Wednesday, July 14, 2010

NaNoWriMo for New Writers


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.


  1. *sigh* I love NaNo! Did my first one this last year and now I'm hopelessly hooked. :)

  2. I love Nano. Whole-heartedly. Competed and completed five years now!

  3. I love NaNo and welcomed your post. Thank you. I completed my first novel last year during NaNo and think it's worth polishing. Have begun my second in a NaNo look-alike challenge and will be ready for Nov. to roll around. Best..:)

  4. Nano is THE best thing a new writer can try. Either that or SoCNoC. Great post. Hope it encourages more people to try it!

  5. I might try it this year, although I hope I'll be finished with my current manuscript by that time.

  6. I do adore NaNoWriMo...without it, I would never have finished a draft of anything. Even though I don't "need" it for that anymore, I still participate every year for the camaraderie and "high" of finishing a draft in 30 days.

    Wonderful, wonderful thing, that NaNo...

  7. I really want to do it this year, mostly to be part of the creative energy floating around the room. Your blog is a great resource for me. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Great advice, I've been wanting to participate in NaNo for a while now, and I'm hoping this year will be the year. :)

  9. Hadassah: Oh I hope so, too. And you can even have writer friends on the NaNo website, supporting you along the way.

  10. Excellent advice, Andrew. Stephen King seems to back up your sentiment completely. I just read "On Writing" and he said he writes 10 pages every day...EVERY DAY! He churns out a first draft in three months. Wow.

    If a guy that got squashed by a bus can do it...I can certainly try.

  11. Great post, Andrew, thanks for sharing this with us!

  12. I did one in 2008 and literally made it up as I went along - but that's how I roll! I agree though that it's an ace way of writing a novel, even if the first attempt is largely hogwash. Still, a rushed novel that requires editing is better than no novel at all...

  13. @Lisa: NaNo gets into your head.

    #cat: Only three for me...but if I had known...

    @L'A: Everyday is like November...

    @Writers: Me too!

    @Alex: Do it anyways.

    @Jamie: It's a blast!

    @Dawn: Hope to see you Nov 1!

    @Hadassah: There's no time like November.

    @C Bailey: Thanks for hosting this blogfest!

    @Raquel: You want to get squashed by a bus?

    @Sangu: Anytime!

    @Icy: Love the name. NaNo is the only way to go!


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