NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month: a frenzy of writing with the goal of producing a 50,000-word novel in the thirty days of November.
NaNo is a fantastic opportunity to push yourself as a writer. It’s all about quantity of words, not quality. It’s vomit writing, spilling your guts, taking an idea and running with it, sans editing, revision, and second-guessing. It goes to the core of the creative process of writing: putting words on the page.
The official NaNoWriMo was created by author Chris Baty in 1999 and is now run by the nonprofit National Novel Writing Month. Hundreds of thousands of writers have participated over the past sixteen years, writing billions of words.
Roughly 14% of those who sign up actually complete NaNo successfully.
That amounts to thousands of writers who wrote novels in just thirty days. So it can be done. But why would you want to?
The NaNo organizers say the aim of NaNoWriMo is to get people to start writing using the deadline as incentive. I say there’s even more to be gained. NaNo forces you to focus, put writing higher on your priority list, and say “no” to distractions – habits you may carry over into life-after-NaNo. It helps you build other good habits, like writing every single day and shutting up the “inner critic” so your story can flow out uncensored and uninhibited. It’s also a great way to try on a new idea without investing months or years to see if it will hold water. Overall it’s a short-term investment with a BIG payoff: one month of crazy-busy writing that results in a 50,000 word novel and the knowledge that you can do it.
Of course another reason to do NaNo is that you might be one of the lucky few whose NaNo book gets published. Some of the more recognizable titles to come out of NaNo are Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, both of which spent time on the New York Times bestseller list. This is a rarity, so it shouldn’t be your primary reason for trying NaNo. But heck, if you’re crazy enough to do NaNo, might as well reach for the stars.
The official NaNoWriMo is free! So if you’re inclined to sign up for NaNo’s 17th year or just want more info, visit www.nanowrimo.org.
If you decide to participate in NaNoWriMo 2015, there are things you can—and I argue should—do to prepare. I call this “NaNoPlanno.”
Schedule. Take a critical look at your schedule for November and move or eliminate everything possible. Re-schedule doctor appointments, put off coffee with friends, cancel your weekend ski-getaway. If your day-job allows, take some vacation or personal time, compress your schedule, or reduce your hours. Find writing time wherever you can. Be creative. Can you move your Thanksgiving celebration to December 1st? Or at least move it to your sister-in-law’s house? Can you forgo Black Friday shopping just this once? Can you limit yourself to watching only the last quarter of the football game? Once you’ve eliminated all non-essentials, take that nearly-empty calendar and block out time to write every single day. Only you know how many hours it will take you to write 50,000 words, and your output can vary from day to day. When in doubt, budget for more writing time than you think you’ll need.
To write 50,000 words in 30 days, you must write an average of 1,667 words per day (or about 2,000 words per day if you take one day off each week).
Support. Let the people in your life know about the monumental task you have planned, and enlist their support. There’s a lot of time—and peace of mind—to be gained when your loved ones buy in to your crazy November endeavor. Maybe it’s as simple as them agreeing not to tempt you with fun outings or ask for favors. Or maybe they’ll take on some of your non-writing duties so you have more time to write. Why not trade cooking with your roommate or spouse? They cook in November, and you cook all December. Or December and January. Don’t be above bribery. Offer your kids a big reward in December if they agree not to interrupt your writing time in November. And don’t overlook hiring help—someone else can walk the dogs, do carpool duty, grocery shop, etc. You may think you can do it all yourself, but in my experience, your odds of finishing NaNo are a whole lot better when you have help and support.
Space. Where will you write? If you don’t have a private writing space, now’s the time to get one. It doesn’t have to be big—a friend turned a closet into desk space when she didn’t have any other option. So find, make, or clear out a space. Do it now! Next, create a sign to let others know you’re busy writing. It can be anything from a literal “do not disturb” sign to a hat you wear. Just make sure it’s a clear signal that you’re not to be interrupted unless something is on fire. If you can’t write at home or prefer not to, scout alternate spaces. Libraries and coffee shops are great, but what about house-sitting or using the conference room at your day-job after hours? Figure out your physical writing space now so you don’t spend precious November moments looking for it. Likewise clear up your virtual space: make a plan for turning off your phone and email, and even hiding your Internet browser from yourself during writing time. The official NaNo site has lots of resources to help you, but these, too, can be a hindrance, so use with caution.
When your writing space is littered with opportunities to “connect,” you can lose a lot of productive writing time to interruptions, distractions, and temptations.
Story. The official NaNoWriMo rules say that you can’t “count” any writing you do prior to November 1. But prep is okay. So prep away! Create characters with vast backstory, clear goals, and driving motivation. Plan out a difficult journey for your protagonist, complete with insurmountable obstacles, impossible conflicts, and terror-inducing villains. Build your world, do research, think about theme and character arc and all that good stuff. There’s no limit to what you can plan during this time, so take advantage of it. Even if you don’t normally “plot out” your story, spend time daydreaming about your characters. If nothing else, give your story a destination: where is it going? If you don’t know the end yet, that’s okay. Simply pick a spot between here and there. A midpoint, a hurdle, a victory. This will give you something to write toward. Once you reach that destination, chances are you’ll know where to head next.
As for me, I’m already NaNoPlanning for another November as a “NaNo Pirate:” writing like mad but not exactly following the official NaNo rules. In the past I’ve used November—with all the great support and benefits that the official program provides—to revise a novel. This year I’ll be attempting to add 50,000 words to my work-in-progress. I’m such a rule breaker.
Whether you join the official NaNoWriMo or engage in NaNo piracy, I encourage you to take November to push yourself as a writer. Do your own NaNo, whatever that may be. There’s a lot to be gained for a small investment of your time.
If you’ve tried NaNo, please share what you’ve gained in the comments. If you’re considering doing NaNo for the first time, post your questions and concerns so NaNo veterans can guide and support you. Then get to NaNoPlanning! November is coming up fast.
Chris Mandeville writes science fiction and fantasy, as well as nonfiction for writers. Her books include Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure and 52 Ways to Get Unstuck: Exercises to Break Through Writer’s Block.