Every November for the past 11 years, hundreds of thousands of writers huddle around their laptops and notepads with a singular goal in mind—write fifty thousand words in thirty days…specifically from 12am Nov. 1 to 12pm Nov. 30. Can it be done? Yes.
The “idea” behind NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is that many aspiring writers talk about writing, think about it, but never actually complete a novel. The challenge is to actually complete a novel in one month. Here’s how it works: you sit down and write 1667 words a day, more if you can. That’s about 7 pages of published text every day. Once November is over, you will have a shiny new manuscript to brag about, and you will join the ranks of those with first drafts of their novels.
Here’s why this works. By forcing yourself to write every day, and write a lot every day, you must be creative. The sheer tension of the exercise translates into your text. Your characters usually face deadlines as well. You must throw them into danger and find quirky ways to extricate them. Your life and your characters’ lives become intertwined, and you start living in both worlds at once. This is total immersion into the world of your novel, where the ideas flow out as fast as you can think them up. You don’t have time to ponder proper grammar or punctuation, let alone metaphor or point-of-view.
Now let’s be serious for a moment. Most of the stuff you will come up with will be crap (whether you write your first draft during NaNoWriMo or not). Characters will show up and disappear. Threads will be left hanging. Scenes will be as empty as a Christmas store in May. Your villains will be as hollow as a later Schwarzenegger movie. Don’t worry about it. Your magical First Draft is simply a milestone on your way to a publishable masterpiece. Consider it as a detailed outline, subject to edits and revisions. The point is that you now have something you can work with, the first step in creating something bigger. You’ve written a novel, and no one can take that away from you!
Despite the fact that NaNoWriMo starts Nov. 1, I highly suggest starting earlier—not writing, of course, but plotting, planning, thinking about characters and conflicts, the general gist of the story, settings, world-building, etc. The more you have ready-to-go before Nov. 1, the easier it will be. Character sketches, backstory, maps, descriptions, scene ideas, whatever you think might make it easier.