The True Meaning of NaNoWriMo (And Why the “Mo” Matters)

I’m a big fan of NaNoWriMo.

For the uninitiated, that's "National Novel Writing Month," when writers gear up to pound out 50,000 words of a novel throughout November.

There are a few reasons I think it's an awesome idea:

  1. It offers a specific, tangible, time-bound, realistic goal. (And goals with those qualities tend to yield the highest success rates.)
  2. It builds community. Writing can be a super isolating activity, so anything that lets writers give and receive encouragement is a big win in my book.
  3. It's all about actually writing. Even if you end up with a messy seat-of-your-pants first draft of a bad novel, it's still a bigger and braver achievement than the perfect novel that only exists in your head.

And just like in the Hallmark movie where the main character finally discovers the true meaning of Christmas, I think there's a deeper meaning to NaNoWriMo.

Here it is:

NaNoWriMo encourages writers to value their writing time.

I've been in a lot of writing workshops. I've worked as an editor. I've taught creative writing. And if there's one mindset shift that I think helps writers to actually write, it's learning to value their writing time.

Photo of typewriter by Thom Milkovic

There are always a thousand pressures not to write: distractions, incoming messages, anxiety, writer's block, and the feeling that there other things more important than our creative time. (And while we're being honest, I'll admit the existence of Twitter has cut my productive writing time in half!)

For those who are waiting for a reason to prioritize their writing time, or looking for permission to start writing an idea that might not be perfect yet, NaNoWriMo offers the gift of time.

For one month, the world believes that your creative time matters. Whatever you have to do to protect that time—shutting the door on family for an hour, or turning off your phone—the writing community has your back.

It's why I think "Mo" might be the most important syllable in "NaNoWriMo." NaNoWriMo is the gift of one month of writing time.

Or rather, NaNoWriMo REMINDS writers to give themselves the time to write, the same way that Thanksgiving reminds us to be grateful (and that turkey exists).

But the secret of NaNoWriMo is that, the same way that the Christmas magic was inside you all along, the power to take writing time every day or week is always at your fingertips. You just need to believe.

So here's my advice to writers thinking of doing NaNoWriMo:

Do it, and use the time to set up writing habits for the rest of the year.

Your writing time will still matter on December 1st.

It may be harder to find community and encouragement, but the community is still out there (check out the #amwriting hashtag year-round) and I always recommend that writers learn to harness internal motivations for writing as these will stay with them, whatever is happening in the writing community.

If you're looking for a little bit of bonus inspiration for NaNoWriMo, I just launched a free PDF demo of The Story Engine Deck, my deck of instant, endless, customizable writing prompts. (And here's a crash course in how it works.)

Click here to sign up for the free PDF demo of The Story Engine Deck

On top of being a powerful system for creating and customizing your own writing prompts using beautifully designed cards, it also gives you another reason to get excited for your writing time.

So help yourself to the free demo, and I hope you have a merry NaNoWriMo!

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