NaNoWriMo newbie guide

With Camp NaNoWriMo a mere week away, I was asked to explain this event and I’m happy to oblige πŸ™‚


NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. This is an event that takes place three times a year: April, July and November. April and July are called the Camp months. These are easier and nice to get into the habit of writing or to prepare yourself and/or your project for November.


NaNoWriMo originally started as a challenge in a small group of friends in the USA. Their goal was to write the first draft of a novel of at least 50,000 words in the month of November. It didn’t have to be a finished product, but it would be a start from which you could move on to a complete finished product.

Current state

By now it has grown into an international phenomenon in which writers from all over the world participate. Several well-known authors have started at NaNoWriMo! And not only has it grown into an international event, it has also expanded with two more months: The Camp months. Let me start with those.

The Camps

The camps are in a virtual cabin at Each cabin can hold a maximum of 20 people and basically consists of a chat function that’s on the site.


Camps are easier than the main event, because you can set your own goals. You pick one of the following:

  • Words

  • Hours

  • Minutes

  • Lines

  • Pages

and set the goal for it that you want to achieve by the end of the month. Do you think you won’t be able to make the default 50k? Start with 25k or 10k even. You free to choose your goal πŸ˜€ And…… If, for example, halfway through the month, you discover you can’t reach your target, you can adjust it. Of course you can also up the target!

Each camp runs from the first of the month to the last day of the month. The start and end times are from your own time zone, so there’s no stress about checking the time in another zone.

The site has a counter which you can adjust to display your goal count. The counter helps to display a graph of your progress and the progress of your cabin.

How will you know you’ve won?

When the time comes to validate your project, there will be a validation tool to validate your project. It is a simple pop-up field in which you paste the text of your project, if your goal was to write a certain amount of words.

I don’t know how the other goals are validated, because I have never done those goals for camps, but I do know there are ways to validate those as well.

Mind you, Camp, nor the main event, stores your novel. The validation process will only check the amount of words and then delete the whole text again. The basic information of your project (the info you fill out in the project info, is kept)

What can you win?

You’ll get a certificate πŸ˜€

Besides that there are several offers from sponsors that might give you discounts or even free access depending on participating and winning. For example:
Scrivener gives you a 20% discount coupon for participating. But if you win, you’ll get a 50% discount coupon. If you haven’t worked with Scrivener before, there is a free 30-day trial which of course is handy to use during either one of the events.

How do you get into the cabin?

Once you have created a project, you have several options:

  • you can tell the system to sort you into a cabin

  • you can search the forums ( for a suitable cabin and ask for an invite

  • or you can start your own cabin and post about it on the forums to get fellow campers in your cabin

My experiences with camps

The first time I was in a camp, it was a rather quiet cabin where halfway down the line no one participated any more.

After that I set up my own cabin (NaNoEUFantasy), which I have now been successfully running since April 2017. We have a steady group of veteran camp members who are very active. And not only during the camp months, but also afterwards.

We stay in touch through Slack (We’re probably moving to Discord after Camp July) where we talk about everything writing related (and sometimes about things like GoT, the frustrating or worrying weather – which can be an excellent input for your world building! – or just rant because things don’t go the way we planned).

We intentionally do not invite people in the Slack/Discord channel who haven’t been with us in the cabin before, because we want to get to know each other first. We have build up a certain level of trust that gives us the freedom to say a lot of things we might otherwise not say. And we share a lot about our novels as well. That is the way it can grow when you’ve got an active cabin πŸ˜€

Our cabin always fills up very quickly, but it’s not suitable for everyone. When Camp is in full swing, the chat can be very active resulting in sometimes a couple a hundred of message you might have missed if you’re not there for a day or two. A few of my local writing friends, for example, found our cabin too active.

Cabin leaders & participants

A cabin during camp stands or falls with it’s leader and a few steady participants. When no activities have been organized (or you feel you don’t have the freedom to organize activities yourself), you might find a cabin is rather quiet. That is good if that is what you prefer, but if you’re looking for a bit more activity (or if for any other reason the cabin doesn’t seem to fit you), you’re free to leave the cabin and search for another.

In our cabin we start with a pre-camp chat, a kick off on the first day of camp, themed chats twice a week during camp and regular word sprints. So, those are a LOT of activities!

Most importantly a cabin should be a fun experience for you. If you don’t feel at home in the cabin of your choice (of the auto-selection the camp has done for you), feel free to leave the cabin and join another one. You’re not obligated to stay in that one cabin during the whole camp.

The main basics

November is a bit different from camps. This time you’re challenged to write 50.000 words. There are no other options available. If you want to be very strict:

  • it has to be a completely new project without any words written yet (besides the preparations like outline, world building, character development, etc).

  • You can’t include any new words written for world building, character development and everything else that is not the story

NaNo Rebels

But there are lots of people who are the so called rebels. They will continue with a novel they’ve already started before (or write the nth draft), they might include all their world building notes, or they might write articles for their blog instead. So there’s a different kind of freedom in November

Not for the faint of heart

Mind you, it’s not for the faint of heart. It can get tough at times. 50,000 words in a month means 1,667 words per day, every day. Usually the first week is pretty doable for everyone. The week after that is the hardest week. It is the week where doubt often sets in. This is the week where support from the forums, social media and loved ones comes in very handy! The third week is usually a bit easier than the second and the last week is really the week of getting that home run.

There is a way to make things a little easier on yourself and that’s reversed NaNoWriMo ( This is where you start out strong with double the daily amount and starting halfway through the month you only need to write less and less than the daily amount, ending with 1 word on the last day!

Social life put on hold

The main event can be a strain on your social life. After all, often this is something people do besides their normal daytime job, the household, the care of children, etc. Staying in touch with friends and family can become hard if you also want to reach your target. A few things participants often do are:

  • prepare meals upfront and put them in the freezer (family only needs to warm them up!)

  • Buy/make a large supply of drinks and snacks that you can have during your writing (you’ll get less cranky!)

  • announce upfront to all and everyone what you’re going to do in November and apologize in advance for not being reachable

  • Get up half an hour earlier than normal to write. That way you already have some words under your belt before the day normally starts.

  • Take a holiday break from work for a few weeks (it’s what I always do. I always pick the last two weeks of November as a holiday.) That way you’ll have to time write and stay in touch with friends and family.

Local activities

Local ML’s (Municipal leaders) will often organize a kick-off a few days or a week or so before November. You won’t write that day/evening, but you’ll get in touch with others who will participate, maybe have dinner, exchange care-packages and more. In the Netherlands we always do this in Utrecht and we have a huge gathering!

Afterwards there may be the TGIO (Thank God It’s Over) parties. The turn up there might be small, because people are tired. I know in the Netherlands it’s not always easy, because for us it’s usually around Sinterklaas (December 5) and thus often enough weekends are already fully booked with dinners and something we call β€œPakjesavond” where we exchange gifts (children of course think Sinterklaas has come to pay a visit!). But the meetings are fun nonetheless πŸ˜€

How will you know you’ve won?

It’s the same as with camp.

What will I win?

Like with camp there are several sponsors. Some may post something upfront while others will only be shown to you when you’ve won. Mostly it’s coupon for discount or free lessons, for example.

And of course, you’ll get a certificate as well.

In conclusion

Is NaNoWriMo something for everyone. No. At least not the main event. If you have never tried it before, my advice is to start with camp. See how that goes for you. If you like it, progress to November πŸ˜€

But… Every word written, whether you reach your goal or not, is more than what you had before, so you always have progress! Keep that in mind πŸ˜€ You have never lost!

Let me know if there’s anything else you’d like to know!

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