Image courtesy of NaNoWriMo.
Written by Laura Cacace
Children’s Librarian – Will Library.
November is fast-approaching, and for those who don’t know, it’s National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as “NaNoWriMo.” NaNoWriMo is also an organization that presents writers (published and unpublished, professional and amateur) with the opportunity to achieve their writing dreams in a month’s time, all while creating a community of writerly support.
According to the NaNoWriMo website: “National Novel Writing Month began in 1999 as a daunting but straightforward challenge: to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. Now, each year on November 1, hundreds of thousands of people around the world begin to write, determined to end the month with 50,000 words of a brand new novel. They enter the month as elementary school teachers, mechanics, or stay-at-home parents. They leave novelists.”
The NaNoWriMo organization has made what may seem an impossible undertaking much less daunting by providing writers with tools and support to hold themselves accountable throughout the novel-writing process, including the channels to interact with one another on the website, and on social media platforms using the #NaNoWriMo hashtag.
As someone who has attempted the challenge and failed a number of times, let me assure you there is no penalty for not making the 50,000 word goal by the end of the month. But there is satisfaction in knowing that even a little progress made towards a full-length novel is progress.
So, in case this sparks your interest, I’ve compiled some tips I’ve always found useful over the course of my writing journey. As we head into NaNoWriMo, maybe you’ll find them helpful, too.
- First things first: take any and all writing advice (from me, from J.K. Rowling, from anyone at all) with a grain of salt. I’ve never met two writers who work exactly the same way. Some of the writing advice you find may work for you, and other advice may not, and that’s okay. Take what works and leave what doesn’t.
- Carve out your writing time. Build it into your day. If you only have a spare half hour after work or at lunch, use it. Make it part of your routine. Otherwise, you won’t do it.
- Even if you’re attempting to write 50,000 words in a month, try not to fixate on word count. Every day might be different when it comes to how many words you get down, depending on many different factors, including what kind of writer you are. For some, thousands of words come easy in a day. For others, a hundred or two is a lot. Sometimes, life gets in the way and you can’t write at all. But if you reach the end of November having only written 500 words a day, you’ve still managed to write 15,000 words! It’s not 50,000, but it’s more than you had when you started the challenge.
- When you sit down to write, remove as many distractions as possible. If you’re like me, this includes the Internet. Sometimes I turn my WiFi off, but a lot of the time, using a website blocker in my browser works best, especially since I often find myself needing to look things up online. You can use Block Site if you have Google Chrome.
- Make yourself comfortable. Let family/roommates know you’ll be heading into your writing cave for a little while. Close the door if you have one. Have tea or coffee on hand, some snacks, maybe even light a candle or listen to some music if available. You likely only have a limited amount of time to get some words down, so it’s important you feel at ease and won’t need to jump up for any reason.
- Keep a notebook and pen/pencil handy at all times. You never know when inspiration will strike and though you may tell yourself you’ll remember a good idea, chances are, you won’t. Better to write it down. The Notes app on your smartphone is useful for this, too.
- Try not to edit as you go. This is a hard one, but it’s important for a first draft. If your goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days, the best way to slow yourself down would be to start nitpicking what you’ve already written. Just keep going. Even if you feel like the story’s going nowhere you want it to—maybe it’ll turn out to be somewhere you never imagined. Save the editing for your second draft.
- Some writers (like me) tend to fly by the seat of their pants, letting the words pour out of them with no real direction in mind, or maybe a few goalposts within the plot they intend to reach. Other writers plot their stories by outlining chapter by chapter, maybe even scene by scene, so that they have a detailed road map to follow to reach the end. Determine which method (or combination of the two) works best for you, and go with it.
- Talk to other writers if you can. Writing a novel is such solitary work, and for the most part, it all comes from your imagination. But when you’re in the trenches of a story and inevitably get stuck and disheartened, it’s helpful to know there are other writers going through the same thing. Talking to a trusted writing buddy can also help you see your story in a different way, which might lead to new ideas. So, use the NaNoWriMo website forums or #NaNoWriMo on social media to connect with other writers.
- Have fun with it! Remember there is no right way to write a novel. Your method—your “process”—is completely unique to you, which already makes your story unique to the world. The blank page (or screen) may be intimidating, but putting one word down after another in the best way you know how is the only surefire way to write your novel. So go for it!
I hope you find some of these tips helpful, and I hope you also feel encouraged to start your writing journey this November. Whether you’ve been writing for some time, or if you’ve always wanted to write a novel but haven’t ever tried, or even if you just have a great idea you’d like to flesh out, taking advantage of NaNoWriMo could be a wonderful way to begin.
Check out their website here for more information.