Who in all the realms would want to write 50,000 words in a month?
Well, according to last year’s numbers, over 340,000 Earthlings attempted that very feat. They wrote over 3 billion words, and 38,000 of them successfully reached the 50,000 word finish line.
NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – for those not already inducted into the secret club, is a verbal marathon run from the squishy comfort of a desk chair, an act of questionable sanity that will leave you exhilarated and exhausted before the altar of the laptop.
NaNoWriMo isn’t for everyone. Some people dislike it for the rushed atmosphere and the focus on quantity rather than quality. Some question the arbitrary month-long deadline. Why not two months? Six? Eighty-seven days and fourteen minutes? And some say that if you’re a writer, you shouldn’t need something like NaNo to write. You should feel a yawning void where your soul once was if you miss your daily scheduled writing time.
None of these points are wrong. Writing a novel in a month can result in work of dubious quality. And while it’s fantastic that 38,000 writers successfully wrote a novel in one month, that’s only an 11% success rate. 89% of the people who attempted didn’t make it. And some will write a book in November, never touch it again, and not even think about writing again until the next November.
To this I say…so what?
Let’s be real. I decided about five years ago I was going to run marathons. I “trained” for several months and decided I didn’t want to run more than three miles at a time because that’s why humans invented automobiles. That doesn’t mean anything is wrong with marathon running. It just wasn’t for me.
Writing novels isn’t for everyone. And writing novels at the NaNoWriMo pace is daunting. You’re going to write some crap. But writing some crap is better than writing nothing at all. If you’re a Someday Writer – I’ll write a book someday – NaNoWriMo may be just the kick in the chair area that you need to get started.
It was for me.
In 2006, I completed NaNoWriMo for the first time. I’d been a Someday Writer for years, writing down ideas and worldbuilding and brainstorming until my eyes bled. I still have notebooks from my Someday Years, all crammed with ideas and character descriptions. Yet, I’d never gotten more than ten or fifteen pages into a story. Ideas, ideas everywhere, and not a story to read.
Committing to NaNoWriMo was a personal challenge. It forced me to write an outline. It forced me to put my butt in a chair every day and write. It made me write when I felt inspired and when I didn’t, because let’s be real – the story will not write itself. It doesn’t matter if you have the most exquisite crystalline unicorn of a story prancing around your brainmeat. It is utterly useless until you force it out of your head and onto the page. Unless you can do a Vulcan mind meld to share it, in which case, you have a higher calling than NaNoWriMo.
After taking several years off to pursue a masters’ degree, I started back with NaNoWriMo in 2010. I’ve completed the challenge each year since then and written several books in between.
NaNo helps me maintain focus and motivation. I’m a teacher, so around this time each year, I’m getting bogged down in work and grading and just being so tired that I just want to form a symbiotic relationship with my couch most nights. As September melts into October, I have to start planning and committing to a new book. That energy carries me for months. The creativity that erupts during November spills over into new projects, and I’m always left with two or three new books – the ones that distract me like shiny shiny jewels – to start pondering after November is over.
NaNoWriMo is not about anyone else. Heck, writing novels is not about anyone else. Whether you write because you have to satisfy the yearning of your soul or because you want to see that nifty graph go up or because your local writing buddy says they’ll buy you a piece of peanut butter pie every time you finish a chapter, you are writing. You are getting the story out of your head and into the world where someone someday might read it and connect with you through the magic that is story-telling.
Now, that’s all happy-feel-good nonsense. Do not, even for the blink of an eye, think that I am recommending you get hyped on caffeine and sugar and go-go juice and prance into your nearest coffee shop on November 1 expecting a novel to fall out of your brain fully-formed. Zeus, you are not. (That’s not to say you can’t consume all of the above. You can, should, and will. But you’ll need a little more than chemical augmentation.)
You need a plan. A proverb says, “Failure to plan is a plan to fail.” If you have never written a novel in your life, you need to do some preliminary work. Writing is as simple as stringing together words that turn into sentences that turn into paragraphs that turn into chapters, and yet it’s not that simple at all. Ask the 89% who didn’t make it last year. Learn. Read. Research. And for Odin’s sake, make an outline.
Fortunately, I’ve got your back, along with thousands of authors out there in InternetLand. For the entire month of October, I’ll be posting a blog series on preparing to write a novel. I’ll be covering story structure and how to outline so you don’t fall flat on your face on Day 2. I’ll discuss some strategies for building believable characters. I’ll talk about some ways to spark your creativity and ways to keep up your motivation once that muddy middle slump hits you. (And it will.) Finally, I’ll share some practical strategies for what you need to do on a daily basis to get the writing done. I hope you’ll visit throughout the month as you prepare.
If you haven’t already, check out my Facebook, where I’ll be posting some motivational tips and music throughout October and into November.
For today, I’d love to hear from you. Tell me about how you and NaNo met! Is it your first? Your tenth? What do you like about it? What do you hate? Finally, if you have any requests for stuff you’d love some insight on this month, I’ll do my best. I look forward to hearing from you!