In case you haven’t heard of NaNoWriMo, that strange looking word stands for National Novel Writing Month, and refers to a month-long event held for writers each November. NaNoWriMo is a contest, the largest writing contest in the world, but, instead of competing against each other, the contestants attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days.
That doesn’t sound too bad until you figure out that 50,000 words breaks down to more than 1600 words every single day of a month that is already packed with family Thanksgiving celebrations and the beginning of preparations for Christmas. But, if you love to write, you can do it.
NaNoWriMo started in 1999 with just a few friends, but by 2007, more than 100,000 people signed up to give it a try. Out of these 100,000 brave souls, 15,000 actually reached the 50,000 word goal by the end of the month. Will you be one of those who reach the goal this year? I plan to try.
You may be asking, “What’s in it for me if I do manage to make it to 50,000 words?”
Mostly satisfaction for a job well done. NaNoWriMo doesn’t award monetary prizes, but if you do reach the ultimate goal, (they have you submit your words to be counted), you will receive an honorary emblem to post on your website or blog that lets people know what you have achieved. I know I am impressed when I see the NaNoWriMo attached to a friend’s website, because I know the time and effort they put into earning it.
Best of all though, is the fact that by December 1, if you participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo, you could have on your desktop a rough draft, or at least the beginning of a novel that may change your whole writing future. No one expects your 30-day-novel to come out polished and ready for an editor’s eyes, but the really tough work will be done. You will already have fought the procrastination battle over putting your novel down in words and won. Now, it’s time to shine up, smooth out, rewrite, and edit your rough draft into the great story you always knew it would be.
When NaNoWriMo rolls around next year, you will be ready to start all over again, perhaps with a sequel to the book you produce this year.
“Just a dream,” you say?
You might be surprised to know that many writers who rushed through a past NaNoWriMo, have gone on to have their books published, and a few have even become best sellers. To see a yearly chart of participants, of actual winners, and names of those who actually went on to have their novels published, see source (1) below.
You and I, along with almost every other writer dream of writing the Great American Novel, or at least a novel that brings us some type of financial remuneration and a bit of recognition for our talents. Unfortunately, until that novel gets out of our head and into print, neither of those things is likely to happen. NaNoWriMo can be the catalyst to make that happen.
Interested in giving NaNoWriMo a try? Here are some suggestions on how to approach it. See the source at the end of the article to answer other questions you may have.
1. Sign up to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo.
Registration opens on October 1st of every year. Check out the frequently asked questions section of their website to access an entry form. (1) It will only take a minute or two of your time to sign up. Once you are registered, study the rules carefully, so you will be prepared for action when the time comes.
2. Be ready to start on the very first day.
If you wait until a week has gone by, you will need to do some serious catching-up to reach the goal so start promptly if at all possible. (A clean desk without all kinds of things to distract you will be helpful.)
Your novel will be more likely to be a good one if you have a concrete idea of what it will be about ahead of time. When you sit down at the computer on the first day of the contest is not the time to start trying to figure out your story plot. (You are allowed to plan your plot and make a rough outline ahead of time but you cannot actually start writing the story itself until November 1.)
3. Choose a specific time to write each day if possible.
If you just write when you can find some free time, you are not likely to find much of it. If you inform your family of your goal and tell them you are setting aside certain hours for writing during the contest, they are more likely to cooperate and help you meet your goal.
4. Celebrate your progress as the month goes by.
Treat yourself to a hot fudge sundae, or dinner out when you reach specific mileposts such as 20,000 words, 30,000 words, etc. or a specific number of chapters are completed.
If you get ahead of schedule, reward yourself with a free day writing, unless it looks as though there will be days ahead when you will be unable to write anything at all.
5. Keep track of your total words on a regular basis.
Most computers have a word count tool built in. Checking your total words each day will not only let you know if you are sticking to your goal, but you will be encouraged as you see the total number of words increasing every day. When you have a total of 50,000 words, check into the NaNoWriMo website (1) and follow instructions for validation of your word count. Even if your novel is not finished, you are a winner if you reach the 50,000 word mark and will be awarded the winner’s emblem.
6.Encourage a writing friend to join you in your month-long writing adventure.
It will be a lot more fun if you have a buddy to share your progress with. You can check with each other every day, or once a week to see what progress each of you has made. If one of you bogs down, a few words of encouragement may be just the thing that is needed to get you both back on track.
If you or your friend need encouragement beyond mere words, NaNoWriMo has a store on its website where items connected to the contest and to the craft of writing may be purchased. Currently in stock are a number of T-Shirts with messages from “Novelist,” to various NaNoWriMo slogans on them. Also available are NaNoWriMo travel mugs, caps, slogan buttons, and a plot book. What more could a person in the middle of writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days ask for? (2)
7. Write, Write, and Write.
Don’t try to edit your novel as you go. The important thing is to get it written down, so use all that time you have set aside for NaNoWriMo to write.
Keep track of how many days remain in the contest and remind yourself that when the contest is over, you can edit to your heart’s content.
8. When the contest ends, take a short break.
Catch up on the things you let slide during contest month, and thank those who helped you through it.
Rest up for a few days and then get back to your novel. If you didn’t finish it, but still love the story, finish it as a less frantic pace.
If you did finish it, and feel that it turned out well, set aside some time to go through it carefully, using your own “editor’s eye” to fix what needs fixing. Then work diligently to get it ready for submission to an agent or publisher before your excitement over the project cools and your novel ends up in a drawer with your other unsubmitted, unpublished writing.
Remember, NaNoWritMo is just around the corner for this year. Will you use it to jump-start your novel writing career, or once more let it slide by while your novel, still unformed, stays locked up inside your head?