Lifehacker Takes On The NaNoWriMo Challenge

Lifehacker Takes On The NaNoWriMo Challenge

The arrival of November signals National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo), a project which challenges participants to write a complete novel of at least 50,000 words in a month. This year, Lifehacker will be taking part. Here’s why.

Leaving aside my penchant for slightly over the top projects which run for extended periods of time, I really need to get a book written. When I became a freelance writer back at the end of 2000, one of my main ambitions was to actually produce a book-length work. Since then, I’ve written proposals and done research for perhaps a dozen non-fiction works and a similar number of novels, but I’ve always ended up getting side-tracked into day-to-day writing work for magazines and sites. Having a fixed deadline will force me to actually finish something.

I also figure that trying to do this will cover off a bunch of themes which get written about here on Lifehacker pretty regularly:

  • how to organise your life so you can take on big projects and meet major deadlines;
  • tools and techniques for overcoming procrastination and writer’s block;
  • useful software for distraction-free writing;
  • using portable technology to get work done on the road.

I come to the project with an obvious advantage. I write for a living, so the thought of producing at least 1,700 words a day doesn’t scare me particularly. On the other hand, I still have to keep writing for my day job, and I’ve had much more practice at non-fiction than fiction. The last time I wrote a novel-length piece of fiction was in high school, and that particular piece of teen angst crap would need a hell of a lot of rewriting to be tolerable to anyone else. (Which is not what I’m doing for NaNoWriMo, BTW; the project requires something new started from scratch.)

I’ll be running brief posts three times a week detailing my progress, the tools I’m using and the lessons I’ve learnt. Having to do that in public will, I hope, ensure I’m one of the 20% or so of participants who actually reach the goal. (Last year, 165,000 people signed up and 30,000 reached the goal). As an added incentive, my brother (who’s already well-known to many readers around here) is also taking on NaNoWriMo, so there’ll be a useful element of sibling rivalry to egg me on.

So come Monday, the novel-writing begins, along with the writing about it. First order of the day (and something I can do before the start date kicks in) will be setting up a dedicated writing machine. Hints, suggestions and critiques are, as ever, welcome in the comments.


  • I’ve somehow convinced myself that this is a good idea as well, and even went out the other day and bought myself a desk so that I could have a dedicated station to sit down and get some writing done. Of course, I planned to test it out that day by writing out a detailed outline of the story I want to write for NaNo. . . so far that hasn’t happened, which doesn’t bode particularly well.

    Good luck to all who are trying this impossible task.

    • I forgot to mention, for those that don’t know Scrivener now has a Windows beta and the trial of Scrivener 2.0 for Mac (which includes some shiny new features such as SimpleNote synchronising) are available, with a trial period that will last the length of NaNoWriMo (they are a sponsor after all).

  • Planning on Camping in the city after work and not being allowed to go home untill I get my days words done. I lasted till day 6 last year!

    The Sydney Nanowrimo group is getting quite huge as well. There are meet ups and write ins organised too to keep people on track.

  • This is a fantastic concept and something I’l love to give a try in the future. I can’t imagine getting away with it next month so won’t even try. I’ve managed a little over 120K words on since late May. Unfortunetly this is predominately internal rumbles of a slightly over active mind.

    I’m looking forward to following this Angus, just to clarify are you planning fictional or non-fictional work?

    At the completion of the month is the idea then to publish the works or is this purely a motivation technique?

    • This is my first time, but from all I can tell, it’s purely motivational. As a point of reference, the first Harry Potter book is something in the region of 77,000 words, so 50,000 words really isn’t long enough.

    • Fiction – it’s a novel writing event.

      I’d aim to get it published assuming I think it’s of sufficient quality, but I won’t be thinking about that during the month — too distracting!

  • I am doing Nano for the first time this year too, mostly because I’m a massive perfectionist and I want to do something that doesn’t give me time to worry too much about things.

    I’m looking forward to using FocusWriter! But will naturally be scouring the site to find other options to help me out.

  • write or die is the best (and worst) motivational tool I’ve encountered so far. Depending on which mode you set it to, after a set amount of time it plays a horrible sound ( Car alarm, screechy violin, crying babies and worst of all, the bananaphone song) or else start eating words you’ve just recently typed.

Log in to comment on this story!