National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) is a love it or hate it once a year event where participants are encouraged to write 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November. I’ve done it seven times successfully so far, so what’s one more?
Nanowrimo was started in 1999 by Chris Baty as a way to write that novel everyone is always talking about writing but never does. It condenses all of my favorite things about writing in one place: taking an idea and just driving it in to the ground no matter what the consequences are. 50,000 words in 30 days is a difficult but no undoable goal but only if you either have a ton of free OR you do not care what type of dribble comes out of your brain and on to the page. The point is to lower your standards enough to just push through the novel writing process because editing is much easier than writing.
I’ve been participating in Nanowrimo for 12 years. I have “won” 7 of those years though most of the things I wrote were kind of pure drivel not even worth editing. That might make it seem like it’s not a worthy endeavor to do but sometimes it just helps me think through weird ideas that I had in the back of my head and at other times it just proves to me that I could write every day if I really wanted to. I have things to say, even if they’re no good and they sometimes end in deus ex werewolf (don’t ask).
There are two basic strategies that people employ: planning or pantsing – aka flying by the seat of your pants and I’ve tried both extensively and can tell you it’s just a how you feel thing.
Not everyone needs to write a novel (well a novella if we’re being honest with how few 50k words are) but for people with one big idea and a desire to say “I wrote a novel” there are worse decisions you can make.
Personally I like the challenge and I like the idea of setting aside a lot of the things you’re working on for a month to just try to write something fun and freeing. I often like to try my hand at new genres and styles during Nanowrimo. Once I even broke the “rules” and continued writing a novel I had already been writing. At the end of the day there are no real rules because you never really win. Winning comes in the form of an emotional response to accomplishing a goal since anyone can put 50,000 words of nonsense in the online validator and receive a PDF print-out.
I don’t get too worked up about Nanowrimo anymore because I’m jaded and have accomplished the task several times but I decided that I will be doing it again this year because I had a cool idea but no actual motivation to write it up.
I do have a few tips though which I should keep in mind myself and for people who are taking the plunge for the first time (or if you’ve started Nanowrimo previously but never hit the finish line yourself):
- Make sure you eat, sleep, drink water, and stretch regularly. Ignoring any of these to write is a mistake as it will make your writing worse AND slower.
- Keep easy meals around for grab and go: ready made salad, crackers and cheese, and a piece of a fruit is a 5 minute meal that fills you up and isn’t awful for you.
- Go easy on the caffeine. Caffeine can help you burn a little midnight oil but it mostly just makes you tired and slow in the long run.
- The odds are good you will find writing the first 10,000 words not too difficult and things will get AWFUL for a while after that. Just keeping plodding away, it’ll get easier.
- You do not have to write linearly!
- While 1,337 words doesn’t seem like a lot it can be some days. Know that you will absolutely not hit that number every day unless you’re a machine.
- If you’re on a streak, try and keep at it uninterrupted as long as possible. If you have to stop a streak and you have more ideas SUMMARIZE THEM IN YOUR DOCUMENT ASAP.
- If you’re stuck try write or die.
- If you’re too distracted to write, there’s always ZenWriter.
- Out of ideas? Randomizers for characters, subjects, objects, you name it!
- If you only write X amount during the whole month, that’s still X more than you would have written without Nanowrimo and that’s a victory.
- If your story comes out terrible and needs to be rewritten, that’s a victory because it means you’re thinking through the story in a new way and you have 11 months before you have to do Nanowrimo again – perfect time to take more time and really get in to the nuts and bolts and what did and didn’t work for your story
So I think that’s about all the advice I have and for those attempting to write, good luck and I’ll see you in the winners circle!