NaNoWriMo and Beyond: 9 Writing Challenges for Novelists, Poets and More

by | May 19, 2020 | Craft | 11 comments

Do you have trouble making time to write? Do you wish you had a community to help you work towards your writing goals, including staying on time and finishing your work?

Many writers sign up for writing challenges to help them solve these problems and write a large body of work in a short amount of time — or even to build their practice and discipline of writing consistently.

Besides completing work you can be proud of, participating in writing challenges is amazing because you get to work alongside a group of other writers who all share the same goal: finish that novel, finish that picture book, or write those short stories and poems. You support each other and hold each other accountable.

Writing challenges that will push you forward

If you’re up to the task, we’ve come up with some writing challenges to try, whether you’re a novelist, poet, picture-book writer or something in between.

Here are nine writing challenges to explore.

1. NaNoWriMo

Genre: Novel

This is the one you’ve probably heard of: NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month, has been an annual November tradition since 1999. During NaNoWriMo, writers around the world challenge themselves to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

What’s special about 50,000 words? As NaNoWriMo’s organizers explain: “Our experiences since 1999 show that 50,000 is a difficult but doable goal, even for people with full-time jobs and children. The length makes it a short novel (about the length of The Great Gatsby).”

You’ll need to write about 1,667 words every day to hit this target novel word count, but you won’t be alone; the online NaNoWriMo community helps you track and share your progress while awarding badges for hard work and providing inspiration through interviews with well-known writers and other motivational tools.

Several writers have published novels they initially drafted during NaNoWriMo, including Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. To have the best chance of following in their footsteps, have a through understanding of the rules of NaNoWriMo as well as precisely what you want to get from the experience

If you’re looking for a similar option, check out Camp NaNoWriMo to experience a writing adventure that offers more flexibility. Hosted annually in April and July, you can set your own writing goal and work on any writing project, novel or not.

2. NaPoWriMo

Genre: Poetry

If NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, I bet you can guess what NaPoWriMo stands for.

National Poetry Writing Month takes place every April, and challenges writers to pen 30 poems in 30 days. You’ll have access to daily prompts to help your creative juices flow, but you’re welcome to ignore ‘em, too.

Independently organized, NaPoWriMo is much smaller than NaNoWriMo, so don’t expect your local library to organize NaPoWriMo nights — unless, of course, you want to organize one on your own!

Some writers share their NaPoWriMo poems on their websites or via social media, and help spread their love of poetry while showing off their ability to complete the challenge.

3. StoryADay

Genre: Short stories

So we’ve got novel-writing in November and poetry in April. What about short stories? That’s in May and/or September (or whenever you want!), and it’s called StoryADay.

StoryADay is a little different from NaNoWriMo and NaPoWriMo in that it focuses on completing a short story every day, rather than ending the month with a certain number of stories or a specific word count. But there are rules:

  1. If you miss a day or don’t finish a story, move on. You still have every other day of the month (of your life) which is a new day, on which a new story can be told.
  2. Don’t go back and try to finish yesterday’s story. Leave it. Wash your hands of it. Move on.
  3. As long as you keep writing, you’re not failing.

Starting — and finishing — a new short story everyday sounds like a much harder challenge than writing a 50,000-word novel in a month; but “sometimes you need a big, hairy audacious goal, to scare your Inner Critic into letting you write.”

4. 12 x 12

Genre: Picture books

If you write picture books, you might want to consider signing up for the 12 x 12 writing challenge created by Julie Hedlund, author of My Love For You Is the Sun. The challenge: write 12 picture books in 12 months!

Unlike other writing challenges, 12 x 12 comes with a membership fee. The basic package costs $177 and grants you access to writers’ forums, the member Facebook group, feedback from traditionally-published authors and much more. If you choose the higher level membership — which are only available to people who have already participated in at least one year of 12 x 12 — you get to submit your work directly to participating agents.

Do 12 x 12 writers get published? Absolutely. Check out their list of published writers to get inspired.

While 12 x 12 is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, registration is closed for 2020 and will resume in 2021.

5. ChaBooCha

Genre: Young adult

Young adult writers can use NaNoWriMo to write their books, but there’s also a writing challenge just for them: ChaBooCha, or the Chapter Book Challenge.

Hosted by writer Rebecca Fyfe, ChaBooCha runs every March and challenges you to “Write one completed first draft of an early reader, chapter book, middle-grade book or YA novel,” from the 1st to the 31st of March. 

Your results could be anywhere between 1,000 and 80,000 words, depending on whether you’re putting together an early reader or writing the next book in your YA series. Either way, ChaBooCha is there to help you get the job done, with motivational blog posts from authors, agents and publishers — as well as prizes.

ChaBooCha is open to writers under 17, too! 

6. YeahWrite

Genre: Nonfiction, fiction, poetry, microstories

After reading about all of these programs that challenge you to write 50,000 words or 31 new short stories in a month, are you ready for a writing challenge that’s designed to fit your schedule?

It’s time to check out YeahWrite, a writing site that issues one writing challenge each week for each of three genres: nonfiction, fiction/poetry and microstories.

This writing challenge differs from the others on this list because every week, community members vote on a challenge winner. You’re not only participating in a writing challenge, you’re also getting reviewed by other writers — and you might write well enough to win the week!

YeahWrite is all about community, so it’s free to join. But a paid membership helps keep the site running and gets you access to editorial consultations with YeahWrite editors. There are two membership packages that cost either $25 or $50 per year; each gives you access to editorial evaluations, discounts and more, so check them out!

7. NaNonFiWriMo

Genre: Nonfiction 

The Write Nonfiction in November Challenge (WNFIN) was created by Nina Amir, a coach who inspires writers and bloggers to create published products and careers as authors. Unlike NaNoWriMo, this informal challenge comes with only one rule: You have to commit to starting and finishing a work of nonfiction in a month.

No one counts how many words you write during the month or even checks what you write. You can write any type of nonfiction, such as a magazine article, blog posts, a white paper, or a book.” And your WNFIN project can even be as short or as long as you like.

To help you along with the challenge, you can join the WNFIN Facebook page, and the Remote Writing Room provides you with a virtual group of writers you can chat and write twice per week. Plus, check out Nina’s blog for more inspiration and tips to improve your nonfiction writing process.

Stay tuned for 2020 WNFIN details!

8. 365 Writing Challenge

Genre: All genres are welcome

The benefits of discipline and daily practice can’t be underestimated, and that’s what the 365 Writing Challenge wants to help you develop. Created by Jessica White and her group the 10 Minute Novelists, this challenge has helped hundreds of writers over the past five years write more than 100 million words. To be able to participate, you must be a member of the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook Group.

All you have to do is set aside 10 minutes every day to write, which is about 100 words a day. You can also use that time to reflect on the writing process, set weekly writing goals, or even flesh out a setting or a character. 

Upon choosing a membership tier, you’ll be provided a Google Sheet to help you keep track of your daily word count, and at the beginning of each month, Jessica awards badges for the prior month’s achievements.

It doesn’t matter if you spend 10 minutes or 4 hours a day writing — “the key is consistency so you can grow as a writer and finish your projects.” Look out for 2021 registration details later this year.

9. The Writer’s Games

Genre: Short stories and poetry

The Writer’s Games is a free competition designed to help each individual writer improve his or her craft at an accelerated rate. ​This free six-week, multi-challenge writing competition comes with feedback for every entry, opportunities for publication throughout the competition, and the ability to use judge feedback on previous entries to improve them. 

Here’s how it works: Each week starting in May and September, a surprise Event is announced and writers have 72 hours to create a short story or poem that fits the Event requirements. Every entry received before the deadline is judged and critiqued by a team and winners are published in a charitable anthology.

And don’t worry about being eliminated — every registered writer is encouraged to try each of the six Events, even if one of their previous stories was disqualified, which is rare.

Registration opens April 1 and August 1 for two separate portions, and keep in mind that space is limited.

So, are you ready to take on one of these writing challenges?

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

Photo via G-Stock Studio / Shutterstock