Let’s begin at the bottom. What is NaNoWriMo exactly? NaNoWriMo is short for ‘National Novel Writing Month’. (Don’t be put off by the name, it’s actually an international event now but InNoWriMo doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.) NaNoWriMo challenges you to write 50,000 words in 30 days and takes place in November every year. The idea is that you write a full novel but there are debates over whether 50,000 words would constitute a novel and a lot of NaNoers find at 50,000 words their novel isn’t finished anyway.
So, we’ll stick with just writing 50,000 words in a month.
These have to be 50,000 brand new words. Technically, you are allowed to continue a piece you’ve already started on (this would make you a NaNoWriMo Rebel!) as long as you write 50,000 previously unwritten words during November. You can write about anything! After all, it’s your novel.
So, you’ve learnt what NaNoWriMo and have decided to “give it a go.” Making this decision is the first step in what will end up being a succession of many, many steps (some of these steps may turn into crawling on hands and knees, especially around week two… but I digress.) But how do you actually write a novel in a month? Great question! Here are my hints and tips for first time NaNoers:
- Don’t look back. Seriously, don’t. Once you’ve written something, it’s written, it counts towards your 50,000 words. So, don’t look back, don’t think about what you’ve already written and don’t edit. (Imagine that sentence spoken by the 10th Doctor in the way he talks on the video in the episode ‘Blink’. It’s that serious.) Editing is for December.
- Don’t delete. You really hate that 500 word paragraph? Too bad. Strike it through and ignore it. You can delete it after November. On November 30th, you’ll want those words.
- Use the forums. The forums are gold dust. They are full of brilliant, amazing, insane WriMos who are all there for help and support as they too battle through their own novel. These are the people who will pick you up when you’re down, help you through the bad times and give you radical ideas for character names, subplots and death scenes.
- Word wars are your friend. What’s a word war? A word war is racing against one or more people in a set amount of time to see who can write the most number of words. Popular word wars last for 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes and an hour. Sometimes they’re called sprints and you’ll find threads for all of those times and more on the ‘Word Wars, Prompts and Sprints’ section of the forums. There is also an official NaNoWriMo Sprints Twitter account which runs sprints every day of the month. There’s an unofficial NaNoWriMo Facebook page which is also awesome for sprints.
- Character names are overrated. So, you’ve hit your stride, everything’s going well and suddenly a new character appears but you don’t know what to call them! You don’t want to lose pace by thinking of a suitable name. Don’t worry. NONAME is a perfectly acceptable character name. Especially in November.
- 1,667. You’ll dream of this number. This is the minimum number of words you need to write a day to stay on track. It’s on average 4 pages on Microsoft Word, single spaced, using Times New Roman size 12.
- Write. This is the obvious one. Right? Wrong. It’s very tempting to have a “day off” or to nap in the afternoon during the only free hour of the day you have. It’s scarily easy to slip off the rails and before you know it, four days have passed and you’re 6,668 words behind. Write whenever you have the chance. Read more on my blog here for hints on writing everywhere. 100 words before you go to sleep is better than no words at all.
- Back it up! Dropbox, Google Documents, email. Back up your novel, online, daily. There is nothing scarier that losing several thousand of your hard earned words to a computer crash or random flash drive formatting. The Internet is safe and you can access your file from anywhere.
- Have fun. NaNoWriMo is a frantic month and believe me you’ll get stressed, laundry will pile up and Starbucks will be your friend. But remember that it supposed to be a lot of fun as well. Don’t let the stresses get to you. I mean, where else can you walk onto a forum, have a perfectly serious conversation about how much jelly/jello it would take to fill in the Grand Canyon, watch two fictional characters that you’ve created do things you would never have imagined and welcome The Travelling Shovel of Death into your life?
In short, keep writing, don’t edit, and enjoy yourself. You’re not just sat in front of a computer with no one but yourself and a lonely piece of chocolate to motivate you, you’re suddenly immersed in a whole community with 100,000 people motivating you and running the race alongside you. (And you have a cool word count graph on your NaNoWriMo profile!)
Welcome to NaNoWriMo.
Every so often I’m going to dip into my memory and regale you with stories of previous NaNos. As far as I can remember anyway…
The story of how I came across NaNo and what that first year was like for me seems like a good place to start!
I was sat in class one day, doodling, dreaming, clock watching (as you do at 16) when all of a sudden, a UNICORN (no joke) came into the classroom. As everyone stared (and I thought I’d fallen asleep), it trotted up to me and bowed its head. There, on it’s horn, was a miniature golden halo. Inscribed on the halo were the immortal words: National Novel Writing Month.
No? Oh, fine…
Actually, a friend of mine told me she’d heard about this novel writing challenge online and as I wrote a lot, she thought I’d like to try it. (See? Doesn’t the above story sound much more exciting now?) I liked the idea, looked up the website, signed up and that was that! It was mid-October and I was totally into forums at the time so I loved it before it had even started. My username was ‘ShadowedWhispers’ and I was ready to go.
November begun. It was my only year of hand-writing the novel. We had a family PC at home but that meant I didn’t always have access to it if someone else was using it. So, I wrote a lot in my free periods at college (for any Americans reading, 6th form college is like the last two years of high school) and at night in my room. I actually, insanely, also typed up what I wrote when I did have access to a PC so I could have it officially validated! Back then I didn’t know about the Luddite Clause so essentially, by the end of November, I’d written twice as much!
I remember desperately wanting to prove to everyone, especially myself, that I could do it. My family didn’t get what I was doing, but my friends were supportive. November that year was a total roller coaster. I’d never written so much, so fast. It was exciting and scary and yeah, I’ll admit, my schoolwork took a bit of a hit that month. Luckily, I didn’t have any exams or major deadlines until December. (And I’m not recommending you put NaNoWriMo ahead of school, kids!)
I remember the thrill of validating my first NaNo novel. Picture the scene… It’s November 30th, I had just turned 17 (my birthday’s in November) and my curfew on the computer was when Mum went to bed, which was usually about 10:30/10:45pm. I still had a thousand or so words to go before I reached 50K when she came into the dining room and told me to get off the computer. I was horrified. I begged, actually BEGGED, to stay on it longer. I swear, I was this close to getting down on my knees. I’m not sure if she really understood my urgency but she reluctantly allowed me to stay on, with stern warnings telling me to be off before Dad went to bed. This was it. I was on it. My typing speed these days is about 80 words a minute, but back then, it was probably more like 40 or 50 words a minute. I typed. I just wrote, frantically. I was racing the clock. At 11:45pm, I struck 50,000 words and rushed to validate.
Now, any newer members of NaNo won’t remember the days when the website would crash under the numbers of members trying to validate before midnight on November 30th. My memories of those days are immensely fond (veterans know what I’m on about) but on that particular November 30th, I was in fear that I wouldn’t have my novel officially validated in time.
At 11:55pm, my novel validated. I had never been more happy.
I began a tradition that night. I saved my novel to a USB drive and wore it on a lanyard around my neck until I went to bed. It was my pride and joy. I remember trembling from the slight adrenaline rush I had got.
I had written a novel.
I wrote some typically teenage angsty stuff, which has become the source of several jokes between myself and my friend who read it afterwards; but even so, I had written a novel. I was on top of the world.
And I have never looked back. (Except for the purpose of this blog…)
What’s your first NaNoWriMo story?