I would start this article asking, “Have you ever wanted to write a novel?”, but I already know the answer. Yes, of course. Everyone is of the opinion, whether they are conscious of it or not, that they have at least one great book inside them. They are absolutely right. We all have the ideas, the dreams, the potential – what we lack is the drive (or in some cases, a cattle-prod).
National Novel Writing Month gives us that push.
Every year during the month of November, international writers – from Reykjavik to Dakar to Brisbane to Pawling – join nanowrimo.com and commit to write a 50,000 word novel. To give you an idea, that’s about the size of Slaughterhouse Five or Fahrenheit 451. In order to complete the goal, one would need to write 1,667 words each day – roughly two full-length essays. That’s thirty days of losing your mind, of NaNobesity or NaNorexia, of taking great care to destroy all human relationships in order to maximize writing time, of neglecting your appearance to nurture your word count, of blowing off sundry obligations to stare at a computer screen until your eyes burn. Thirty days of leaving behind this world and entering whatever world you want to.
It. Is. So. Much. Fun.
I’m not kidding. Once you learn your limits and figure out the best battle plan, you’ll quickly discover that writing a novel in 30 days is one of the most exciting and stimulating challenges you’ve ever taken on. It seems daunting, impossible even. But here’s the big catch: it doesn’t have to be good! It just has to be there, words on the page instead of bobbing around in your head for ‘when you get a chance’. Write now, revise at leisure. As the month goes on, you will learn to silence your inner-editor, and then coax her out again once December rolls around. The brilliant philosophy of NaNo undercuts whatever reservations you have about writing – I don’t have enough time, I’m not good enough, I’ll get stuck and stop – and merrily defenestrates them.
Need a support system for such a huge undertaking? You won’t believe how supportive friends, family, and colleagues will be when you tell them you’re writing a novel. If you want to share your highs and lows with other WriMos, hit the nanowrimo.com forums, where you can discuss plot problems, race other users in “word wars”, gripe about how “NaNo Ate My Soul”, or swap writing prompts.
Don’t consider yourself a writer? Not sure if your novel idea can do the distance? It doesn’t matter! Sign up for the site, see what it’s all about, and have fun with it. As was the case with me, National Novel Writing Month may just change your life.
As a NaNo veteran who has never clocked in at fewer than 100,000 words, here are some questions I frequently get about my personal approach to November:
How much planning do you do before November?
Personally, I plan extensively. The outline I made for my main project this year? It was about 6K long. But honestly, it wasn’t really that intricate — it said nothing really about how characters felt, just events. It’s essentially me writing down my stream-of-consciousness when I’m figuring out what I want to happen. Sometimes interpreting what the heck I meant in my outline is tougher than writing.
To clarify, the rules for NaNoWriMo state that you cannot write anything that counts towards your word count until 12:00AM on November 1st. So planning is fine, and if you already started a novel, that’s fine too. Just make sure you don’t count what you’ve already written in your word count.
Is NaNo much different from normal writing?
Sure. I mean, every time you write a novel it’s going to be different. I’ve written two completely non-NaNo novels, three fully NaNo-novels, and two that were written primarily non-NaNo but that I finished up in November. I always do a lot of planning for my novels, so the only big difference is the speed/frequency with which I write. No matter how slow or fast you go you’re going to have a ton of editing, so I like to use the NaNo approach of getting words on the page as quickly as possible and combing through them later.
Is it tough to keep up the energy for 30 days?
Absolutely, yes! But I love novel writing. I love it to little bits and pieces. So when it gets boring, I put my head down and plow through it and somewhere along the way I remember why I adore it so much. I’m always very proud of what I’ve written, even if it’s ridden with spelling errors. Also, a lot people on the site use incentives – for instance, I ate one of my grandma’s homemade cookies every time I hit a 10,000 word increment.
How much of what you write in November appears in a final draft? Is it worth it to write prolifically if that writing is bad?
Because I am such a meticulous planner, I very rarely have to cut out parts of my writing. This makes sense. If I have an extraneous character or a dead-end subplot, it gets chopped in the outline. It saves me a lot of time. This doesn’t mean I don’t do rewrites, or switch scenes around. I still do quite a lot of revising. But I’ve heard authors say they junk 80 percent of their first draft or something crazy like that. I’m sure they’re extremely successful using that method, but I have never been compelled to do anything like that. Also, I spend a lot of time editing typos and switching around sentences and things of that nature.
When you write that quickly, does unexpected stuff happen sometimes? Yeah, and I love rolling with it. Do scenes end up sloppy or boring or repetitive? Sure. But getting the words on the page is the most important thing, and sometimes I come up with my favorite lines when I don’t over think them.
How on earth do you find the time?
This was my first year at University, so I had no idea what to expect. I was crossing my fingers and sacrificing lambs in hopes of hitting 106K, my goal. It was a little ambitious, but I thought, “What’s NaNo if not a challenge?” So once I knew what I was shooting for, here’s how I rearranged my life:
Being at college means I end up getting a lot of work but not so much class time. Since I worked like a dog and got most of my November work done in December that meant minimal distractions for me. I admit that I’ve restored to things like cutting out hours of sleep, taking meals in my dorm instead of the dining hall, etc. It also helps that I have most of my floor doing this with me, because they’re an awesome support group. I type so much that my speed has increased — I’m right around 75wmp — but I’m also terribly inaccurate (hence my username, TypoMania) so I’m probably more like 65wmp. If I use Write or Die (a fabulous website that forces you to write or starts deleting your words) I average about 2000 words per hour. But still, my relatively quick typing speed is a plus. Try going to typeracer.com to see where you stand and maybe improve your speed.
But here’s my biggest asset: I love writing, so I want to spend all my free time doing this. Of course, you don’t need to be this obsessive to get the 50,000. If you think about it, if you block out about four hours a day every Saturday afternoon or something, the writing you need to do during the week is minimal. NaNo is extremely doable. You just need to want it bad enough.
If you have any more questions, feel free to contact me, or look me up on the NaNo site as TypoMania. I encourage you to check out the site at nanowrimo.com!