Have you ever been struck by a stroke of creative genius, or woken up from a dream thinking, “that would make an awesome story?” Now is your chance to bring it to life. November, and with it, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is just around the corner. Founded in 1999, NaNoWriMo is based on the premise that anyone can complete a 50,000 word novel in 30 days by writing approximately 1,667 words a day. A writer “wins” the contest if they achieve their goal word limit in the set amount of time. The Varsity spoke with Paloma Griffin, a fourth-year political science specialist and NaNoWriMo veteran, about her experience.

“I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo since I was 14. I’ve won once, in 2009, and in 2010 I got over 50,000 words but I had set myself a goal of 75,000 words so I can’t really count that one as ‘winning.’ Since then it hasn’t been so much about winning, as it has been about the experience. Getting together with groups of people to hammer out our daily word count and trying to get our creative gears going is a good enough reward in itself,” she explained.

A few of Griffin’s past plot points have included a runaway bride turned pirate, a man who falls in love with a sentient puppet, and a wife’s struggles to free her husband from an alternate universe. Most of her stories have contained elements of the supernatural. She explained that, “fantasy is a good place to start, because it means if you are stuck in a rut, boom, a magic flying lion can come out of nowhere and stir up your plot. Flying lions don’t have anything to do with your story? Doesn’t matter! It’s fantasy, and it’s WriMo. Anything goes, and whatever boosts your word count is fair game.”

When asked about the difficulty of handling the challenge on top of schoolwork, she admitted it’s been a struggle. “In all honesty, it’s really tough, but I swear it’s worth it. A lot of my success has to do with my friends though — if I arrive at their houses at 10:30 after my shift, and I’m a mess and exhausted, they’ll say “Tea first, and then we’ll get started.” She described trying to do 15-minute writing “sprints” involving a few hundred words, with five minute breaks in between.

If you’re embarking on your first NaNoWriMo experience this year, Griffin’s advice is to not worry about winning the first time around. “People rarely win their first, because it’s something that takes practice and preparation,” she explained. “Remember that no matter how god-awful you think your writing is, you never have to show anyone it ever again, or even read it yourself if you don’t want to. The point is that you’re getting out those words.”

NaNoWriMo has attracted around 300,000 participants for each of the past few years. Notable published NaNoWriMo works include Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. The most valuable part of the challenge, however, is not the winning. “People should try NaNoWriMo for the sheer experience of it,” expressed Griffin. “I mean if you think writing an essay is hard, try pumping out 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s not easy — it takes discipline, and determination, and a lot of caffeine. But most of all, I find it takes teamwork. NaNoWriMo is not a solitary event, it’s co-operative. Having a WriMo team keeps up your motivation, keeps you accountable for your daily word count, and keeps you feeling guilty enough that you have to continue, because your friends are doing it too and there’s no way you can let them suffer alone.”

NaNoWriMo Dos and Don’ts:


1) Have an intriguing idea to pursue. Vaguely flesh out the main characters and the conflict so that you have something to fall back on.

2) Find a writing buddy or a writing group so that you’ll have company into when writing into the wee hours of the night.

3) Tell everyone you know about your project so that you’ll feel pressured to finish. As Griffin puts it, “when your family asks ‘did you ever do that story thing?’ nothing feels better than answering ‘Yeah, I kicked its ass. I won.’ And nothing feels worse than saying ‘Yeah no, I gave up halfway through. It was too much.’

4) Attend the weekly write-in sessions at various Starbucks locations around the city

5) Sprint. Set aside blocks of time to write, even if it’s just half an hour a day. Get comfortable, have a pot of tea by your side, and turn off all connections to the outside world.


1) Do not re-read or revise! Don’t get sidetracked in trying to garner perfection. Remember that that’s not the point of NaNoWriMo.

2) Don’t feel obliged to stick to a pre-determined plot. Let your story take shape on its own and surprise you.

3) Don’t slack off, especially at the beginning of the month. It’s important to get off to a strong start since it is very easy lose momentum and quickly fall behind.

4) Don’t lose hope. Even if you do fall behind, it’s possible to catch up even in the last few days.

5) Don’t worry about winning. Any word count is impressive with a full-time university course load. The important part is having fun and being proud of yourself for trying.