NaNoWriMo is coming – and you should do it.
Back in 1999 – yes, last century – a man named Chris Baty and a bunch of twenty-one writing enthusiasts gathered in San Francisco and set a challenge: to write a novel in one month. The next year the event was moved to November and a website was created for it; 140 people signed up for the event in 2000. A Yahoo group was made so participants could communicate and basic ground rules were set. 29 of the 140 participants got through the 2000 challenge. It was the start of something – the birthing years of the National Novel Writing Month.
In 2001 there were 5,000 participants. In 2002, 14,000 tried their hand at it. And it’s grown since then under the watchful eye of the Office of Letters and Light. It’s also more International than National, obviously; perhaps it should be called the InNoWriMo now, but it’s not.
I joined in 2010 along with 200,000 other participants. I wrote a story set in a fictional world I’d made for a role-playing game I am theoretically still writing. It wasn’t very good but it did meet the word count (just). I’m not sure where that story is now and I don’t even remember what it’s called. The next year I wrote a rather awful vampire story which I’m not sure if I’m proud of or ashamed of; either way it was fun enough and it, too, made the word count. In 2012 I didn’t do the challenge; this year I’ve been challenged by a friend and fellow writer that if I do it she, too, will do it – and so I’m in.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ve already mentioned ‘word counts’ and ‘ground rules’ without explaining them. And so, without further ado, I give you…
The (inter)National Novel Writing Month Rules of Engagement
- You start at 00:00:00 (midnight) on the 1st of November (local time).
- Your required word count is 50,000 words. More is great. Less is not.
- Your novel must be yours. No plagiarist works. Write your own words.
- It can be any genre, any style, and content. it can be a kid’s book, a work of fanfiction (so while it must be your writing it doesn’t need to be your characters or world!), a romance, a sci-fi novel, thriller, erotica, high fantasy – anything. It doesn’t technically even need to be a novel – that is, it doesn’t need to be fiction.
- You need to start from scratch on November the 1st. The reason for this, as given, is that if you bring a half-finished piece to NaNoWriMo it’ll bring with it too much baggage to write freely and recklessly, which is what NaNoWriMo is all about.
- Outlines and plot notes, even ones written months prior, are fine. They can actually be extremely helpful. Just don’t bring actual manuscripts to the NaNoWriMo table.
- You can reuse old ideas. Abandon (or set aside) what you’ve already written, start from scratch and go for it.
- You need to be 13 or older to sign up on the NaNoWriMo website but younger writers are encouraged to participate in the NaNoWriMo’s Younger Writers Program.
- Word counts are verified via the NaNoWriMo website. You can scramble the text easily enough in MS Word; instructions are in the FAQs. You can probably do it via other programs as well.
- You end at 23:59:59 (one second before midnight) on the 30th of November (local time). Nothing written after that counts.
For more, feel free to wade through the NaNoWriMo FAQs.
A Few Notes
There are a few pointers that you might want to bear in mind.
- It’s not about quality. It’s about quantity. There’s no problem with it being crap because you don’t have to show it to anyone and you can work on future drafts as you see fit. The point of NaNoWriMo is to write a lot on the principle that it’s easier to work with content you have than trying to get everything perfect first time (which is a problem I have lots of trouble with). This is THE hardest part to get your mind around (or I found it so, anyway). Turn off your internal editor. Throw away your self-accusations. Forget, for one month, your assumptions that if it’s not coming out perfectly that you shouldn’t be writing in the first place. Write a lot because you can always fix it up later. You can’t fix up something that doesn’t exist.
- Try to aim for 1,667 words per day. If you miss a day then try to make it up the following day but don’t let it get on top of you. 1,667 words in a day isn’t too bad. 3,334 is getting bloated. Sure, you might write way more than that on a good day but part of the point of NaNoWriMo is that it forces you to write on days that aren’t good, too.
- Sign up on the NaNoWriMo website. It’s got word-count tools and you might as well have it set up because you’ll need to validate your work anyway.
- Check out the forums. A lot of people do NaNoWriMo. You might meet someone awesome.
- There are often events in local capital cities. Keep an eye out for events you might like to go to!
- NaNoWriMo is a not-for-profit organisation. If you have some spare cash please consider donating*.
- If you’d prefer to have some stuff rather than just donating there’s a NaNoWriMo store which you can find here. Shirts, hoodies, notebooks, stories, mugs, USB bracelets, posters and more.
- Find people to write with. Share ideas. Get excited. Introduce new people to NaNoWriMo. If you’ve a friend with any interest in writing then they should definitely, at the very least, be told that it exists. Spread the word. Spread the love. Ask for help when you get stuck. All of this will keep your enthusiasm high.
- If November is no good and April or July would suit you more, consider Camp NaNoWriMo – it’s basically the same thing but not in November.
There are two main tools* I’ve found very useful for doing NaNoWriMo. I might do a more in-depth review on both tools at a later date but for now here’s a brief introduction.
PangurPad is an online writing tool created by Pangur Pty Ltd. Essentially it’s a word processor on the internet. I wrote my 2011 project entirely in PangurPad and can only say good things about the community – tight-knit and supportive. I’m honoured enough to be a Founding Member of PangurPad (which isn’t to say I had anything to do with its creation, I just happened to be there at the start and paid a bit of money to keep it going).
While there are similar tools on the internet nowadays the single most valuable part of PangurPad is its people. Both members and administrators are a great bunch. At the time of writing this the tool isn’t working correctly in Chrome but works just fine in Firefox.
Scrivener is a tool designed by Literature and Latte. I simply cannot rave enough about it. I write primarily in Scrivener these days, with the project files saved in Dropbox so I can jump on my desktop or laptop and work with equal facility wherever I like. In essence it’s a word processor specifically designed for writers that allows you to work in chunks and shuffle them about as you see fit.
This software was designed for the Mac and then ported to Windows after, so Mac users will get the more recent versions and features before the Windows crowd do. Having used both I can firmly say that it’s great to use on either platform.
Why You Should Do It
Why not? First and foremost, why shouldn’t you do it?
Well, you shouldn’t do NaNoWriMo if you’re not serious about writing and have no real interest in improving your authoring skills. Similarly, you should avoid NaNoWriMo if you’re too serious about writing and don’t want to have fun with it. If you actively prefer writing to be a painful slog that you find no joy in, NaNoWriMo isn’t right for you. You also shouldn’t do it if you’ve neither intention nor interest in pushing yourself to find time each day to write. Finally, if you’ve tried it before and it just doesn’t work for you (everyone’s different, after all) then you might not want to revisit it.
The reasons not to participate pretty much end there. Here are ten reasons you should participate.
1) If You Don’t Write You Can’t Improve
If you want to improve your craft you should definitely try NaNoWriMo. But why, if the aim isn’t to write well? The reason is because writing well doesn’t mean a single thing if you’re not writing. If you can write better than anyone ever has but you don’t then it’s wasted ability. You may as well not be able to write at all. Additionally, it’s a very common writers’ block to be so worried about getting things right that your writing flow suffers and you simply… stop. NaNoWriMo is meant to defeat that effect by forcing you to keep writing even if you think what you’re writing is terrible and even if you think you don’t have the time.
The best – indeed, the only – way to get good at something is to practice. Writing is a learned skill like any other.
2) Grab Some Time
NaNoWriMo has a very specific word count that you have to reach in a set period of time; ideally, you’ll be writing 1,667 words per day (for a total of 50,010). This teaches you how to snatch any spare time to keep writing – and you might be surprised how much you can grab. It may even require you to alter your lifestyle a bit to favour writing, setting aside periods of time and making sure all of your chores, tasks and responsibilities are done prior to that so they don’t intrude on your writing time.
3) Generate Ideas By Executing Ideas
The best ideas can come when you’re not trying to force them out. While NaNoWriMo might seem all about forcing yourself it actually helps the creative process – if you’re not agonising over how the plot is going to develop or the main character perfectly inflecting their battle cry then you can run through more ideas faster than if you were aiming for more initially polished writing. Additionally if you’re writing for an hour or three every day those ideas will remain prominent for the entire month; you’ll find yourself thinking of plot ideas in the shower, character concepts while making dinner, ways of including people you know into your stories in a way that’s subtle enough that they won’t know the character’s based on them.
4) Remember, Remember: Revise in December
This is another important one. Unless you’re already an extremely prolific writer who can churn out words very quickly NaNoWriMo forces you to shut down – or at least significantly limit – your internal editor. Most people try to write and revise as they go but if you try to do that with NaNoWriMo you’re going to end up floundering. You’ll run yourself out of time. Editing and revision are extremely important parts of writing, don’t get me wrong (and the second is one I’ve always had trouble with; all of the works on Ink-Stained Worlds are first drafts), but there’s a time and a place for both. Remember, remember: revise in December. Leave November for the writing itself. Get the bulk out in that month and you’ll find yourself with plenty of material to pore and work and tut over at a later date.
A lot of writers are very cautious about experimentation. The two main concerns are that a) if it doesn’t work it’ll ruin the story, and b) that if it’s too experimental then nobody will like it. NaNoWriMo is a sandbox play area. You can make up and test whatever you like. If you’ve got an idea for a particularly silly story, well, go for it. Why not? Nobody needs to see it. If you’ve always wanted to try your hand at a Kubrick-style story written in a lingo reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange then go ahead and try it out. What do you have to lose?
6) Meet Awesome People
There’s a huge range of people who try their hands at NaNoWriMo and most people who hear about it but aren’t interested in participating at least find the idea pretty neat. The NaNoWriMo forums are full of people who are eager to share ideas and find out what others are up to. If you like the people you associate with to be interested in the same sort fo things as you, well, writing is a good start.
7) If Not Now, When?
This is an old question that people still find very hard to answer. You’ve had that idea for a novel in your head for years – when are you going to write it? When you’ve got time, of course, but lives don’t organise themselves neatly around our writing intentions. If not now, when? Make it now. Even if you only ever work on the project each November – a draft for NaNoWriMo, revised each successive year – then you’ll have a lot more of it done than if you keep waiting for your life to spontaneously generate the hundreds of spare hours you need to write a polished story.
8) Specific Goal, Specific Deadline
For those of us who don’t work in writing industries it can be difficult to get used to the concept of writing to a deadline. School certainly doesn’t teach it; school teaches how to fake it at the last minute and see what grades you can get. While journalists are forced to learn how to make deadlines the rest of us are reduced to making it up as we go along. Simple fact is that most people find it hard – not impossible but hard – to make ourselves stick to a self-determined deadline. NaNoWriMo has a deadline and a word count goal set for us – and the added bonus is if we don’t make it we won’t starve, but if we do make it then it’s something we can feel good about. 50,000 words in 30 days? That’s something to be proud of.
9) It’s Cheaper Than Crack^
NaNoWriMo is free to participate in. No costs at all. Sure, you can donate or buy merchandise but you don’t have to. There are no catches, no contracts, no obligations, (arguably) no withdrawal symptoms and it’s also (as far as I know) legal in most countries. It’s cheaper than a chemical addiction of any description – and it’ll keep you off the streets for a change, ya dang hoodlum.
10) You’ll Have a Novel!
At the end of it, if you make the 50,000 word count, you’ll have a novel! It might not be very good, it might need work, it might not even be finished but you’ll be 50,000+ words closer to having a novel finished than you were. And to date over 100 Wrimos (a participant of NaNoWriMo is called a Wrimo; there’s probably no penalty for referring to yourself as a Wrimoceros) have been published traditionally since NaNoWriMo began; there are countless more published through independent, small-press and self-publishing methods. Here’s the list of published Wrimos (and they’re presumably only the Wrimos that the Office of Letters and Light knows about).
And That’s It!
That’s NaNoWriMo. A short introduction, at least. Check out their website – I hope to see you joining in and spreading the word!