Chicago Writes: No NaNo? No Problem.

This is the second of two posts on NaNoWriMo. For an alternate perspective, see NaNoWriMo 2016: A Guide & A Gentle Nudge.

Oh, NaNo.

Beloved by writers around the world, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a thirty-day sprint undertaken during the month of November, when hundreds of thousands of participants attempt to pen 50,000 words before the calendar flips to December. It’s challenging, exhilarating, and a great way to stay warm as you feverishly pound out 1,667 words per day.

Sometimes, it isn’t in the cards.

disclaimer.pngPerhaps, like me, you love NaNo but are in the middle of an MS that shouldn’t be neglected. Perhaps you’ve tried NaNo and find it makes your muse pack up and take a long vacation. Perhaps you’re more reader than writer, or buried in edits, or know that this year just isn’t the year.

If that sounds like you, it’s good to remember that NaNo is about far more than dividing 50,000 by 30. It’s about celebrating words and stories while stepping out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself to do something unique—and yeah, maybe a little bonkers.

So as we head into November, let’s take the spirit of NaNo and make it yours:


You wouldn’t be alone in celebrating National Novel Reading Month, a response to NaNoWriMo that encourages more reading. Take this a step further by challenging yourself to read books you normally don’t—if you’re a fantasy fan, try contemporary; if you normally read YA, try Middle Grade or plays or even nonfiction. Alternatively, you could pick books (or one giant book) you want to read before you die—be they traditional classics or the first six books in Dune.

Like NaNo, this will work best if you have a concrete goal: take your normal monthly reading load and multiply it by 1.5, for instance. Write down that goal and take it to heart, selecting some books in advance and scheduling daily reading time.


ALLLLLLL the books!


I think I invented this last Tuesday, but I could be wrong. NaNoIdeaMo, as I call it, is a challenge to brainstorm thirty book ideas in one month. More than rough sketches, these ideas should include primary characters, major plot arcs, stakes, and setting. I’ll personally follow a structure similar to the one described by Mary Robinette Kowal in episode 7.50 of Writing Excuses. In December, I’ll create a fun and brutal bracket system to narrow these thirty ideas down to the one I actually want to write next.


Where will your imagination take you?


National Novel Editing Month is technically in March, but the NaNo spirit includes bucking convention, so why not do it now? If you have a large editing project in your future, develop a schedule that starts with substantive edits and keeps you on track through copyedits. You’ll have a pristine new draft by December.


I swear this scene made sense at the time…


Rather than a word count goal, challenge yourself to write 15-30 short stories during the month of November. As with everything else on this list, make it an ambitious but achievable goal.



Start a new habit, find a new hobby

By popular belief, it takes 21 days to start a habit. Use November to try out something you’ve always wanted to do—or to start a habit you know would be good for you. At just a month, it’s less pressure than a New Year’s resolution, and it could be anything from making breakfast every day to finally signing up for that pottery class or joining a rec sports team.

Whether you’re a writer or a reader, the things you do outside of books will enrich your experience inside of them. And hey—maybe your habit does have to do with books: read ten pages a night, write 100 words before work. Whatever it is, take yourself seriously and treat your new goal with respect. Open yourself up to new experiences—now that’s the NaNo way.


NaNo knows that success feels great, whether you’re at your computer or on the field.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this November, or something else entirely? Let us know in the comments, and write/read/brainstorm/revise/live on!


This post is brought to you by Anna Waggener at

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