In today's Writing post, novelist Debbie Young, our Author Advice Center Manager , offers three useful things about the annual NaNoWriMo writing project, which takes place worldwide every November. She explains:
- what it is exactly, for those who haven't come across it before
- why you should consider taking part this year
- how to prepare for it so you get the greatest benefit
What is NaNoWriMo Anyway?
- “Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?”
- “Wanna be my NaNo buddy?”
- “Are you a past NaNoWriMo winner?”
If you have never heard of NaNoWriMo, questions like this, currently peppering social media, will leave you puzzled. So here's a quick definition.
NaNoWriMo is an abbreviation for “National Novel Writing Month”, a global writing campaign that takes place, with pleasing alliterative neatness, in November. It was set up by the NaNoWriMo not-for-profit organisation o help authors everywhere increase their productivity. Many ALLi author members have taken part in NaNoWriMo at one point in their career, and some are annual participants.
Taking part in NaNoWriMo – or NaNo, as some abbreviate it still further – means you commit to writing 50k words during the month of November.
“What, 50K in a month?” I hear you cry. Yes, 50K – which may sound daunting, but the recommended NaNo technique of pounding out your first draft without looking back makes that more achievable than it sounds.
To take part, you just sign up for a free account at www.nanowrimo.org, add a few personal details and the title of your project. From 1st November, log into your account every day to update your total word count. A clear graph of your progress and badges for various milestones will spur you on.
There’s also the option of buddying up with fellow writers to compare notes and encourage each other. Some even meet up in real life, while other choose to remain private. You can even take part without using your real name. It’s entirely up to you how you want to play it, and how much you want to treat it as a social adventure as well as a writing feat. I confess I tend to avoid the buddying option, even though I'm naturally competitive, as I find it a distraction, but lots of people find it a stimulus.
At the end of November, if you've made or even exceeded your 50K, you'll be able to claim a badge to display proudly on your author website. Merchandise is available to buy for those who like to buy the t-shirt, etc.
Why Take Part in NaNoWriMo?
When most of us aim at a regular writing habit year-round, why take part in a sudden flurry of activity for just one month?
Firstly, it's fun and companionable – even if you don't buddy up with anyone, it's still a comfort to know that as you beaver away at your desk, hundreds of thousands of other writers around the world are bent on the same objective
Secondly, it teaches you a different way of writing: to just write without looking back, while you hammer out your first draft.
This is especially useful for those who find it hard to progress beyond the first few thousand words, as they constantly edit and re-edit the opening chapters.
You may find it tough at first to keep writing, ignoring less-than-perfect phrasing or disjointed episodes, but the point is that you should come back to these after the end of the month, with your self-editing hat on, and polish them up. You can't polish what you don't have.
Many NaNoWriMo fans find that the experience changes the way they write for good – and for the better.
Fantasy writer Chele Cooke explains here how it helped her break into publishing by completing her first novel. (Read her account of her NaNoWriMo experience here.)
Contemporary women's novelist and children's author Kate Frost says it telescoped the time it took her to write novel from nine years for her first to nine months for the sequel. (Read her previous post about her NaNoWriMo experience here.)
How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo
It is possible to wait till 1st November before you even contemplate your project, but planning in advance is likely will increase your chances of success. Ask yourself:
- which project shall I use it for – a work-in-progress or an entirely new project?
- how much writing time do I need per day to achieve the required 1,666 words?
- how can I ringfence that writing time – give up television, turn down social invitations, get up earlier/go to bed later?
- where will I write – my usual favourite place or hole up somewhere like the library or a coffee shop?
You don't have to write the 50K in 30 equal chunks, of course – it is just the total that matters. If you're starting from scratch, and you're a plotter rather than a pantser, you may want to spend the first ten days outlining, then write 2,500 words daily for the rest of the month.
It's not just for novels, either, or for projects written from a standing start. Last year, Orna Ross used it for the first draft of a film script, for example. I' plan to use it this year to complete my current work in progress, the first in my Staffroom at St Bride's series of novels, which currently stands at 20K words. An additional 50K will be more than enough to finish the first draft, as my novels are usually around the 60K mark, and may even be enough to start the sequel.
You can also use NaNo for non-fiction or for poetry. The choice is yours – whatever fits in with your writing goals.
The Long-Term View
Turning the calendar to December doesn't mean your NaNo project ends there. Some might say the hard work, or the most fun, depending on your viewpoint, is just beginning, as you start the self-editing process to turn the rough draft into a worthy addition to your catalogue.
But let's give the last word today to Grant Faulkner, Director of NaNo, by reprising his conversation with ALLi Director Orna Ross, from one of ALLi's online self-publishing conferences. In this 17-minute video, he describes how NaNoWriMo can help you structure your writing business all year round.
Good luck with YOUR NaNoWriMo, however you plan to play it! Let us know in December how you got on, and you may find yourself featuring in a case study here this time next year!#Indieauthors - have you ever tried @NaNoWriMo? Still wondering what it is? @DebbieYoungBN's brief post here will fill you in - and help you make the most of it, should you decide to take up its challenge! Click To Tweet