Shelf Life: A Writer’s Guide to NaNoWriMo

 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) got underway on Friday.

What began 20 years ago as a nonprofit initiative—to support writing fluency, education, and social networking—is now a worldwide phenomenon. Those who participate undertake a simple, yet immense, challenge: write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November.

To first-time NaNo-ers, this task seems daunting, but completing the required 50,000 words is possible for those ready and willing to take the necessary steps. Below, you’ll find an unofficial guide to get your novel, memoir, screenplay, or any other word-based project started.

How to start your 50,000 words depends whether you’re a “plotter” or a “pantser.” Plotters often plan carefully in the weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo, or use the first few days of the month to create an outline for the story to come. Pantsers, on the other hand, write whatever comes out when pencil hits paper or fingers hit keyboard. Both methods, or even a combination of the two, can be effective. It’s all a matter of filling a page with something. It helps to see NaNoWriMo as a goal rather than an endpoint; the draft written in November doesn’t need to be polished or perfect.  As novelist Jodi Picoult once said, “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” Have an idea? Write it. Let your story free—let it explore without boundaries or judgment. Reign things in later.

Having trouble starting? Try a prompt! Websites and books abound to generate scenarios that could spark your interest. Even if you don’t use the prompt itself, one could serve as a jumping off point. Below are a few prompts to consider if you’re feeling stuck:

  • Wander a library or bookstore and pick a title at random. Write a summary for the book based on the cover alone.
  • Spend time somewhere where people pass through—maybe a cafe or park—and write down snippets of overheard conversation. Use a quote as a story’s opening line.
  • Try writing with constraints (using exactly 101 words, not using the letter “e,” limiting the amount of syllables used per sentence, rhyming, etc.). While forcing you to be concise and precise, you might end up writing something else with all the words you wish you could say.
  • Describe the same thing through different points of view (e.g. a barnyard as described by a child obsessed with the color red, a cityslicker, and a farmer whose crops died).
  • Write the story of a stranger’s life based on their shoes.
  • Rewrite a story you hated.
  • Rewrite a story you loved.

Once you have a story started, the “only” thing left to do is keep going. As author Neil Gaiman said, “You sit down at the keyboard, and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”

Writing is a habit. Setting aside time to write each day, regardless of the presence of a “muse,” can keep words coming. 

NaNoWriMo’s website allows users to track their word count and writing goals, recommending an average of 1,667 words a day to stay on a 50,000 word track. NaNo’s website also has a forum for writers to connect both online and in person (via local write-ins). 

Attending writing groups or programs can help keep you accountable as well. Below are several options in the area:

As the late, great, Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” So, start. Keep going. See you and your 50,000 words on December 1st!

Upcoming Events

  • November 8-9, Holiday Craft Fair: Harborfields Public Library will host its tenth annual holiday craft fair from 9 AM to 4 PM. 50 vendors and artisans will showcase their handcrafted creations.
  • November 11, Long Island Writers Guild: Join writers at Book Revue for a monthly writing workshop. This two-hour workshop is free and open to all. The workshop begins at 7 PM; all levels and genres welcome.
  • November 17, Amateur Writers of Long IslandJoin writers of all genres and abilities in the back room of Panera in Huntington Village from 1-6 PM to give and receive feedback. supports literacy efforts. If you have book-related information you’d like to share, email Molly Prep.

Huntington Library Wary of Publisher’s New Policy Limiting E-Books


Leave a Reply