November is nearly upon us and many writers are gearing up for what has now become an almost sacred artistic ritual: National Novel Writing Month (#NaNoWriMo). Starting November 1, countless writers — both amateurs and professionals — will begin their 1,666-word-per-day pilgrimages toward a finished rough draft novel manuscript.

There’s only one problem: What if you’re not a novel writer?

In this post, I’ll share fifteen alternatives to NaNo that are especially tailored to nonfiction writers and academics.

  1. Write an academic article draft or book chapter. You could devote one week to drafting each section, or make a detailed outline ahead of time and pick one item on that outline to draft each day. To focus on the drafting/ writing process, select a topic or project you’ve already done most of the writing for. If you like having a daily word count goal, aim for 300 words per day, which will amount to a 9,000-word article or chapter. This may be slightly higher than the recommended word count for most journals, but you will likely be cutting the word count down during the editing process. Make sure to follow along with fellow academic writers during the month of November with the hashtag #NaAcWriMo!
  2. Finish a previous writing project that’s fallen through the cracks. Is there a half-finished book, essay, chapter, or proposal you started once when the passion was strong but forgot when real life and other priorities stole your attention? Set aside a month to dig it out of oblivion and bring it back to life. A friend of mine told me that instead of writing a novel in November, she’d be finishing one. She called it NaNoFiMo — she has a nearly finished manuscript that just takes some light editing and a few more chapters. Whatever your unfinished project is, size it up before November comes and map out an ultimate goal (e.g. finish final section of my article, write intro for my book, format footnotes for that one conference paper I managed to turn into an article). Then develop a schedule or incremental benchmark-style goals you can work toward to finish what needs to be done.
  3. Rework a failed, rejected, or shame-inducing draft that still shows potential. Rejection and struggle is part of a writer’s life. Just because a manuscript has been rejected in the past doesn’t mean the ideas aren’t worth pursuing or finessing. If you have a draft that hasn’t been as successful as you’d like, consider setting aside your writing time in November to breathe new life into it. Especially if you have some shame surrounding the rejection, knowing that you are only devoting a limited amount of time to it can incentivize you to face it. I would suggest using November to start from scratch — look at the old draft, but once Nov 1 hits, try free-rewriting the thing in an entirely new document without copying and pasting. Try to rewrite it with the ideas fresh in your mind as you see them now, not trying to recall and regurgitate exactly how you saw it when you wrote the initial draft. Later, after you’ve gotten a new draft, you can go back and reincorporate portions of the initial draft that did work and are still relevant.
  4. Write a 1–2,000-word essay or blog post each day around a central theme. Perhaps these chunks of writing can be turned into a book later, but for now you’re focusing on drafting ~2,000-word selections that have with a clear, thematic center as well as a beginning, middle, and end. It helps to select a theme ahead of time or a series of related topics so you won’t have to spend precious writing time trying to come up with something on the spot everyday. Example themes include: loss, childhood memories, time management strategies, healing relationships, or skills that are important in your industry. If you hope to edit these essays or posts into publishable content, choose themes or topics align with your intended audience or current platform.
  5. Write a memoir draft. Instead of a novel, write a memoir. Like NaNo, aim for roughly 50,000 words over the course of November, which evens out to 1,667 words every day or 2,272 words every weekday. Remember that memoirs are not the same thing as autobiographies — they are not chronicles of your entire life. Instead, they tend to focus on one experience or struggle and how you came to terms with it or moved past it. If memoir writing is your November jam, check out this site to hook yourself up with a community of like-minded writers.
  6. Keep a research journal for 30 days. Maybe you’ve just finished a major project or are still in the research phase of another one. Or maybe there is some other reason why you are just not in the right headspace to do a whole bunch of writing at the moment. If that’s the case, consider using November to start and maintain a research journal. This kind of notebook helps you to keep a record of what you’re reading and use writing to formulate, digest, and respond to others’ ideas rather than just your own. This is a helpful enterprise for folks who want to be writing but don’t currently have the juice to strike out on their own creative journey right this second. In your notebook (or Word file), free write about connections you see between ideas, what works and doesn’t work in the material you read, and how that material sparks your own ideas — whether or not those ideas seem profound at present, or whether they have immediate potential to spark a new project. We spend so much time in our culture thinking about output and deliverables, it’s fine to spend some time simply being with the books and ideas that inform your field or genre.
  7. Write a book proposal. Maybe you have a book project that you’re itching to write but aren’t quite ready to start drafting yet. In many nonfiction genres, I recommend writing a rough draft proposal before starting to write any of the chapters, because it helps you focus and fine-tune your idea as well as start thinking about your intended audience. Writing a book proposal is also about researching — your niche, market, readership, and topic — so make sure you incorporate that when you make your plan for November.
  8. Write for ___ minutes/ hours per day. Instead of focusing on word count or a finished product, use November to establish or re-establish a daily writing routine. Before November 1, decide on a daily time goal you would and have a general plan for how you will use that time — what will you be writing during that time? Even if you’re not trying to write a book or finish a project during the month, you do need to give yourself an assignment so you have a reason to write for the amount of time you’ve chosen. For optimal success, also factor the when, where, and how into your plan: when / where will you write everyday and how will you avoid distractions?
  9. Try a totally new genre. Maybe you’re an academic who wants to try blogging about your research, maybe you’re a creative nonfiction writer who wants to write a more academically minded study. Whatever the case, November could be a great time to dive into a new genre. After all, it’s only a month and what have you got to lose? Decide on a goal, decide on the increments it will take to get there, and dive in!
  10. Do a combination of two or more of the above. Do you find it daunting to stick to one goal or task everyday? Are your current writing priorities made up of several small projects? November might be a good opportunity to work toward a select number of goals. Decide on a few (I’d limit it to three) writing goals you’d like to work toward, and chose how you will divide up the month. For example, you could spend the first 15 days writing a book proposal for a new book, and the second 15 days freewriting a rough draft of the first chapter for that book. Or you could work on a memoir on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, write short blog posts about your memoir-writing experiences to build your platform.

What are you planning on working on during November? How will you segment and incrementalize your writing goals this month?

This story was originally published on my editing and writing coaching blog,
www.thewritersloom.com. Stop by for more writing tips, resources, and strategies!