What IS NaNoWriMo, anyway?
National Novel Writing Month, for those of you who may have never heard of it, is an event which happens every year in the month of November where millions of writers, young and old, attempt a feat they may have put off for any number of reasons; their quest to write a novel. The requirements seem daunting at first: You have 30 days to write 50,000 words in a very modest novel. To put this in perspective, the average novel these days has a wide ranging word count of 85,000 to 150,000.
To complete the task, you will need to put in consistent daily work at 1667 words every day. Yes, it sounds easy. But it isn’t. We are talking about the equivalent of six and a half pages of writing a day. I have participated in two NaNoWriMo twice, in 2010 and 2011. It was the hardest writing I have ever done. But also the most rewarding.
So you want to do NaNoWriMo 2013?
You need to focus on these ideas:
- Have an idea of what you want to happen in your story. It’s your story, so you have complete control of what happens. If you are not a regular writer (meaning someone who writes every day already) you will find NaNoWriMo to be a challenge you may not be ready for. It is hard work to go from NO pages a day to 8-9 pages a day, every day for 30 days.
- No matter what the pantsters say, planning is still an important part of completing NaNoWriMo. If you are not a writer regularly, you need a floor plan. You need an idea of what you want to accomplish, what you want to relay to the reader and the level of complexity you need to tell your story. Outlining is the difference between completing a story and just talking about doing so.
- The kind of story you are telling matters. if you are telling a story in modern New York, you don’t have to do much research on a toilet. Everyone who reads, knows what one is and where to expect to find one. However, if you suddenly want a barrow-wight to leap out of a local cemetery you may have to explain what a barrow-wight is, why it would be in a cemetery and what the threat of a barrow-wight is to the local urban dweller. You have to decide this beforehand or it will come off clumsy and difficult to follow.
- I am not from the Show, Don’t Tell school of BS. Write what you think it will take to tell your story. You can use the characters, you can use the narrator, you can use the setting. Do whatever it takes to paint a scene worth participating in. Ask yourself this simple rule: IS THIS SCENE WORTH THE TIME IT WILL TAKE TO READ IT? Will the reader come away wiser, smarter, more aware, more challenged to participate in your story. Did you lie to them to keep them interested? Yes, you know you have to have a consequence for that lie later. Make a note. READERS REMEMBER DANGLING PLOTLINES. Keep up with yours.
- Keeping to your outline is critical for NaNoWriMo. You will have to consistently bang out 1667 words everyday to make your mark of 50,000 characters. That is an average of 8 or 9 pages a day. It is a feat to be able to bang out that many pages consistently. It is even more difficult if you are not used to it.
But what is the most important thing you could tell me about NaNoWriMo?
But the most important thing I could say about NaNoWriMo is to NOT EDIT YOURSELF WHILE WRITING. Write without stopping. Write without censoring yourself. Write as if you didn’t know who would be reading it tomorrow. Write as if every day you might be dead tomorrow and you wanted to get these burning thoughts on the page.
You will have to overcome huge obstacles to meet your 50,000 word deadline. Fear, trepidation, skill challenges, real life and other responsibilities, and craft deficiencies, you just don’t realize you don’t know until you are doing it. Things like:
- Every time a new speaker speaks, you make a new paragraph.
- Every time you change your perspective or a stream of thought you make a new paragraph.
- You don’t have to include “he said, she said” with every new line if you only have two people. You just have to make sure everyone can tell whose talking. If more than two people are talking its okay to use “he said” because the reader will incorporate into their mental dialog and stop seeing it.
About a third of the people who participate in NaNoWriMo finish. That is a huge number. But if you are part of the 2/3 who don’t you may feel devastated.
If you have never run a marathon and you have not trained, and are not particularly in shape, you would be hard pressed to finish one. The winners of marathons have run shorter races, built up their stamina, they have the best running shoes, they know the route, they know where the hills are, they drink plenty of fluids and eat foods which supply them with the right kind of energy at the right time. The have lots of practice in their techniques, their breathing, they have developed their stamina.
They have prepared. If you haven’t you may not finish, but your struggle will refine your awareness of what you know and what you don’t. Next time you will do better because you will prepare better. You will be smarter. You will plan ahead.
Your will to succeed will be hardened by your earlier defeat. So do what you can to prepare. Write an outline, use a technique called the Snowflake Method if you have never written an outline. Pick the same time everyday, disable your browser, throw out your cat, turn off your phone and for a couple of hours everyday, you create like no one is watching and believe in your world like no one will ever read it but you.
Thaddeus Howze, October 2013