Today I opened Facebook and saw a post from an old friend about Nanowrimo. He said he’d signed up and was really nervous. A first-timer! So many thoughts went through my head. Part of me wanted to ask if he knew what he was getting himself into. Things like: Are you nuts? Don’t you understand how stressful it is? Blah, blah, etc.
The better side of me said a variation of “You got this!” All the bad things associated with Nanowrimo are true, sometimes. They are false other times. Or the negatives might apply to one person and not another.
There is always my case, where the first year was awful and I failed. Then on reflection I realized I didn’t write 50,000 words but I wrote half that amount, which is 25k more words than I had before November. I acquired a daily writing habit and after I finished being a metaphoric Dobby (imagine him punishing himself), I gained some confidence in my skills. I realized I could and should write.
Let’s break down Nanowrimo. The goal is to write a 50,000 word story in a month. November has thirty days so to accomplish this you must write 1667 words a day. If you’re anything like me there will be days where you pump out twice that or more. There will also be days where you’re lucky to get 70, or none.
Some people get discouraged if they are not right on track with the daily goal but the thing to remember the end goal. I say this every year but it’s important to note Nanowrimo is a competition with yourself.
What exactly does that mean? It means you only lose if you give up. Fifty thousand is a number some writer picked. Hey, you are a writer too! We all know there is no one correct way to write. So be you. Write as much as you can, as fast as you can, and see what you end up with.
For those of you who are competitive, well, this is the perfect opportunity! Also, you can cheat. No, I don’t mean copy and paste old stuff. I mean you don’t have to write in one story. You can write many short stories, or half of two. It doesn’t have to be fiction, or even a novel. You could do a screenplay, or a collection of poems. What matters is words, on paper or screen.
If you do win there are some nifty prizes (yes, I actually said nifty). Scrivener, my all time favorite program to write in is 20% off if you don’t win but half off if you do. If you want to try out the program there is a special Nanowrimo trial version available: click here to try it. There are free and discounted publishing tools, a discount on a cool timeline program and many other goodies.
The biggest prize of all is words. The words you wrote. However many you end up with will be more than you started with and probably more than you would have written without Nanowrimo.
We need to go back to the negatives so no one walks in blind.
- Stress. Yes, this happens to most of us, but doesn’t it already happen when you write?
- It’s hard. At times yes, but most of the time you’re so busy in the process you don’t notice. My best advice is to have some kind of plan. You don’t have to plot every detail out, although if you like to, then by all means do it. Just have at least a basic plan of where you’re going. If you’re an ‘organic’ writer, you might have a difficult time.
- Life. It will get in the way as often as possible. If you have kids or pets or a spouse or partner who live with you then you’ll realize quickly they are more needy in November than any other time of the year. As soon as you put a pen to paper or hands to the keyboard they will need you. Even when they try to leave you alone, well, you know how when you’re trying to be quiet so you don’t wake someone up? It will be just like that, all the time. Don’t worry, this is a good thing. I’m not crazy, at least not about this. You will learn to write around distractions, or to tell everyone to shut it. If you have a live in significant other, enlist their help to distract the other distractions. Kids thrive on structure. If you set a time for writing and enforce it then they will get used to it quickly and you’ll forever have your writing time. It’s best to also make this their time, as in give them something they can do as well, that is far away from you and preferably doesn’t involve food.
- Speaking of food, you have to eat and so does your family or pets. Slow cooker. That is all.
- Not finishing. Notice I didn’t say failing. If you wrote during Nano, you haven’t failed.
- Writing yourself into a corner. I’ve done this. I had a plan, it was a bad plan and I got stuck. You have several choices if this happens to you. 1. You can agonize and Dobby yourself and not write another word and be miserable. Trust me, this is not the option to pick. 2. You can pour over your outline or synopsis or whatever you did to plan and try to find where it needs to be fixed. If you do this one, try to keep the pouring short and sweet. Once you figure out the problem don’t try to actually fix it. Write as if you already did. You can revise later. 3. If you’re completely stalled then stop working on the story. Try writing something else. It could be a new novel, something you’ve already worked on, some short stories, whatever you like. It’s your contest and if you write the words, they count. It doesn’t matter if it’s all one novel. My goal is 50,000 words, regardless. For the last two years I’ve written in two different stories each time. One year I finished a middle grade novel. It was only about half the 50k, so I started working on book two of the series. Last year I got stalled and another story was trying to take over anyway so I wrote the second one. In fact, I wrote the entire thing in 15 days.
- Sucky quality. Well, it’s going to happen. When you’re trying to get as many words out as possible, you’re going to have some terrible stuff. For example: The flower was exceptionally pretty, especially the way the ends of the large petals were a completely different, but beautiful shade of the darkest red you can imagine and the stem was a shining and healthy green, like pine trees in the fall in northern Alaska. Long, weird, and awful right? Just wait. Your muse will wax eloquently and you will unconsciously try to stack as much in as you can to reach your word count, especially near the end. Don’t worry when this happens to you. Words first, revision later. By the way, it was hard to make up the above example, but it won’t be in November!
- The opposite of sucky quality. You might have the inner editor problem. Every sentence must be perfect and if it’s not you might go back and fix it in three minutes. Don’t do this to yourself. It’s crucial you turn off the inner editor. This isn’t a competition of perfection, it’s about word count. You can fix it later. Always remember, no matter how hard you try to make each line perfect, first drafts suck. You will have to revise it later anyway, so just write.
- Comparison. Remember, this is a competition with yourself, not anyone else. If you’re part of a Nanowrimo group you’ll start seeing people finish halfway through or writing 3000 words every day. STOP IT! Don’t compare yourself. All you need to do is what works for you. Remember my Alaskan flower sentence? For all you know, every sentence they wrote is the equivalent. Or maybe they are channeling Stephen King and simply write that fast. It doesn’t matter. All that matters if you, and what you can do, what you are doing and what you will do.
- Loneliness. This one is huge. I know writing is a solitary endeavor, but we all need to be around others who understand. It doesn’t have to be in person. There are forums on the Nano website and a lot of regions have a Facebook group. If you can pull yourself out of your introverted ways, attend a few events. Most areas have write-ins a few times during the event. You don’t even have to talk if you go. Bring earbuds and remain silent if you must. Whether you interact or not you’ll be soaking up all the good writer vibes. There is something to be said for being around a bunch of people who are enthusiastic about writing. My first year I lurked in the Facebook page but did all the writing on my own, never speaking to anyone. I wrote 25k words. The next year I got involved and smashed through the goal and have won every year since.
- Writing Advice. There is a ton out there, especially during Nanowrimo. Don’t read it, at least not during November. You want to write, not read about writing. Read as much as you want or can over the next couple of days but once you start, put the books and posts aside and just write. If you get stuck, then check out some tips and get back to it.
- You might win. How is this negative you ask? Well if you finish then you have a novel that needs revision, editing, publishing. This is scary stuff, especially if it’s your first book. I can’t tell you how to get over the fear of hard work or success but I can tell you it’s debilitating if you don’t. Writing is a process and it’s hard. It’s not for everyone but if you can get through all the steps it will be worth it and you’ll be so proud of yourself. If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, do it. You’ve got this!
- You might not win. You may not end up with 50k but you’ll have something. I didn’t win my first year but I did get half the words. I also got my daily writing habit and a huge boost of confidence. I got all the things I listed below, in the good section and a lot more. I can’t forget to mention I got competitive, with myself. I was determined to win the next year. Even with the negatives I had a lot of fun and even though it took some time, in the end I didn’t care that I didn’t ‘win.’
Now for the good:
Yep, that’s what you really get out of this. Sure, if you win you can take advantage of the sponsor offers and goodies but even if you don’t, you have words out of your head. You have something to work with. Whether it be 50,000, 25k, or less, you win at writing. If you participate with others, you might walk away with new friends, a regular writing or critique group, some great encouragement, and maybe a few beta readers. You’ll see.
So to everyone who wants to do Nanowrimo, I say try it. You’ll either love it or you won’t. It’s only one month of your life and you may come away better for it.
Good luck to everyone going for it this year. I can’t wait to get started.