Image Copyright Nanowrimo.org.
NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is the brainchild of Chris Baty. It’s an event in which you write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. Every year since 1999, thousands of people have signed up for this challenge. Many of them came out of it with a first draft of a novel on their hard drive. Some, such as Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, even turned their first draft into a book deal. Pounding out a novel in just a month might seem daunting, but don’t despair! There are simple guidelines which can help you make it to the finish line without too much heartache.
1,667 words a day…or not?
Seasoned NaNo’ers know 1,667 as the magic number—the number of words you have to write per week if you want to make it to 50,000 in thirty days. If you’re a methodical person with a predictable schedule, this strategy is your winning ticket. But what if your life is more scattered? What if Sunday is the only day you can see your boyfriend, Monday you have classes from from dawn until dusk and a graveyard shift at K-Mart, and then on Tuesday you have nothing to do? Everyone has a different schedule, and you have to figure out a pace that works well for you. This isn’t an excuse to fall behind. Some people thrive on the mad dash to the finish line, and write 50,000 words in a week, but most people can’t do this, and it isn’t healthy to try. Work on your novel whenever you can, but don’t sweat it if one day you write 3,000 words and the next day you only write 500.
Before trying out NaNoWriMo for the first time, many people wonder whether they should outline the plots of their stories, or develop their characters extensively before the start of NaNoWriMo. There are as many different answers to this question as there are participants. Some people love the planning stages. They map out everything about their story before they write a single word. For some of those people, that works great. For others, too many planning can kill their love for a story, or make them freeze up at the thought of committing their ideas to paper. Not planning anything also has mixed results. Some people write best by learning what their story is about as they go. Others need direction, or they get stuck. Most people work best with a strategy that’s somewhere in the middle. You should know something about your story, but not everything. You know, for example, that your main character is a dragon slayer who has no idea what to do when faced with robot dragons. You don’t know that he’s going to fall in love with one of the robot dragons. Know what works for you!
Your Social Network
Some people undertake NaNoWriMo with a group of friends, and rely on each other for support throughout the process. They meet up for write-ins, have contests to see who can wrote the most over the span of ten minutes or an hour, help each other develop plots and characters, commiserate, and cheer each other on. If your friends aren’t doing NaNoWriMo, encourage them to join you. If they’re not interested, all is not lost—there’s still a number of ways to connect with fellow NaNo’ers. The NaNoWriMo.org website has an incredible forum where one can gain support, and municipal liaisons in various locations all over the world organize write-ins, parties, and other events to get you writing and to help you meet other people who are doing the same. To find a municipal liason near you, click here.
It can be tempting to dedicate every waking moment to NaNoWriMo, and many participants will urge you to do so. You may have to cancel social engagements in favor of your novel, and you may have to spend less time on other hobbies. Remember, though, that NaNoWriMo is not more important than your life. It is not more important than your five-year anniversary with your wife. It is not more important than taking your son to the dentist. It is not more important than going to work or going to school. It is not more important than eating healthy food, getting regular exercise, and getting enough sleep. NaNoWriMo should be fun, and it should be challenging, but it should not consume your life.