for drafting.
You don’t have to write 50,000 words of a brand-new manuscript if you don’t want to or you’re not at that stage in your novel production schedule. Some writers aim to edit a certain number of chapters or words if they already have a finished draft. Or you might build a detailed outline and character profiles for a new novel during NaNo (depending on where you fall on the architect-gardener spectrum).
You don’t have to write 50,000 words at all! You could set a smaller more manageable goal and still join in with the community, set a daily word count goal, and reward yourself when you achieve your goals. I’ve never written 50,000 words in a month in my life: for me, 20,000 words would be both achievable and challenging.
TIP 3: REMEMBER THE AIM OF NANO
Writing 50,000 words in a month is a tall order even if you don’t have children or other life complications, and most writers can’t keep up this pace over longer periods of time even if they win NaNo. The main aim of NaNo is to help writers finish their manuscripts, but also to ingrain a consistent writing habit in them which they can continue after the competition.
The NaNo goal might be unattainable for most writing parents, but setting up and maintaining a consistent writing habit is not. By setting a goal that is realistic and putting the schedule and accommodations in place to achieve that goal, then you are helping yourself set up that system for the long term and achieve decent amounts of writing every month (not just November).
So many writers ‘win’ NaNo but are then so completely burned out by the process that they don’t write a thing for days or weeks afterwards. I would rather write 50,000 words over two or three months and feel healthy and rested (as much as it is possible to feel these things with young kids) than to throw all my energy and resources into ‘winning’ NaNo and then destroy my health, mind, and relationships in the process.
Consistency is the bigger underlying goal of NaNo, so that every month is NaNoWriMo. Granted, NaJaWriMo and NaFeWriMo don’t have the same ring to them, but you get the idea.
TIP 4: DON’T FEEL BAD IF YOU DON’T ‘WIN’ NANO
Forgetting your goal for a moment (whether the NaNo goal or your own goal): would you have written as many words if you hadn’t been taking part in NaNo? Chances are having the goal increased your word count: even if you didn’t hit your target, you are that many words closer to a completed draft.
Use the link below if you wish to sign up for NaNoWriMo this year. You can still participate even if you don’t do so formally, and set a modified goal for yourself if that works better for you.
There are many benefits to participating, but don’t put pressure on yourself to take part if you know it wouldn’t work for you.
If you do take part, be realistic about what you can achieve while still being healthy and participating in your loved ones’ lives.
Remember: the underlying goal of NaNo is to instil a writing habit and to help you write more words per month (not necessarily 50,000!) If you win NaNo then fantastic! If you don’t, then I’m willing to bet that you still achieve a lot more than if you hadn’t set the goal in the first place. That is still a win!
It’s also still a win if you decide (as I have) that NaNo is just not for you. Knowing yourself as a writer, and knowing your preferences and working style, is half the battle!
BEFORE YOU GO…
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Why? Why not? (contact details below).
Please feel free to comment on the article and/or contact me if you have any questions!
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I do not use generative AI to produce or inform my blog, my images, or my fiction. All of my content is generated by the chaotic firing of my own (human) brain! (I have access to some images through my Wix subscription). I do not consent to the use of my content, images, or fiction to train generative AI models. Please contact me to discuss permission and compensation if you wish to use my content in this way.