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National Novel Writing Month: Start a New Family Tradition

Yes, you can write a novel in a month (and so can your kids!)

Author Kari Hanson

Published on: October 14, 2022

Dad and son on the couch each holding a laptop

It’s dark at 4:30 p.m. and cold and raining every day.

That’s right, I’m talking about November in the Pacific Northwest. If you are dreading the dark cold days and looking for a project for you and your kids, I’ve got one that will make the days fly by!

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people around the world take on the challenge: write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

That sounds like a lot, I know. But it breaks down to about 1,650 words, or about three pages, per day. The NaNoWriMo website offers all kinds of tools and inspiration to help you meet your goal. There are even in-person meetups during which participants can write together and encourage each other.

There is also a Young Writers’ Program, which rallies kids to participate and create their first masterpiece. They can select their own goal for the month — 100 words, 1,000 words, 20,000 words — there is no wrong answer! Kids get their very own interactive website that tracks their progress and offers support along the way.

My son and I have been participating in NaNoWriMo together for the past several years. We don’t usually sit down and write together (though we have), but we do check in with each other every day about our progress. It’s been really special to have this creative project to do together each year. And our connection around NaNoWriMo goes beyond just one month; we start chatting about it and running ideas past each other starting in late summer.

"Mom and son smiling wearing matching NaNoWriMo sweatshirts"
The author and her son after they both met their 2021 NaNoWriMo goals

If you and your family want to give NaNoWriMo a try this year, just go for it! Here are a few of my takeaways from the experience:

  • There is absolutely no pressure. Will anyone know if I don’t make my goal? Nope! This project is free, self-guided and totally your own thing. If life gets too busy and you stop mid-month, you can always try again next year. Want to write a mystery? Science fiction? A romance? It’s totally up to you.
  • The goal is quantity, not quality. There is a lot of talk about silencing your “inner editor” during NaNoWriMo. You know it, that voice in your head that says, “That dialogue is pretty bad” or “This scene is a bit ridiculous. Better delete everything and start again.” During NaNoWriMo, that voice must be silenced to make the 50,000-word goal. You can edit in December, but remember, you can’t edit a blank page. So write that bad dialogue and ridiculous scene with gusto! 
  • It’s fun to be a part of a worldwide creative project. I love thinking about people all over the world sitting down to write during the month of November.  
  • It helps to have a plan. While this is a low-stakes, personal project, it’s no small task. Before November, think the logistics through a bit. Will you write in the morning? Late at night? Do you want to sit down and write 1,650 words all at once? Will it work better to try and write 500 words or so in one sitting? If your kids are participating, help them think this through, too.
  • There is no pressure to share your work. My son is wonderfully creative but very private about his work. If he had to upload his writing or share it with strangers, I’m not sure he would participate (and honestly, I feel the same way). This month, this project, is just for you. Many novels that started as NaNoWriMo projects have been published, but even if you never look at your book again, you can still check “write a novel” off of your bucket list.

So, get those creative juices flowing and chat with your family about participating in NaNoWriMo. You might be surprised by who has a story idea ready to go!

Tips to get started

  • Sign up on the NaNoWriMo website today. It will track your work count, plus you get to collect virtual badges for accomplishments and a certificate proclaiming you "won" NaNoWriMo when your word count clicks over to 50,000.
  • Not sure how to start? Check out the book, "No Plot? No Problem!" written by NaNoWriMo's founder, Chris Baty 
  • Looking for more inspiration and advice? The Write-Minded podcast has you covered (and it's co-hosted by Grant Faulkner, NaNoWriMo's Executive Director). Check out the episode, "Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo" for all the inspiration and courage you need to take on this challenge. 

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