National Novel Writing Month

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National Novel Writing Month. That’s NaNoWriMo for those that fancy saving their breath, and heck – it’s almost here. You might have heard of it before, no doubt you had a vaguely writer-y friend back in high school that was convinced that they’d bang out the next Harry Potter one November. Maybe you were that writer-y friend?

Still, if you’re not in the NaNoWri-know (yes, I’m here all week), or if you just fancy a bit of a refresh, National Novel Writing Month is a scheme that began twenty years ago – back in ’99 (great year, it resulted in yours truly) – that challenges writers to write an entire novel, which is quantified as 50,000 words.

‘National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.’

 – NaNoWriMo Website

It has humble and slightly weird beginnings. Chris Baty and twenty of his closest writing acquaintances sat down and decided to each speed-write the first draft of a novel in a month. They thought that becoming an official novelist might help them in ‘getting dates’ that they received as ‘non-novelists’. Soon enough though, Baty decided that merely using this project to go on the pull was not enough. This wild idea was an excellent way to get writers engaged and was pretty useful to boot. Thus, the more modern concept of NaNoWriMo was born.

‘Now, each year on November 1st, 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. It’s internet-famous. It’s a community-powered fandom […] it’s a start-up incubator for novels (books like Water for Elephants, Fangirl, and WOOL began as rough drafts in November!). It’s a teaching tool, it’s a curriculum, and its programs run year-round.’

 – NaNoWriMo Website

Now, I can tell you (somewhat decisively) that whipping out a pen and slamming down 50,000 words without editing or redrafting, is unlikely to create an immediate masterpiece. I’m happy to be proven wrong on that, should any of you manage to produce an impromptu Lord of the Rings. However, what NaNoWriMo can do (and does do) is get you writing. It forces you to pour your ideas onto the page and keep on going – even just for fear that you’ll get behind on the word count. There are thirty days in November, so a total of 50,000 words equates to roughly 1667 words a day – the length of a short essay or 167(ish)% of this SCAN article. That is no mean feat.

Furthermore, whatever the quality of work that you come out with at the end, it’s an accomplishment. That’s the first draft of a novel that hey, might not be knocking on the door of the literary canon right away, but after some redrafts and editing, might well do. The hardest part of writing a novel… is writing the novel. (Don’t complain that SCAN isn’t insightful.) What I mean by this, is that getting the bulk out on the page – this homogenous blob of a plot, characters and ideas, is the most difficult bit. After that, you’ve told your story. It’s simply a matter of editing, reshaping and structuring. Once you’ve rid your work of 562 adverbs (self-slay) and refined all of the bits and bobs – getting rid of that irrelevant love interest or that bit where your character goes on a miscellaneous picnic because you got a bit hungry – then, you’ve got yourself a pretty impressive novel.

For anyone interested in partaking in NaNoWriMo this year, rules are as follows:

  • Writing starts at midnight on November 1st. (It doesn’t need to be at this time explicitly, you just aren’t allowed to begin writing beforehand. Don’t stay up unnecessarily to write at midnight. I advocate sleep.)
  • The writing ends at 11:59 pm on November 30th. (Again, you can finish beforehand, just not after. Stop taking everything so literally – gosh.)
  • To ‘win’ NaNoWriMo, you need to achieve a minimum of 50,000 words within November. This can be a whole novel or the first part of a more extensive work. There are a lot of cool offers for participants and winners, e.g. 40% off Novlr writing software for two years and 50% off Dabble. Find more about participant and winner prizes at https://nanowrimo.org/offers
  • You can write on any genre – including fanfiction, metafiction and novels in the format of a poem. If it hits that 50,000-word count, then you’re right.

Although you are not allowed to begin writing for NaNoWriMo before November 1st, you are allowed to plan – quite extensively too. This is on the condition that work from your planning doesn’t directly make its way into the novel. I would advocate setting out a plan of your overall plot, alongside roughly what you want to accomplish each day. This doesn’t have to be wildly specific, however, I would argue that the more details you have, the less that you have to contemplate when you’re actually writing. Even if you set aside a day from your actual writing time each week to clarify what your goals are and how you are going to accomplish them.

Finally, this month is about creating a first draft of something amazing, so try to let it be just that, a first draft. I am a huge hypocrite for writing this (because it’s exactly what I do) but nit-picking and continuously editing will get you nowhere. In the words of an icy but iconic Disney Queen, you’ve just got to ‘let it go’. There will be time for redrafting later – first, get the words on the page.

Now that you know more than you ever needed to about NaNoWriMo, why don’t you NaNoWri-go to their website https://nanowrimo.org/ and sign up. Even if you don’t entirely meet the 50,000-word count, there’s no harm in trying. (Plus, should you take creative writing you can get a whole load of your final assignment done).

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