Monday 3 August 2015

NaNoWriMo Part One: What is NaNoWriMo?

by Jeanette O'Hagan

You may have seen badges and banners proclaiming NaNoWriMo Winner — perhaps in the last few days, maybe at the end of last year — and wondered:

 ‘What the fuss is all about? What is NaNo and what, if anything, has it to do with me?

My first introduction to NaNoWriMo (pronounced Nan-No-Rye-Mo) was over three years ago when someone (maybe Michelle Evans)  invited me to do ‘the challenge.’ At the time, I had no idea what this strange accumulation of syllables stood for. But I soon found out :)

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It started as a simple challenge to write a novel (or at least 50,000 words) in the month founded by freelance writer Chris Baty in the San Francisco Bay Area in July 1999 (the shift to November came in 2000.)

NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organisation that ‘believes your story matters.’

National Novel Writing Month organizes events where children and adults find the inspiration, encouragement, and structure they need to achieve their creative potential. Our programs are web-enabled challenges with vibrant real-world components, designed to foster self-expression while building community on local and global levels.

Through all our programs, we work to empower and encourage writing and vibrant creativity around the world:

Since 1999 it’s expanded to be so much more:

  • It acquired a website and a strong social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram etc).
  • It is now global – encompassing just about every country or region, including Australia and New Zealand.
  • It’s expanded to include other months and challenges (like the just recently finished Camp NaNoWriMo in July and the Young Writers Program in November).
    • In the July Camp, participants can choose their own goal (minimum 10,000 words) and are not restricted to novel writing. Participants are put in 12 person virtual ‘cabins.’ It’s often seen as a good introduction for the big event in November.
    • The Young Writers Program is a school based program that allows those 17 and younger to set their own reasonable but challenging writing goals.
  • NaNo rebels add some flexibility by allowing inclusion of editing, script writing or poetry to personal goals.
  • There has been an increased focus on what to do after NaNoWriMo – including editing and revising those rough draft NaNo manuscripts, seeking publishers or obtaining special discounts on writing programs/packages such as Scrivener.
  • NaNo also has some really cool merchandise.
  • It now incorporates local events – like write-ins, actual (not just virtual) camps, or social nights including in Australian capital cities.
  • It has a growing number of success stories with over 100 published books  including some bestsellers
  • It’s free to participate (though you are welcome to donate to help with expenses and projects).


Back to 2012 — Once I understood the challenge, I thought, ‘There is no way I can write 50,000 words in a month. Besides,’ I thought, ‘my November is packed with study commitments, a real-life camp and the end of the year rush — where would I find the time to write that much?’ 

I even had people warning against the ‘evils’ or futility of doing NaNo. But it seems I can’t resist a challenge. 

‘Why not give it a go,’ I thought, ‘Even if I don’t ‘win’ I can’t really lose.’ 

So I did and surprised myself by writing 50,000 words and totally enjoying the process. Now I’m hooked on NaNo and just last month completed my second July Camp – with over 230,000 words written as a part of NaNo challenges in the last 2 ½ years.

I was so enthusiastic about NaNo last November, I wrote an ACW post about it (see here), which prompted Narelle to request that I write a series of five posts leading up to November this year. 

So over the next few months, I’ll be writing a five-part series:

Part One: What is NaNoWriMo? (That’s this one)  3rd August 2015
Part Four: Ready, Set, Go  2 November 2015
Part Five:  Is there life after NaNo?  30 November 2015

We will also be forming a FaceBook group for ACW NaNo participants leading up to November — for camaraderie, encouragement and a touch of friendly rivalry along the way.

So — watch this space. Maybe this year you too could join the challenge.

CampNaNo Winner 2015 banner awarded for completion of Camp NaNo this July.


Jeanette O'Hagan has a short story published in the general market Tied in Pink Romance Anthology  (profits from the anthology go towards Breast Cancer research) in December 2014 and two poems in the Poetica Christi’s Inner Child anthology launched in July 2015. She has practiced medicine, studied communication, history and theology and has taught theology.  She cares for her children, has just finished her Masters of Arts (Writing) at Swinburne University and is writing her Akrad's fantasy fiction series.  You can read some of her short fiction here

You can find her at her Facebook Page or at Goodreads or on her websites or Jeanette O'Hagan Writes .


  1. I've tried NaNo twice, and didn't finish, maybe because I usually write shorter books for kids. I loved Camp NaNoWriMo last month as I got a kids book finished. This year I have an idea for a novel, so I may give it a go once more.

    I love a challenge to help get my first drafts finished :)

    1. Melissa - the July Cabin is much more geared for lower word counts and alternative projects like poetry or picture books. It obviously takes more thought to write a few words of poetry or for a picture book - were every word has to count - than it does for a full length novel. I like the cabin system too as an avenue of encouragement. Still, even if you don't finish or only get a fraction of the 50,000 words done, chances are you've written more than you would have - and so are still a winner.

  2. I've just finished the Camp NaNoWriMo challenge and managed to write 30 000 words in a month. It was a great discipline and the encouragement from cabin mates really helped. Plus you were a great 'den mother' to our cabin, Jenny. You certainly led by example!

    I think it's a great example of 'iron sharpening iron'. With God's help, the encouragement of others and our own hard work and perseverance, it's amazing what we can do. Thanks for sharing, Jenny. Looking forward to reading the rest of your series :)

    1. Thanks Nola. We had a lovely bunch of encouragers in our cabins.

  3. Jeanette, great post and thanks for sharing your Nano experiences. I'm excited that this year I finally have room in my writing schedule to participate in my first Nano. My goal will be to finish my current wip, if I'm not done by November, and work on a new story. I'm looking forward to your post series :)

    1. Thanks Narelle. That's wonderful that you'll have time to do NaNo this year. Looking forward to doing it with you :)

  4. Hi Jenny,
    I've never participated in NaNoWriMo, but I can see how valuable it would be in just helping get words on paper, many people's first hurdle. I wouldn't mind trying it to begin my latest challenge and will look forward to your future posts.

    1. Thanks Paula. Yes, it's great to get into the flow of just writing - silencing the internal editor for the first draft though, of course, not for ever. It would be wonderful if you could be part of NaNo this year - and that there might be another book in the making :)

  5. Thanks Jo'Anne :) It was a blast and loved all the virtual chocolate you provided :) You did well and maybe last November helped prepare you for Camp NaNo last month.

  6. Jeanette, I like what you said about you can't really lose. I'm a step closer toward signing up :)

    1. 'Smile' That's great Andrea. As we said on more than one occasion in Camp NaNo - every word counts :)

  7. I'm another Camp Nano winner - I wrote 25,000 words, which is the first fiction I've written since high school. I really enjoyed the cabins and the joint accountability, which motivated me to actually get those 25,000 words out! I didn't know about Camp Nano previously, so thanks for publicising it and giving me the opportunity to get involved!

    Will I participate in November? We'll see ...

    1. Glad you enjoyed Camp NaNo Iola - good to have part of our sister cabin. November should be fun too - so hoping you can join :)


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