by James Scott Bell
Yes, it’s almost here, November—which is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This singular event challenges writers all over the world to complete a 50,000 word (or more) novel in only one month.
I’ve participated a few times in the past and produced a couple of published books out of it. (Not, I quickly note, without a lot of revision work!) While that is all well and good, there is perhaps a better reason for jumping in—to recapture the joy of writing.
I love the NaNo vibe. Writers writing. Newbies trying. Keyboards clacking. Coffee brewing. Possibilities awakening. It’s a major accomplishment to finish a novel. To do it in one month is astounding.
Of course, it’ll only be a first and very rough draft. But it will exist. You can let it sit for a month and then figure out what to do with it. One likely outcome is that you’ll use it as a “discovery draft” that now allows you to structure a re-write. Another is that the novel never sees the light of day. That’s fine, so long as you get some writing lessons out of it. Analyze the draft. Judge your craft. Make a plan to strengthen your skills.
At the very least you will have proved something to yourself. Unless you’re a full-time writer, averaging 1667 words a day is hard. Doing so for a month stretches you. When you get back to your normal rate of production, try to up it by 10% now that you’ve gone through NaNo.
Here are three other NaNo tips:
NaNoWriMo is catnip for pantsers. But a little planning (starting today) can make all the difference in your final product.
First, take a day to do some free-form journaling on your idea. Who it’s about, why it matters, why anybody should care. Jot down scene ideas that come to mind, in random order.
Second, take one day to define your concept with a three sentence “elevator pitch.” This will be your plumb line, what keeps you from getting too far away from the essence of your story. Even if you go down rabbit trails, you can use this to get yourself back on the main track. (On the form of an elevator pitch, see my TKZ post here.)
Finally, brainstorm a tentative “mirror moment” for your main character. This beacon of light will help you find your way if you get stuck in the dark.
Check out my 10 tips for powering through NaNoWriMo.
Try to get a “nifty 350” words done the very first thing in the morning (or second, after you get the coffee going … hey, maybe invest in a coffee maker with a timer!)
Don’t edit your work except for a quick review of your daily pages. If you can do that review right before hitting the sack, so much the better. Your “boys in the basement” will work through the night and you can dive into writing the next morning.
Go to NaNoWriMo.org and sign up. It’s free, and will give you access to “pep talks” and local groups of participants.
Even if you’re not going for a NaNoWriMo “win,” you can still use November to re-charge your writing batteries. Cheer others on via social media and get excited about their progress. Use that positive energy in your own writing. Set a November goal. Try upping your quota for the month. Or complete the development of a new project.
But whatever you do, do it with a sort of wild abandon. Be a “crazy dumbsaint of the mind,” as Kerouac put it. Repossess your writing mojo. Then spread that out for a year, when you’ll come up to November again!
Anyone planning on doing NaNoWriMo this year? How about your past experience with it? Any tips for those who are about to try?
I’ve signed up to Nanowrimo for the first time. Thanks for the tips/links – I’m going to check them out. Any other advice from commenters would be gratefully received.
Good luck, Lita. Tape a little sign to your computer: “Have fun.”
The first time I did NaNoWriMo, I almost gave up because I didn’t understand the power of an outline. I thought cramming that much writing into a month would produce icky results anyway, so why bother with an outline? I was wrong. An outline would have given me some direction so I wouldn’t haven gotten stuck at day 20 wondering what the characters were going to do next. I muscled through it, and the results were worse than I could have imagined. Lesson learned!
It was a big confidence builder, though. I proved to myself that I could put fanny in seat and produce. Every. Single. Day.
An outline would have given me some direction so I wouldn’t haven gotten stuck at day 20 wondering what the characters were going to do next.
I want to give you a hug.
This year will be my fourth NaNo and I’m filled with equal parts excitement and dread. I love the encouragement and feelings of doing something hard with people from all over the world. I dread the late nights finishing my word count and falling behind on laundry, family time & exercise. Your tips are great for newbies. I will definitely add the mirror moment to my prep plan. When I get mired in the middle of week 3, I bet that will carry me for a few good writing sessions. Thanks and happy NaNo!
Kelly, that pressure is a little bit of what it feels like to have a contract and impending deadline with bookstores having already order your title. That’s something writers should know about, so in that way it’s really another benefit of the crazy month of November.
glass half full, eh?
When I was sitting in my coffee shop working Friday I overheard three women talking about their NaNo projects. It was all I could do to not butt in, but it was fun to hear their enthusiasm. I should try it. I just finished the WIP yesterday and am now loafing, watching football and old movies (I heartily recommend Lana Turner and Kirk Douglas in The Bad and the Beautiful).
Oh yeah, I love the Bad and the Beautiful.
Go for it, Kris. The movies will still be there for you in December.
I tried it one year. I became a very worse human being. NaNoWriMo is apparently for people who have the capability of not screaming at one’s computer while trying to write a novel of dubious worth. (Mine was of dubious worth. I thank the gremlins of word processing that it died in the inwards of my computer when my computer died.)
Yeah, my longsuffering wife knows all about impending deadlines and NaNo madness…
Great post, as always! What I really appreciated about this one was the “permission” we should give ourselves to use that month for an important goal besides the 50,000 words:
“Even if you’re not going for a NaNoWriMo “win,” you can still use November to re-charge your writing batteries. Cheer others on via social media and get excited about their progress. Use that positive energy in your own writing. Set a November goal. Try upping your quota for the month. Or complete the development of a new project.”
I’m using November to sharpen my 1,000-word synopsis and 3,000-word first chapter(s) of my 2018 Debut Dagger entry
Really appreciate this blog
I always seem to be working on a book in my series when NaNo comes around, so I’ve never participated. Best of luck to those who do!
Wow. Just wow. In what other worthwhile endeavors are participants actually encouraged to do sloppy work for the express purpose of coming back later to “fix” it?
Nowhere does NaNo encourage “sloppy” work. If approached as advised, nothing is wasted.
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