Beyond NaNoWriMo: Writing Challenges for Everyone

Absolute Blank

By Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

Every October, the internet buzzes as thousands of writers start thinking about characters and plots in anticipation of National Novel Writing Month. Meanwhile, others start grumbling about why they won’t be participating in NaNoWriMo. We’ve all heard these complaints (or uttered them ourselves):

  • “I’m too busy in November.”
  • “I write, but not fiction (or novels).”
  • “Real writers write every day, not just in November.”
  • “I don’t like the shitty first draft approach to writing; I prefer to take my time.”
  • “I’ve already finished a novel. Now I need to edit (or sell) it.”
  • “50,000 words isn’t a novel.”
  • “50,000 words? I could never write that much.”
  • “I should finish what I’ve started before I start something new.”

And so on. I hear you. NaNoWriMo may be the oldest and best known online writing challenge, but it’s not for everyone. Maybe you’re new to writing and the challenge is just too intimidating. Maybe you’re a seasoned professional and you don’t need an intense month-long challenge to spur you to write. Whatever your rationale (or excuse), it’s okay. But just because NaNoWriMo isn’t right for you doesn’t mean you should disregard writing challenges altogether. In recent years, a variety of writing challenges have sprung up, making it possible for just about any writer to find a challenge to suit.

So what’s a writing challenge? Like a contest, a challenge sets out parameters for participation, but unlike a contest, anyone who completes the task “wins” and the only prizes are personal satisfaction (and perhaps a badge to display on your website). A challenge is also similar to a resolution, but its goals are more specific and concrete. Its main allure is that it’s a communal endeavor as well as an individual one. Each participant is in charge of her own fate as she works toward the goal, but at the same time, all participants, who are each working toward the same goal, agree to support and encourage each other in their efforts. Challenges build community.

While just having a concrete goal to work toward can be motivating in itself, working toward it with a group of people doing the same can more so, because all those doubts you have about your ability to succeed are mitigated. Not enough time? Wait, here’s someone with even less free time than you. If he can do it, why can’t you? Hit a wall? Well, that happened to a friend last week and she wrote about how she got through it. And the same is true in reverse. A challenge gets you out of your own head—fretting about yourself and what you can’t do—and into the space of encouraging and supporting fellow writers. And that helps you focus on what you can do.

Finally, writing challenges put writing into terms that non-writers can understand. And this is where a challenge can be of value to even the most self-motivated writer. You may well be disciplined enough to write without needing a challenge. But how accommodating are your friends and family? If finding time to write is a constant battle, if your family and friends just don’t get why you’re always staring at that screen, if they’re always nagging you to do something else when you’re trying to write, a challenge can be the perfect opportunity to get them on board.

Participating in a writing challenge for a writer is much like participating in a running event for a runner. Suddenly you’re not out there on your own “just writing.” You’re working toward [specific goal] with all these other people who are doing the same thing. It makes what you’re doing real for the non-writer and it allows you to say to those who would sabotage you (intentionally or not), “I must write today in order to reach [specific goal] by [deadline]. When I reach [specific goal], we’ll celebrate. Until then, bear with me and don’t forget to cheer me on!”

Beyond NaNoWriMo: Writing Challenges for Everyone


Picture Book Dummy Challenge
Founded by the #kidlitchat administrators (@kidlitchat) in 2011.
Challenge: create and submit a picture book dummy over 25 weeks.
Aimed at: author/illustrators, but “writers who are not artists can benefit from portions of the dummy exercise, and illustrators without an original manuscript can use the process to create a dummy portfolio piece.”
Hashtag: #PBDummy


National Novel Editing Month (@NaNoEdMo)
Founded at in 2003; moved to in 2007. Meet the NaNoEdMo staff.
Challenge: spend 50 hours editing a novel during the month.
Aimed at: people who completed NaNoWriMo and now want to edit their novels.
Hashtag: #NaNoEdMo

is National Poetry Month.
Created by the Academy of American Poets (@poetsorg) in 1996:

National Poetry Month is a month-long, national celebration of poetry established by the Academy of American Poets. The concept is to widen the attention of individuals and the media—to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern.

National Poetry Writing Month
Founded by poet Maureen Thorson (@maureenthorson) in 2003.
Challenge: write 30 poems in 30 days.
Aimed at: poets and anyone else who wants to write poetry.
Hashtag: #NaPoWriMo

Script Frenzy (@scriptfrenzy)
Founded by the Office of Letters and Light (the people behind NaNoWriMo) in 2007.
Challenge: write 100 pages of original scripted material in 30 days.
Aimed at: individuals or writing teams of two people who want to write a script.
Hashtag: #scriptfrenzy

is National Short Story Month.
Created by Dan Wickett (@DanWickett) in 2007:

While the poets of the world have shrewdly united to have April be National Poetry Month every year, creating a fair amount of attention for their craft, we (proverbial) here at the EWN have decided that we sort of like concentrating on one form for a lengthy period of time, so we’re declaring that around here, May will be Short Story Month.

Hashtag: #ssm[year] (e.g. #ssm2012) or #nashostomo

National Picture Book Writing Week
Founded by Paula Yoo (@PaulaYoo) in 2009.
Challenge: write 7 first drafts of picture books in 7 days (May 1-7).
Aimed at: anyone who wants to write a children’s picture book.
Hashtag: #napibowriwee

Story a Day
Founded by Julie Duffy (@StoryaDayMay) in 2010.
Challenge: write a short story every day in May.
Aimed at: anyone who wants to write short fiction.
Hashtag: #storyaday or #storyadaymay

Note: these are two separate July novel-writing challenges.

July National Writing Month (@julnawrimo)
Founded by Reannon in 2004.
Challenge: write a 50,000-word novel in 31 days.
Aimed at: anyone who wants to try a NaNoWriMo-style challenge in July.
Hashtag: #JulNaWriMo

July Novel Writing Month (@julnowrimo)
Founded by Robert Watson in 2005.
Challenge: write a 50,000-word novel in 31 days.
Aimed at: anyone who wants to try a NaNoWriMo-style challenge in July.
Hashtag: #JulNoWriMo


Write Fifteen Minutes a Day Challenge
Founded by Laurie Halse Anderson (@HalseAnderson) in 2008
Challenge: Commit to write for 15 minutes a day for the entire month of August.
Aimed at: anyone who wants to write: “You can write fiction, non-fiction, memoir, or poetry.”
Hashtag: #wfmad


Toasted Cheese’s Mini-Nano Challenge
Founded by Theryn Fleming (@theryn) in 2011.
Challenge: Write 5,000-words of fiction in September.
Aimed at: people who want a NaNoWriMo warm-up and those looking for a less-intimidating alternative
Hashtag: #TCmininano

is Picture Book Month.
Created by Dianne de Las Casas (@storyconnection) in 2011:

In October 2010, the New York Times published an article that declared “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children.” It set the children’s book world on fire and it set me on fire. In September 2011, I had the idea to create a campaign, an international initiative designating November as Picture Book Month.

Hashtag: #PictureBookMonth

National Novel Writing Month (@NaNoWriMo + @NaNoWordSprints)
Founded by Chris Baty (@chrisbaty) in 1999.
Challenge: write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.
Aimed at: anyone who wants to write a novel.
Note: NaNoWriMo has a Young Writers Program (@NaNoWriMoYWP) for people aged 17-and-under and school groups, which allows them to set their own word count goals. Teens 13-and-older who want to participate in the 50k challenge can register at the main site.
Hashtag: #NaNoWriMo

National Playwriting Month
Founded by Dorothy Lemoult in 2006.
Challenge: write a 75-page script for a stage play in 30 days. Note: no screenplays.
Aimed at: individual playwrights, as an alternative to NaNoWriMo
Hashtag: #NaPlWriMo

Picture Book Idea Month
Founded by Tara Lazar (@taralazar) in 2010.
Challenge: create 30 new picture book ideas in 30 days.
Aimed at: picture book writers, as an alternative to NaNoWriMo
Hashtag: #PiBoIdMo

National Novel Querying Month
Founded by Tracy Buscemi (@TracyDawn2802) in 2011.
Challenge: send 1 query to 1 agent every day for 30 days.
Aimed at: writers with complete, polished manuscripts they are ready to send out.
Hashtag: #NaNoQuerMo

Academic Book Writing Month (@PhD2Published)
Founded by Charlotte Frost (@charlottefrost) in 2011.
Challenge: write a 50,000-word academic book in 30 days.
Aimed at: academics, as an alternative to NaNoWriMo
Hashtag: #AcBoWriMo


100 Words (@100words)
Founded by Jeff Koyen in 2001.
Challenge: write exactly 100 words a day, every day, for one month
Aimed at: anyone who wants to participate in “an exercise in disciplined creativity.”
Hashtag: #100words

Toasted Cheese Daily Writing Prompts
Founded by Toasted Cheese (@toasted_cheese) in 2002.
Challenge: use the daily prompt to jumpstart your writing.
Aimed at: anyone who enjoys the challenge of writing in response to a prompt.
Hashtag: #TCPrompts

National Blog Posting Month (@NaBloPoMo)
Founded by Eden Kennedy (@MrsKennedy) in 2006. Now run by BlogHer (@BlogHer).
Challenge: write a blog post every day for a month.
Aimed at: anyone who wants to blog daily.
Hashtag: #NaBloPoMo

One-Sentence Journal
Founded by Gretchen Rubin (@gretchenrubin) in 2006.
Challenge: write one sentence each day about what happened that day.
Aimed at: people who want to keep a journal/diary, but find the idea too daunting.
Hashtag: #thehappinessproject

Inkygirl Wordcount Challenge
Founded by Debbie Ridpath Ohi (@inkyelbows) in 2009.
Challenge: write 250, 500 or 1,000 words a day, six days a week.
Aimed at: writers who want to commit to an achievable writing goal on an ongoing basis.
Hashtag: see Debbie’s list of Twitter “slow chats” for hashtags you can use.

750 Words (@750words)
Founded by Buster Benson in 2010.
Challenge: write 750 words (the equivalent of 3 pages) each morning.
Aimed at: writers who want to journal in the spirit of The Artist’s Way‘s morning pages, but online. Note: All entries made on the site are private.
Hashtag: #750words

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