Nanowrimo Guide
7 min read

The Ultimate Guide to NaNoWriMo 2024

A group of writers participating in Nanowrimo in 2024, and writing in First Draft Pro.

Here’s our comprehensive guide to NaNoWriMo, and how to win in 2024→

What is NaNoWriMo?

We like to think of it as the internet’s biggest challenge to finish your first draft 😉. But really: it’s the world's largest gathering of wordsmiths, coming together to each write a 50,000-word novel in just 30 days.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It runs from 1-30 November, and participants aim to write around 1667 words per day (no small feat!).

The humble beginnings of the event date back to 1999 when Chris Baty dreamed it up along with a group of friends. From those modest roots (with only 21 initial participants), it's grown into a global sensation, inspiring hundreds of thousands of participants worldwide.

What are the rules of NaNoWriMo?

The writing frenzy kicks off sharp at 12:00 a.m. on the first day of November and wraps up at the stroke of 11:59:59 p.m. on November 30th, all in your local time zone. There's no jumping the gun—everyone starts in unison, and the challenge runs its course for a full, unbroken 30-day stretch.

To claim victory, you need to write a minimum of 50,000 words before the month runs out. These could make up a standalone novel of 50,000 words or the first 50,000 words of a longer tale set to wrap up later.

While you're welcome to plan and sketch out extensive notes, anything written before the November 1 kick-off can't be included in your novel's main body.

As for your novel's content? Any theme, any fiction genre, any language is fair game. Fanfiction using trademarked characters, novels written in verse, metafiction—you name it. As the website's FAQ cheerfully proclaims, "If you believe you're writing a novel, we believe you're writing a novel too."

And yes, "rebelling" is fully endorsed! NaNoWriMo is, after all, a "self-challenge". So, rebels are free to validate their work and grab any sponsor-offered goodies (more on these later!).

The world needs your story…

We love stories, and we want to see more of them in the world. Part of what makes NaNoWriMo such an incredible experience is the fact that you can feel all that book-making magic around you.

The best part? You'll be part of an incredible community of writers, each on their unique journey, supporting one another every step of the way. There are no entry fees for NaNoWriMo, and no judges, just the enthusiasm and determination of half a million writers exchanging writing tips, encouragement, and advice.

How to participate in NaNoWriMo

Whether you're a newbie novelist struggling to find time to write, a seasoned writer unable to finish your current work-in-progress, or just seeking an exhilarating new writing challenge, NaNoWriMo is the perfect event for you.

  1. Head over to NaNoWriMo and sign up for the 2024 event.
  2. If you’re a planner or a plantser: Start planning your novel.
  3. Make the most of the incredible resources available to you, like NaNoWriMo's forum, or First Draft Pro’s NaNoWriMo toolkit.
  4. Join a local "write-in" or host one in your area. Share your journey with your fellow writers.
  5. Write, write, and write some more! Keep an eye on your goals and celebrate each word you put down.

This amazing event will help you overcome self-criticism, boost your writing skills through high-speed practice, and transform your solitary journey of writing into a shared, enriching experience.

Writing your novel with First Draft Pro

First Draft Pro is an writing app for novelists and non-fiction writers. We designed it to be a beautiful, creative space for organising and crafting stories.

If you’re embarking on a new novel project for NaNoWriMo this year, it could be the perfect time to see if First Draft Pro is a good fit for your writing style.

  • 📓 Keep worldbuilding notes in one place - Consolidate your notes and research in one user-friendly location.
  • 🗺️ Outline chapters and overarching plots - Sketch pivotal scenes and watch your story take shape.
  • 📑 Start strong with structure templates - If planning isn’t your strong suit, we’ve got resources to help you.
  • ✏️ Stay on track with goals & focus mode - Allow your creativity to flow without obstacles.

Plus… You can also track your changes, write in dark mode, link to notes to create an internal wiki, and manage versions of your scenes. See all our novelist features.

Why not co-write a novel?

Are you thinking about participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but feeling a bit intimidated by the idea of writing an entire novel on your own? Why not consider doing it with a partner? Collaborating on a writing project can be a great way to stay motivated and keep each other accountable.

Here are some tips for successfully participating in NaNoWriMo with a partner:

  1. Choose a writing partner who shares your enthusiasm for the project, but who has a different style or perspective than you do. This will help keep things interesting and prevent you from getting too stuck in your own ideas.
  2. Set clear goals and expectations for each other. How often will you meet to discuss your progress? Will you be sharing your work with each other as you go along, or waiting until the end of the month?
  3. Find a writing space that works for both of you. First Draft Pro was designed with collaboration in mind, so if you’re looking for a way to manage your project in a shared workspace, it could be a great fit for you.

Writing can be a solitary and sometimes frustrating experience, but having a co-writer in your corner who understands what you're going through and who you love working with can make it a lot of fun!

Tips for winning NaNoWriMo 2024

Whether you’re writing solo or with a partner, or as a planner, a pantser, or a plantser – we’re here to cheer you on towards that finish line.

1. Get inspired

Choose a story idea that you just can’t let go of. Write about something you unapologetically love. Then, play around! Create a story mood board, design a mock-up cover, or create a playlist that helps you get your head into your story.

2. Make your first key story decisions

If you actually want to eventually publish your work, you’ll need to make sure that you’re writing for the target market you want to reach (which means meeting that target audience’s expectations).

So first: pick your genre, understand any genre conventions and any obligatory scenes your readers will expect, and decide who your target reader is. Watch TV shows, movies, or re-read your favourite book in that same genre to get your creative juices flowing.

3. Map out the basics of your plot

To establish your story basics, you'll need to make some decisions about your plot.

  • Write a premise: Summarise the main plot and primary conflict of your story in just one or two sentences.
  • Write a synopsis: Write a summary of your plot covering the beginning, middle, and end. It doesn't need to be long, but it must cover all three parts.
  • Decide on your theme: What is the main question you want to answer? This is likely related to your main character's personal goal or a problem with their perspective on the world. Here are 3 questions to help you figure out your theme.

4. Create an overview of important characters

Create a list of your main characters. Jot down their names and their role in the story (ie: how do they either hinder or help your protagonist?)

5. Establish your characters

There are three main requirements for establishing your character basics:

  • Establish what they want – i.e: their external goal and internal goal.
  • Establish how they will transform over the course of your story – this is their arc/journey.
  • Establish their significant relationships in the context of the story.

6. Create an outline

If this is your first Nanowrimo, we recommend following the three-act story structure. This is likely the structure you are most familiar with, and as a result, your story-brain is already an expert at it. If you choose the three-act structure, check out our guides for writing Act 1, Act 2, and Act 3.

7. Dive into some worldbuilding

Michael Rowley, the UK editor of Andy Weir's The Martian, noted that a lack of worldbuilding, continuity, or cause and effect are some of the biggest problems he encounters with NaNoWriMo manuscripts. Avoid these pitfalls by diving into this ultimate list of worldbuilding questions.

8. Strike the right balance with research

Research can sometimes be used as a way to avoid work, but it can also be helpful in achieving your goals. There is no perfect amount of research to conduct. You should do enough to do your story justice, but not so much that you prevent yourself from actually starting!

9. Trust yourself

Trust your instincts when it comes to your writing "voice". You already have a voice, so just notice it and make small adjustments. Decide on the tone, style, and setting of your story at the beginning, but don't spend too much time on it. Let the story guide you as you go, and remember that the tone, style, and setting should serve the story.

10. Plan for success

The deadline and semi-public nature of NaNoWriMo creates accountability and outer responsibility which is really important for staying motivated, but there are some other things you can do to help you stay on track!

  • Set a manageable pace for NaNoWriMo that doesn’t leave you trying to smash 10K words on one day.
  • Give yourself rewards along the way and celebrate the small milestones you meet.
  • Be gentle with yourself, and build a sustainable writing practice.

Use our day-by-day guide to win NaNoWriMo

The first 8 days of NaNoWriMo: Writing Act 1

Act 1 should set up your story, covering exposition, the inciting incident, the "debate," and the introduction of your first main plot point. Read our 8-day plan to write Act 1.

Day 1-3: Setting up your story with exposition

  • Nov 1: Begin your story with an exciting action scene. Introduce your main character in their usual environment and hint at their external goal and a central conflict. Additionally, subtly suggest an upcoming change or plot point.
  • Nov 2: Go deeper into your protagonist's external goal, revealing its significance. Introduce an internal goal or flaw and continue developing your protagonist's three-dimensional character.
  • Nov 3: Shed more light on the central conflict and create tension between the protagonist's internal and external goals. This will foreshadow a future choice they must make. It's important to ensure that readers have a clear understanding of who the protagonist is at this stage to highlight their character development later.

Day 4-5: Writing the catalyst and inciting incident

  • Nov 4: Prepare for the inciting incident by emphasizing something of great importance to the protagonist that is at risk. To enhance the reader's connection with the protagonist, use humour and showcase their compassionate side. Start hinting at the upcoming inciting incident and potential issues.
  • Nov 5: Introduce the inciting incident at around the 7500-word mark. It should force the protagonist out of their comfort zone and be a serious issue requiring immediate action. This incident should firmly grab the reader's attention and, at this point, they should be emotionally invested in the protagonist's success.

Day 6-8: Introducing the first plot point

  • Nov 6: Depict the protagonist's resistance to the call to adventure that is triggered by the inciting incident. Illustrate how this event impacts them and challenges their internal conflict.
  • Nov 7: Identify the potential positive and negative outcomes of the inciting incident, which will drive your protagonist's motivation. Next, introduce a personal change or plot point 1 that compels your protagonist to accept the call to adventure.
  • Nov 8: Consider introducing a mentor who equips the protagonist with necessary tools or training. Reiterate the central theme or question of the story and finally, depict your protagonist accepting the call to adventure, either enthusiastically or reluctantly.

The next 14 days of NaNoWriMo: Writing Act 2

It's a lie. We all want drama. Act 2 is the rising action of your story. It builds up to the midpoint of your central conflict and then drops your characters down to their lowest point (so you can have them rally for Act 3). Read our 14-day plan to write Act 2.

Day 9-14: Writing the promise of the premise

  • Nov 9: Depict your protagonist as they prepare to face the central conflict and encounter a minor challenge. Introduce the dangerous world they have entered, along with an antagonist. Consider introducing a subplot to further engage the reader.
  • Nov 10: Escalate the story with rising action, and adjust your protagonist's focus to a significant, impending event. Introduce allies for your protagonist and delve deeper into the subplot.
  • Nov 11-13: It's time for the first battle. Have your protagonist and allies engage in overcoming the major challenge, repeatedly testing their capabilities. Throughout these days, keep escalating the subplot.
  • Nov 14: Allow your characters some time to regroup after their initial battle, reflecting on how the outcome has influenced their personal goals and overall story. Lastly, consider how the result of the first battle affects the subplot and start to bring those consequences into play.

Day 15: Writing the mid-point

  • Nov 15: Offer a peek at the ideal outcome, increasing the stakes for the protagonist. Present a setback, yet reaffirm their commitment to the goal. End this part on a deceptive high note.

Day 16-20: Writing the bit where the bad guys close in

  • Nov 16: Introduce a plot point that takes your protagonist by surprise and leaves them feeling unsettled. This event should propel them towards another major confrontation, and your protagonist should start preparing for this upcoming conflict.
  • Nov 17: Begin to introduce doubt into your protagonist's mind. Use interventions or minor victories to boost their confidence. Show them formulating a new approach, and also depict their progression in their character arc.
  • Nov 18: In Battle 2, allow your protagonist and allies to engage with the antagonist. However, things should start going awry and not go according to plan. Take this opportunity to give your readers a deeper insight into the antagonist's character. Additionally, develop your subplot a bit more.
  • Nov 19: During Battle 2, make things challenging for your protagonist and allies. Allow them to overcome some obstacles but also face failure in other areas. Additionally, expand on the arcs of your supporting characters and give them moments to shine.
  • Nov 20: Heighten the stakes as Battle 2 draws to a close, letting things go seriously wrong. However, ensure your protagonist is managing to navigate through the challenges, even if they are not entirely successful. Highlight the perseverance of their spirit in the face of adversity.

Day 21-22: Writing the bit where all is lost

  • Nov 21: Have your protagonist face the antagonist and lose, experiencing the worst possible outcome. Crush their spirit and take away any hope of achieving their goal.
  • Nov 22: Let your characters regroup and reflect on their situation regarding their external goals. Evaluate the impact of the defeat on each character's arc. Additionally, assess how the outcome has influenced your sub-plot.

The last 8 days of NaNoWriMo: Writing Act 3

Act 3 is the climax or dénouement of your story. Your characters are at rock bottom when Act 3 starts, and you have to put them back together again. Read our 8-day plan to write Act 3.

Day 23-24: Writing the lowest point

  • Nov 23: Have your protagonist discover the antagonist's hidden strength, coming as a surprise linked to their internal conflict or a flawed perspective. The antagonist's victory should leave no hope.
  • Nov 24: Depict your protagonist at their lowest point, gradually beginning to rally and prepare for the final battle.

Day 25-27: Writing the crisis point in the finale

  • Nov 25: Rally your team for the final battle, setting the stakes and consequences of failure. Highlight your protagonist's growth and strategy against the antagonist.
  • Nov 26: Depict Battle 3 where your protagonist re-engages with the antagonist in an epic showdown.
  • Nov 27: Incorporate a twist where the antagonist gains an upper hand. Your protagonist must make a sacrifice to surmount this challenge, creating a high-tension decision point.

Day 28-29: Writing the climax

  • Nov 28: Execute the new plan in Battle 3, where your protagonist takes a risk and makes a sacrifice. Detail the antagonist's fate.
  • Nov 29: Resolve your protagonist's external goal, tying up sub-plots and loose ends. Conclude all character arcs, demonstrating your protagonist's transformation and resolution of their internal goal.

Day 30: Writing the resolution

  • Nov 30: Show the protagonist back in their usual life, and show what life looks like for them now.

Looking for more NaNoWriMo resources?

If you're gearing up for the thrilling NaNoWriMo ride or just seeking more insights into the world of writing, our extensive resource list is here to enrich your journey.

Books to fuel your creative spark

There's nothing quite like a well-written book to inspire and guide you through the writing process. Here are some of our favorites:

  1. "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft" by Stephen King: A blend of autobiography and writing guide, King provides insight into his journey and shares invaluable advice for budding writers.
  2. "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life" by Anne Lamott: This book offers both practical advice on writing and insights into the emotional challenges that come with it.
  3. "No Plot? No Problem!" by Chris Baty: Written by NaNoWriMo's founder, this guide offers helpful tips on preparing for and succeeding in a 30-day novel-writing challenge.

Podcasts for your listening pleasure

Podcasts offer a unique way to soak up wisdom from seasoned writers and industry professionals. Here are some of our favourite podcast recommendations:

  • How to Win NaNo: Kristina Horner an Liz Leo are NaNoWriMo experts with more than a decade of consecutive NaNoWriMo wins. This is a no-nonsense guide to writing a novel in 30 days.
  • Writing Excuses: A fast-paced, educational podcast for writers, by writers. Each episode focuses on a specific aspect of writing.
  • Write-minded: Inspiration and real talk about the ups and downs of writing life, with hosts Brooke Warner (She Writes), and Grant Faulkner (NaNoWriMo).

Videos to watch and learn

From writing advice to motivational speeches, these video resources are perfect for any NaNoWriMo participant:

Brandon Sanderson's Lecture Series

This series on writing science fiction and fantasy novels is a must-watch for Science Fiction and Fantasy writers.

TED Talks on Writing

Inspiring talks from authors and thinkers about the craft of storytelling and writing.

Our favourites are:

NaNoWriMo's Official YouTube Channel

Filled with pep talks, writing advice, and participant testimonials. You’ll love it.

Writing playlists to set the mood

Finally, every writer needs a good playlist. Whether it's soft background music or an epic soundtrack, music can set the tone for your writing session.

We’ve compiled some mood-based playlists to help you get in the right zone:

You’ve won NaNoWriMo! Now what?

❤️ NaNoWriMo winners get special rewards from sponsors. If you win NaNoWriMo in 2024, you’ll get a voucher code for 70% off First Draft Pro’s premium plan!

Whether you're dancing around or relaxing on the couch, make sure you take a moment to celebrate! What’s next?

  • Take a break from typing and wait for all that caffeine to wear off. Your writing will still be there when you return, and you might feel better and have new ideas.
  • Read it from start to finish when you have a clear head. Even better: read it aloud. You’ll notice a whole host of things you missed before.
  • Enlist a beta reader who will give you honest and constructive feedback. Make sure you pick someone who really loves the type of book you’re writing and who will “get” the genre. First Draft Pro has a great shared excerpt feature for this exact purpose!