Each November, writing hopefuls around the world gather together in one singular goal: get writing done.
As a veteran author and ghostwriter, I love this goal. It’s especially great for aspiring authors, who often spend more time talking about the book they want to write than actually writing it.
National Novel Writing Month was originally created in 1999 as a challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel from November 1 through 30. It’s that straightforward. Simple but hard.
Now, the movement has evolved to different facets of writing, including National Nonfiction Writing Month (NaNonFiWriMo) and National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). I participated in NaBloPoMo about ten years ago and found it both challenging and exciting to push myself to write and publish daily.
NaNonFiWriMo is, as you might have guessed, similar to its fiction sister. Most participants aim to write 50,000 words in the month. But there is a wide range of goals set in November, and some choose to focus on a piece of nonfiction, such as a research paper or essay.
Since I’m a (mostly) nonfiction author—and coach authors both 1:1 and through Nonfiction Book School—I’ll unpack some of the don’ts of NaNonFiWriMo, with advice on what to do instead.
Don’t just start writing and hope it works out.
Do create a solid book outline first, then write. Back in my book-editing days, there was nothing worse than telling an author their book needed to be rewritten. Don’t let this happen to you. If your goal is writing a nonfiction book in the thirty days of NaNonFiWriMo, please take the time to do the prep.
And if you’re reading this already into November, then I suggest this: reframe your goal. Set a new plan: fully outline your book (usually ten to fifteen pages minimum), plan out your writing fully (meaning your writing and revision plan is calendared out with specific dates), and aim to complete the two chapters. Break the seal on the book and have a plan for success coming out of November, and you’ll set yourself up for success.
Don’t try to write one day a week and make your goal.
Scientific research has shown that we humans are most productive when our habits are consistent. For most of us, it’s a myth that you need to set aside an entire Saturday to write—and actually, you’re scientifically better off if you schedule thirty to forty-five minutes, at the same time, four to five days a week. With consistency and frequency, your brain starts to recognize the new habits you’ve formed around your writing and will create new neural pathways that enable you to get into the flow faster and more predictably.
Don’t set an arbitrary goal.
I love the specificity of NaNoWriMo—50,000 words of a novel are clean and simple and can be evenly divided into 12,500 words per week. But for those of us participating in the nonfiction equivalent, we need to be mindful of the nuance to writing nonfiction and set goals that align with our projects.
For example, you might be working on a dense scientific book that requires a good deal of research to complete a chapter. Or you might be focusing on pitching and writing guest articles to grow your platform.
Rather than invest your most finite resource—your time—into something that doesn’t align with your goals, ask yourself: What is the number-one thing that would move the needle toward my big vision?
If it’s a first draft of a book, and you’ve done the work to plan for it, then great! Make that your goal. If it’s outlining your book, then awesome! Make that your goal. If it’s writing and publishing four articles, then wonderful! Make that your goal.
But if you’re going to participate, do push yourself. It’s not a challenge if it’s business as usual.
Don’t go it alone.
Writing is, at its essence, a solitary endeavor. No one else can sit in the chair for you, or put your fingers on the keyboard, or ensure you accomplish your writing goal for the day. But even so, there’s no reason you have to journey alone as you’re writing. Some tips:
- Find a writing buddy, someone you can send daily word-count updates to. Cheer each other on and encourage each other if you fall short of your goal.
- Join a community. There are lots of free and paid communities, both locally and online. The Nonfiction Book School community is one place where we encourage each other toward our writing goals, share wins, and cheer each other on.
- While you’re not writing a novel, you can still benefit from the community around NaNoWriMo. Follow the 501(c)(3) organization on Twitter and Instagram.
- Join my newsletter or follow me on Instagram or LinkedIn for writing tips—I share these all year!
Don’t give up.
As someone who has authored or ghostwritten seventeen books and thousands of pieces of content, I know writing a book is hard. Making solid progress in November will set you up for success on your journey to authorhood. But after November, you’ll still need to keep at your dream.
At the start of the month, I suggest taking time to write about your dream life. Imagine yourself five years from now, book published and having a solid author platform.
What will writing this book enable you to do in this world? What impact will you be able to have with your book as a catalyst? Be clear and specific and let yourself dream.
At the end of the month, read about your dream. And keep rereading as often as necessary to enable yourself to keep going—keep pushing, keep writing, keep revising, and keep on this meaningful journey to authorhood.
You’ve got this!
Are you participating in NaNonFiWriMo? Share your goal with me in the comments. I would love to cheer you on!