Can a NanoWriMo skeptic change their mind about the annual hootenanny of word count over writing quality? Maybe, maybe not. I’ll admit that my stance has certainly softened over the years. Evolved, even, as illustrated by the change in attitude in my most recent post about NaNo from a few years ago.

But as you NanoWriMo diehards prepare to take up your keyboards on November 1, I know I can’t change your minds. Whether this is your first or your fifty-first (how long has this thing been going on, anyway?), you are in it to win it (50,000 words on November 30).

So here are my Top 5 Tips for NanoWriMo 2022.

My writing space — a whole lot of novels have been written at this desk. None of which have been written during NaNoWriMo.

1. Identify Your Story Elements

Every novel and short story consists of the same elements. Characters, plot, setting. That’s it. It’s like bread – flour, salt, yeast. Sounds easy, but if it were easy, everyone could do it, right? This is still my original argument against NanoWriMo, by the way – it reduces writing to a gimmick. But here we are, so let’s get started.


The main character, or protagonist, is the one driving the story. They are the ones who make the decisions and have the desires that set the plot in motion. Every decision the character makes has a result, and that result has consequences, and those consequences are the plot. A novel also includes other characters, including the antagonist, who also sets the plot in motion, by thwarting the protagonist, or simply by wanting different things.

The desires, motivations, and needs of the character create the plot.


A plot consists of the story’s events, which combine together into a character’s progress. However, events aren’t random. They are borne of choices the character makes, which come out of a character’s essential being. Each event hangs together with the others that came before it and influences those that come after.

A plot sounds easy. Stuff happens, the character does stuff, and then there are enough events, and the writer gets to the end. But plot is not just one damn thing after another. Plot is the connective tissue that combines character and setting and gives it all meaning.


The interesting thing about setting is that it is so mutable. No matter your genre – science fiction, contemporary thriller, gothic romance, or big fat fantasy  — when you have strong characters driving a plot, your story can have any setting you want and it will work.

But setting is also a source of opportunity. World-building is a fascinating part of writing. You won’t have a lot of time to do a bunch of worldbuilding if you are cranking out 1,500 words per day. That’s where rewriting comes in, and yes, you will have to rewrite. For now though, sketch in your setting, and think of some telling details to help round things out. Big grand descriptions are less effective than these small details, especially when they reveal how characters interact with their world. Don’t use setting as a crutch to get word count in, is what I’m saying.

2. Develop a Rough Outline

I can guarantee there are people out there who have spent the six months before November 1 building an outline of their story. They’ve created characters, genealogies, world and city maps, identified artifacts, come up with events, character motivations, secret histories, and more.

The rest of us sit down in front of a blank page with a character name and a vibe (If we’re lucky. Sometimes we only have a character – or a vibe). That’s not going to be enough. Even I, a dedicated non-outliner, need more than that.

Start with a rough outline. Take your character and your vibe, and sketch out a tiny bit of a backstory. As you write, keep that nugget in front of you. The more you adhere to the little bit you know about your character, the more they will reveal themselves to you. You’ll build on that character by the actions.

And this next part is crucial – at the end of each writing session, jot some notes down to tell you where you need to go for the next day. A pro tip from the likes of Mark Twain and Anton Chekhov – stop in the middle of a sentence so you know where to pick up the next day.

3. Write Every Day

That’s a no brainer, right? That’s the whole point of this thing. But the trick is not to try to write 1,500 words each day. That’s just counterproductive. They will be really bad words and bad writing and bad storytelling. Also, let’s say you write 1,500 words per day for 30 days, which gets you 50,000 words – and so what? At best, you’ll have 50,000 words of crap to edit and it’s not even a full novel. You’ll probably hate all of those words because they suck and you’ll never want to write again. It’s not just me saying it, as this Time Magazine article from 2012 points out.

So how about this – write every day. 15 words is still more words than you had the day before. Probably you’ll get at least 100. And you won’t hate your writing. I mean, there’s a point at which every writer hates their writing, but that’s a normal thing, not a NaNo thing.

Try not to edit as you go, either. Pretend like once each word is typed, it’s out of your hands. Oh well, tell yourself, can’t do anything about that now. Make little breadcrumb notes in the manuscript reminding you to go back and change things later, but then move forward.

4. Stay Human

Why on Earth the founders of NanoWriMo decided November was the right month for this crazy contest is beyond me. It’s only 30 days. There’s a major holiday and the run up to an even more major holiday at the end. So there are going to be days and weeks that you don’t write. And also, the whole idea of “winning NaNo” assumes that people “lose NaNo,” and that’s just mean. Don’t be mean to yourself. Again, whether you’ve done this before or this is your first time, this is a huge endeavor.

This is where writing 15 words on the days when you just can’t is a win. And I mean that. Don’t let NaNo make you feel bad about yourself and your writing.

5. Write on December 1

Look at you! You made it! It’s November 30 and you have a certain amount of words that you didn’t have before. Congratulations. So now I’m going to advise my final and hardest tip.

Write on December 1. I know, it sounds crazy, you feel like you deserve a rest, but the fact is, writing is a long game. It requires consistent effort. The real work happens when the gimmick is over.

Look, I know that I sound like a party pooper, but the thing is, I love writing, even when it’s hard. It’s a hard craft to learn and to master. My criticisms of NanoWriMo have always been that it makes light of the work that writers put in. It confuses writing with typing and quantity over quality.

Do you want to be a writer or do you want to do NaNo? If you want to do NaNo, fine. Have fun – and I mean that.

But if you want to be a writer, then write on December 1.

To NaNo or Not to NaNo

I don’t plan to do NaNo this year. My writers’ group had an August NaNo (which honestly, people, makes so much more sense – it has 31 freaking days! No holidays!) and I’m finishing up that project. So I’ll be writing in November.

Just like any other month.

Let me know how you did with these tips. And by the way – they work in the other eleven months of the year too.

Happy writing!

Note: If you like this article, please let me know in the comments field or my contact page. And feel free to browse the stories in the Anthology and Novel Excerpts pages. I hope you like what you read!


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