National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month - NANOWRIMO

Nanowri—what??? Huh? What’s that thing you do again? I get this reaction from friends and family almost every year coming into November. The word is “Nanowrimo”—which stands for “National Novel Writing Month”. It was started by Chris Baty in Oakland. He wanted to become a writer, but always failed at following through with actually creating a novel. He had the talent, he had some ideas, and he had the time. His genius was realizing what he really needed was a deadline! So in 1999, he and a few friends decided to get together and write 1667 words every day for a month. That added up to a 50,000-word novel. The following year, about one hundred people participated. The year after that, over one thousand people joined. And it’s been growing bigger and bigger every year. In 2020 (according to, over 552,335 writers participated worldwide. This includes nearly 100,000 students and educators in their Young Writers program. Almost 500 libraries (including here at San Jose Public Library before the pandemic), bookstores, and community centers opened their doors to Nanowrimo participants through their “Come Write In” program.

Pantser or Planner? Tricks, Tips and How to Survive

Some people like to go by “the seat of their pants” when it comes to their November novel—just dive on in, and see where it leads. Others plan meticulously for months, writing up character sketches and plots and outlines. I’m personally sort of in the middle—I’ll jot down a few notes and think it through for several weeks ahead of time, but when November 1st begins, I dive right on in with whatever I’ve thought of so far.

Not everyone finishes with 50,000 words by the end of the month, and that’s okay. At least you dove in and participated. There are a few insider’s secrets to winning, however. My favorite tip is to tell all your family and friends—this is MY time. The dishes are done, the bed is made, and tell your Significant Other that they get to pop the dinner in the microwave for the next thirty days. Get as many chores out of the way as possible. You’ve got a novel to write this month!

Another word of personal advice is to get ahead on word count—1667 words per day—as early in the month as possible. There will inevitably be a day when you can’t hack out the required 1667 words. Something will come up, and it will be unavoidable. But if you’ve written 3,334 words on November 1st, you can recover and continue the next day because you have a day in the hole and are prepared.

But perhaps the most important thing is to remember—this is for you. This is what you’ve always wanted to do and you know you have it in you. Nobody may ever read what you’ve written, but there have been many novels that started through Nanowrimo which have gone on to commercial success—Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Cinder by Marissa Mayer, and more. Check out Megan Maloy’s great blog from November, 2019 with other great titles that began as Nanowrimo novels.

The Fun

The best part for me has been the participation and the celebrations. There’s an introduction meeting. There are “write-ins” throughout each week where the participants take over entire coffee shops or other establishments with their power cords and computers and type away. Sometimes there’s talk—“what should I do about…?” or “I can’t figure out how to wrap this plot up…” and others suggest “plot ninjas”—if you’re at an impasse in your writing, just throw a ninja in it to shake things up. There’s also a “halfway there” party up in the Santa Cruz Mountains that’s a potluck and a LOT of fun. Lastly, there’s the TGIO party in early December—“Thank God It’s Over”. Well, it’s not REALLY over, but only until the next November when you get to do it all again.

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, there will be no in-person events this year, but hopefully next year things will open up again and the fun can continue!

One (Small) Criticism

Although I’ve “won” every single year, the quality of the writing I’ve done so far has been very poor. I’ve only once wrote a piece in my entire eleven years that I felt was worthy of being read by anyone else. They encourage you not to edit as you’re writing, but I’ve found that once December comes I’m no longer interested in editing what I’ve written. I just pile the manuscript with all the others and forget about it. Perhaps at some point I’ll find something to sink my teeth into after November and the TGIO party is over, but that has yet to happen.


National Novel Writing Month has become a global phenomenon, and looks to keep growing for the foreseeable future. The South Bay group is very strong and we have many participants involved in the program. It’s a great way to make friends, explore a few new coffee shops and maybe even get some writing done as well.

I’m grateful for Nanowrimo because it’s forced me to sit down and write, and to do it in the company of fellow writers with the same urge I’ve always had but never accomplished writing a novel until this program came along. I haven’t found that one novel that has swept me away yet—but that hasn’t stopped me from participating. And if I get stuck with what comes next, I’ll just throw a ninja in to shake things up. It’s how novels end up getting written!

Other Great Writing Events at SJPL

Short Edition

Do you love to write but don't feel ready to take on an entire novel? Submit original short stories and poems through the library's submission portal and get feedback on your work from the San Jose Public Library's Short Edition team.  If selected, your work will be featured in the library's Short Edition collection and will be available for print at select library locations.

SJ Story Map Contest

Having trouble thinking of topics to write about? The public library and San Jose State University have teamed up to bring you the SJ Story Map Contest.  The SJ Story Map is an innovative, interactive map of San Jose that showcases the experiences, memories, and stories of students and residents of all ages.  If your submission is selected, your work will be published online, and you will be honored at the awards ceremony in 2022. 

LocalLit 2021

Have you already published a novel or novella?  Join successful local authors who will be reading selections from their work and sharing their experiences writing and publishing at our 9th annual LocalLit celebration, which will be held on December 5, 2021. For more information, you may contact