Sunday, September 5, 2010

NaNoWriMo looms on the horizon

It is that time of year! NaNoWriMo is looming on the horizon and many people are trying to decide whether or not they wish to participate.

Here is my guide for diving into NaNoWriMo face first and surviving it.

For those of you in the Montreal area, I will likely be covering these subjects in an upcoming workshop in October as well as at Con*Cept. While I am still in talks with the good folks over at Con*Cept, an appearance by the Montreal ML crew is likely.

1: What is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. While National implies it belongs in one country, don't worry. It takes place in many countries around the world. It does not matter what gender, age or occupation you have.

The concept behind NaNoWriMo is to write a novel in 30 days. Starting November 1st and ending at midnight on November 30, your goal is to write 50,000 words. This is technically shorter than some published novels, but it is long enough to properly classify as a novel.

You can view the rules of NaNoWriMo here.

Here is a glimpse of what is required to be an official participant: (Yes, this is a direct copy paste from the link above.)

* Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.
* Start from scratch. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people's works).
* Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you're writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!
Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up.
* Write multiple words (not the same word repeated 50,000 times).
* Upload your novel for word-count validation to our site between November 25 and November 30.

Pretty easy, huh?

Not quite.

2: Just how hard is it to win at NaNoWriMo

From my personal experiences, I have years I have won and years that I have not won. However, it is important to realize that the point of NaNoWriMo is not to win, but to experience the thrill of writing your own book. Sometimes victory is not in reaching 50,000 words, but the journey you took when you set out to do it. It does not matter if you succeed or fail. It matters that you tried at all.

3: I am not certain I have enough time to dedicate an entire month to NaNoWriMo! I have school, work, exams, etc...

Excuses get you no where. Do what you can as you can. Your goal is to write 1,667 words a day. If you know that you cannot reach that goal, set a smaller goal for yourself that you can win.

4: I really want to reach 50,000 words, but I don't know how to do it. Help!

Practice makes perfect. Writing a novel in 30 days is hard no matter how you look at it. Break your novel down into sentence sections. Sit down and force yourself to write a sentence. That goal is not difficult to meet. Anyone can write a sentence. Stop viewing your writing as 50,000 individual words that make a plot and a story. When you sit down, focus on the sentence you wish to write. If you're stuck and you do not know what to write, I find it is easier to focus on a small little piece rather than the overview.

5: This doesn't make sense. Novels are supposed to be good and well written. Why are you suggesting that I ignore my plot and focus on sentences? One sentences does not make a plot!

Oh dear. You're right! How could I have missed that? Why? Because NaNoWriMo is not meant to make a great story. In fact, I would state that NaNoWriMo is more about writing the crappiest story that you possibly can. If you do not care about quality, quantity will come. While professional writers do participate in NaNoWriMo, this month is not for them. It is for the person who has sat at their computer and wished that they could write a book. It is for those who have never accomplished something so large. It is for the unpublished writer who wants to taste sweet victory without a looming rejection on the horizon. There are no rejection notices in NaNoWriMo. The only person you have to please is yourself. If you do not have a plot but 50,000 words of rambling sentences, you have still succeeded.

You can try to write a book that makes sense later.

4: Seriously. Quantity over Quality.

It is worth a second look at. For the person who has never written a novel before, it is important that you get that first story under your belt. If your dream is to be published, use NaNoWriMo as a stepping stone. The first draft of a novel is there to find out what the novel is about. Use NaNoWriMo to make that first draft. You can repair the plots and do the other things this blog suggests in December.

5: Who should participate in NaNoWriMo? Who should not participate?

While I believe anyone can benefit from NaNoWriMo, or at least have a little fun, I think it is harder for the professional writer to get something productive out of it. Their livelihood is based on the quality of their writing. If you do not have a deadline and need to do a draft anyway, then it may be the ideal situation for a professional author. However, it really is meant for the amateur who doesn't know if they can reach 50,000. It won't stop me from participating, but I always keep in mind that I need to make certain I meet all of my requirements as a professional writer before I have fun with NaNoWriMo.

I have, however, made a point of ensuring that I won't have any contracts for November this year. /innocent

6: What do you suggest I do to survive NaNoWriMo?

I have hours of content on what you can do to survive NaNoWriMo. It won't all fit here. Not without writing a novel on the subject. To make a long story very, very short, here is a list of things that you can do to help yourself survive November.

* Get a writing partner who is working at NaNoWriMo with you
* Hook up with your Municipal Liaison. They are there to help you.
* Set aside a time specifically for your writing.
* Use sites like or to help you focus
* Keep high supplies of caffeine and sugar within easy reach.
* Turn off IRC, Twitter, Facebook, Instant Messaging and your phone when you write. They do not help you.
* Believe in yourself.
* Ask for plot help on the forums if you get writing block. Do not sit and stare at a blank screen.
* Write something. Anything. If you're blocked, writing angry commentary about how you're stuck might help you get unstuck. It may not make sense in your book, but you are writing and that is the entire point of NaNoWriMo
* Have fun. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, but this is a chance to do well without needing quality. Take advantage of it. You don't get the chance often.
* Help others as they have helped you. Take a break from your writing long enough to help someone else. How much they help you later may really surprise you.
* Remember -- there are thousands of people just like you participating. This can quietly lift your spirits even when you question why you are putting yourself through the nightmare of 50,000 words in 30 days.

7: How can I help someone else succeed at NaNoWriMo?

Sometimes the best support is quietly letting someone know that you are rooting for them and making yourself available if they need someone to listen. However, you help someone best when you tell them they should be writing rather than chatting if they have overcome their plot problem or have cracked through their writing block. Listen if it is necessary. Nudge them back to writing when it is not.

Good luck, everyone! I will be right there with you this year, rooting you on and hoping that all of you experience and enjoy NaNoWriMo as it was meant to be enjoyed.

1 comment:

  1. Nice! Last year, I found that splitting my daily quota into three sections of about 600 words - a page and a half, which is an easy 20 mins for me, if I don't care about quality - made it much less intimidating. Do one before breakfast, one at lunchtime and one at teatime and you're more than done.