NaNoWriMo: A Primer

~by Joey Rodman

For the uninformed November is National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. Every November across the nation and around the world there are thousands of people who sit down and write an entire novel. It’s a competition against yourself. If you write 50K words in 30 days you win.  If you don’t… well, you tried to win. When you think about it, there’s never a loser. I’ve been participating since 2005 and look forward to it every year.

Click photo to visit Sara Gonzales' webstie from where the graphic was derived.

Before you start thinking the things I know you already are, stop and breathe. It’s not as hard as it sounds. It’s almost as crazy as it sounds, but we’ll leave that part aside for now. Deep breath, open mind, positive thoughts…..and GO.

If you’re like most people I know, you want to write a book. I hear this from people often when they find out I write. They say “I’ve always wanted to write a novel but I never have the time.” Well, I’m here to tell you, it’s time. I know some of you are thinking: “Is 50K words really a novel?” Yes.  40K words is a novella, and 50K is a novel. While there are many novels that are much longer, many novels have about fifty thousand words. One of my favorite books of all time, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is about fifty thousand words long. (Also included: Brave New World and The Great Gatsby.)

National novel writing month started in 1999 with a group of 21; last year there were just under 170, 000 participants. In the Oklahoma City area alone we have almost 1000 participants according to the NaNoWriMo website. When you choose to write a novel in November you’re not alone. Writing a novel with the support of others makes it much easier than writing a novel alone. The accountability alone is empowering, but the social aspect really helps to move things along.

Now, down to the nitty gritty. If you’re really considering this, here are 10 things you should know:

  1. It doesn’t have to be good. The point of NaNoWriMo is to come out of November with a first draft, or if you’re a perfectionist like myself, a “pre-first draft” because first draft connotes some level of completeness that I feel I can’t be expected to do in a month.
  2. It’s okay to fail. Nobody really can say anything to you if you don’t finish. They can try but your retort should be “Oh yeah?! Well, how many books did YOU write this month?!”
  3. It’s only 1667 words a day. That sounds like a lot, but it’s really not much. Right now, at the end of this sentence I have over 600 words….that’s about 35% of your daily word count.
  4. When you come to meet-ups it’s not a competition, unless you want it to be. We have all won and lost before, and the ones who haven’t are in their first year too… it’s all about succeeding together. Every once in a while a “word war” will break out which is a short burst of writing frenzy where the timer starts and you write as much as you can before it goes off. Whoever gets the most wins, and who ever doesn’t win got a LOT of new words typed.
  5. You don’t need a plot, characters, outline or plan. Write whatever you want, you can fix it later.
  6. You can’t/shouldn’t edit in November. You’ll never win if you edit while you write. Leave the mistakes in (it’s hard!) and go back later (after November!) and fix them. Be sure to let us know about the really funny ones, we call them NaNoisms. NaNoism: a typo the detonates and takes out the entire sentence around it. See: “the dragon escaped by flapping its enormous wigs,” or “he bowed to thundering applesauce.”
  7. Write now. Since the “rules” say from November 1st to the 30th and it’s already November, start now. Don’t worry about missing a day or two. Head over to the NaNoWriMo website, sign up and start writing. Open up a word processing document, type “Chapter 1” , save it, close it. Go to the NaNoWriMo website and update your wordcount, 2 words. You have officially done better than many people who sign up. Now close your browser and go write your novel.
  8. Come to meet-ups. Jasmine Brothers (our municipal liasion) says: The meet ups happen during November primarily so people can socialize, get away from writing for a bit…or brag, or complain, or run over plot details to try to make them make sense. Some folks chose to write in good company, and word wars have broken out. Someone behind the scenes with NaNo actually ran the numbers once, and it turns out that more than half of all the people who sign up each year never enter a word count. Among the half who do, those who participate in the forums are more likely to make it to 50,000 words than those who don’t…and those who go to meet ups are even more likely than those who only hang out on the forums. I personally think that has to do with the support and companionship you receive…hitting that 50,000 isn’t a solo effort anymore.
  9. Write anywhere. Whether you have a laptop, a spiral notebook, or an old Smith Corona you can write anywhere you are. I take a notebook with me to sort out my plot bunnies and write down ideas when away from home. Plot bunny: a random idea that comes hopping up and demands your attention. These are known to go on to spawn lots of cute little sub-plots, and so can be said to ‘breed like bunnies.’
  10. Whatever you do, have fun. Life is too short to have regrets. If you get stuck come to a meetup and we’ll help you.

Final word count for this entry? Nearly 1000 words. See? I told you it was easy.