NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, officially appointed to November, likely because NOVember begins much like NOVel. Cute. No one happened to think that November was a positively awful month to hold such a national event, namely because of the approaching holidays and the whole traveling and planning and stressing and food-comas and seeing-extended-family bits. But despite all of this, November remains National Novel Writing Month and despite all of this, every year hundreds of thousands of seemingly-normal and yet obviously fairly-insane people sign up to achieve something that to outsiders might seem not only improbable, but utterly impossible:
Write 50,000 words in 30 days.
I know when I tell people this, their eyes glaze over and they begin to pale, likely recalling school-time term paper guidelines, but folks, lemme tell you something. You participate in a NaNoWriMo, you get even anywhere near that 50,000 words, and the next time anyone whines to you about typing up that 10 page homework research paper you just go ahead and laugh. Because you, my friend, will have typed out 10 pages before breakfast!
50,000 words is about 150 pages single spaced, by the way. Chew on that, oh “ten-pages-ermahgawd-how-can-I-write-that-much!?” lamenters!
But holding this event just in November wasn’t enough for some people.
They wanted MORE. Or maybe they just didn’t want to torture themselves in the midst of everything else going on in November! Either way, there are now two NaNo “camps” held during spring and summer, with basically the same idea, only you can set your own word goal rather than being assigned 50,000 – and the camps are slightly less organized, as in there are not actual local meet-ups of NaNo participants, unless of course you arrange that yourself.
Regardless of which NaNo you choose as your own personal hell, I have compiled a simple list which should help you make it through to the other side alive, and with a full novel-length rough draft tucked protectively under your arm, too! (Although I can’t guarantee you’ll be completely coherent. That’s an entirely different subject….)
1) Set Your Goal: This is 50,000 words in November, but can be less during Camp. If you want to do a test-drive before peeling out onto the race track, sign up for a Camp first and set a lower word count goal, just to see what happens. Be realistic, but challenge yourself as well. The idea of this thing is to challenge yourself, so don’t be a wuss about it! You will grow most as a writer when you leave your comfort zone!
2) Tell Everyone! Not only will they be super impressed when you come back at the end of the month and tell them you accomplished your goal, but their occasional inquires as to your progress will keep you accountable. There will be no quietly sneaking away from this one unnoticed, thank you!
3) Rearrange Your Life: That’s right. Look at the month you want to do NaNo BEFORE it’s that month and proactively take the time to clear your schedule for some serious writing time. In other words, don’t attempt this crazy thing if you’re supposed to be running kids to soccer and dance three nights a week, taking ballroom dancing on Mondays and yoga on Sundays. You’ll just be setting yourself up to fail, and thus become frustrated and angry. But don’t use that as an excuse, either. This is about making time for your writing. You make time for what’s important to you! Assign daily tasks to other family members for the month, warn them you will be locking yourself up in a room for most evenings, tell them to make their own dinners. The good news is you only have to be a hermit for a month. That’s why this NaNo thing is actually the best way to get a book done – like ripping off a band-aid! Quick and painful, but when it’s over, it’s over. (Except for the revision process, of course, but we’re not counting that here!)
4) Outline, Research, Outline! This could be considered a personal preference. But actually KNOWING what you want to write before the 1st of the NaNo month and having a least a vague outline of all three acts of your novel will maximize your writing time. You might be an excellent pantser, for sure, who can churn out brilliant twisty plotlines and quirky characters on the fly and keep them all organized and flowing toward a singular purpose as well – but personally I have found that outlining/researching/character building FIRST makes the actual writing go much, much faster! Not to mention, will make the revision easier in the long run. I can’t stand the thought of bleeding and sweating (yes you will bleed and sweat, get over it) through 50,000 + words just to have to toss half of them out later because I went off on some completely unnecessary tangent while pantsing. Much better to have an outline and change it as I go than waste my preciously arranged writing time! You will still get those amazing lightning strikes to the brain in which the bestploteveromfg! and the ohnoshedidn’t! moments are revealed in crystal clarity even if you outline and research and fill out character sheets beforehand, trust me!
5) Write HOT! This means… don’t think about it! And this is also why the above tip comes most in handy – there is no hesitation trying to figure out what happens next. You have your basic sign posts figured out already, you just fill in the details. You work toward your main events and go with the flow when it comes. But most of all, do not edit during NaNo! Just.freakin.write, okay? Whatever comes out, comes out. Might be crap, but crap is still better than nothing! You can clean it up later!
6) Travel in Packs: There is strength in numbers. Sign up for these things on the official websites: November NaNo or Camp. Join your local area forums and cabins. Talk to people. Message them, email them, for pete’s sake get out of your house and meet them at a coffee shop to get some face time. You’ll see them writing and be inspired. You’ll hear of their struggles and be comforted. You’ll get brainstorming buddies. You’ll hear stories of how they’ve done this eight times before and gain confidence that it can actually be done. You’ll know you are not alone as a writer… you are never alone.
7) Use Competition: Another plus that goes hand in hand with the above. If simply having a word count goal doesn’t stoke your creative fire, compete with other participants. Either officially in a declared Word War or Word Sprint, or unofficially in secret as you stalk their user profiles and endeavor every night to come back the next morning with a word count higher than theirs. Competition is extremely effective. It’s all friendly, of course, no sore losers or bad winners around these parts! But it can definitely be the kick-start you need to make yourself put butt in chair and fingers to keyboard!
8) Don’t Give Up! So what if you miss a day? So what if your word count seems dismally low to the point of no return? Get back on that damn horse! Try your best to write at least a little bit every day, so that you are never completely out of the race if given one entire day of hard writing. But, if it happens, forgive yourself, too. Write as much as you possibly can that month. Do your very best. That’s all anyone can ask from you, including yourself!
9) FREAKIN’ CELEBRATE! A lot. I like Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s idea in her “Book in a Month”… plan some type of celebration at the end of the month, if you manage to reach your word goal. Give yourself a reward – a big one. Something you really, really want. Something really fun. It’s the carrot in front of your nose, the thing that makes all the sweat and blood and tears worth it! (Aside from the next bestseller you just wrote in freakin’ 30 days, of course!) But I’m willing to go a step further. Celebrate each 1/4 mark with little things. Celebrate the halfway mark with something a little bigger and then party like it’s 1999 at the end! November NaNo actually has a Kick Off and a TGIO (Thank God It’s Over) party, so you’ll be in good company!
Why this post in July? Because it’s Camp NaNo Month, of course!!! Now stop reading this and go write!
I’m at 11,285 words…. how ’bout you?