• NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, when people all across the nation get together during November to each write a 50,000 word novel in one month.
• NaNoWriMo is an actual organization with group write-ins, 24 hour write-a-thons, leaders, prizes, software-discounts, kick-offs. It can also entirely be done online.
• NaNo is a great time to connect with other authors, let your writing become part of something greater, form writers’ groups, and motivate each other.
• NaNo is a killer way to write your first novel or get the kick in the pants you need.
National Novel Writing Month. The month of November where writing takes over. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo takes place every November with the express goal of writing a 50,000 word novel between November 1 and November 30. It’s produced books such as Water for Elephants, Wool, and The Night Circus. Participants (Wrimos) love it. Others hate it, thinking it nothing more than a gimmick to produce crap work. For me, it’s been a wonderful way to connect, get work done while meeting new friends, and take my writing places I hadn’t thought possible.
Last Year Embracing the NaNo
Last year was my first NaNo. I’d heard about it for years, but it didn’t hold much interest for me. However, my writers’ group decided on trying it as a way to motivate ourselves, so I jumped in.
My first realization was this wasn’t something like Valentine’s Day, where everyone just celebrates by themselves. This was an actual organization, with leaders and managers who put on events and “write-ins” where we’d all get together and write. They have a phenomenal website to post progress and keep people motivated. Kick-off parties at Denny’s or the library had prizes. We received bookmarks and tiny cards where we placed stars to account for every 5,000 words we wrote. I even won an umbrella!
The high point was our 24 hour write-a-thon. The leaders rented an Airbnb and about a dozen of us got together. Each brought snacks or other food to keep us alert (or sugar saturated) while we wrote. Twenty-five minutes at a time, with 5 or 15 minute breaks to chat, talk about our work, stretch, or go for a walk. We had larger breaks after a while, but the focus still remained on writing.
All of us came from disparate backgrounds, writing in different genres, yet we were united in being together and pushing each other on. Every time someone reached a goal or hit another 5,000 words, the leader rang a bell, handing out a sticker to put on their card. And on and on and on we went. A few people left around 10 p.m., which was perfectly acceptable, while the rest of us kept working until well after midnight. One by one, people started conking out, heading to a bedroom to sleep or finding a bit of floor to lie down. I think I made it to 2 or 3 am when the words started jumbling together and I was writing incoherent sentences. I found my own patch of free space on a futon too small to fit me, curled up in my blankets and went to sleep.
In the morning, it was back to work after some great breakfast and chatting. At noon, we dispersed and called the 24 hour write-a-thon complete. The toughest member of the group had stayed up until 4 or 5 a.m. before she finally crashed.
I was harried and haggard but exhilarated. This was something new, something to be a part of. There’s a power in shared suffering, even if it’s something as silly as staying up together. You see that kind of power in sharing tough classes with peers, getting through difficult assignments as a team. And that’s exactly happened for me during NaNo.
I’m not sure how many people reached their NaNo goal (50,000 words is the baseline goal, though many people had higher sights). I succeeded in mine, which was 100,000 words. But for me, the real experience was getting together, meeting new people, and sharing the journey. Writing can be an awfully lonely endeavor, so it helps to have others along the way cheering you on.
Benefits Making the NaNo last
I made a lot of friends from my foray into NaNo. I still meet with some of the regularly and even found a new writers’ group. My primary writing group meets via Skype since we all live far away but the NaNo one is a mere 30 minute drive, right next door for Southern California. That’s been a huge joy and a help as we meet each Wednesday morning at a coffee shop to write or just shoot the breeze.
I have a personal goal of completing one new first draft each year. I started last year late and was worried about accomplishing my goal, but NaNo gave me the drive I needed. I ended up finishing with a 200,000 word epic fantasy book, the largest I’ve ever written. It’s not entirely complete, but I’m satisfied with where I got it.
There’s a lot more with NaNo that I didn’t use, such as their website where you can post/track progress, win more prizes, get discounts on software, and other things. It’s something I’m interested in trying this year.
For a lot of people, NaNo is the first time they complete anything and this can be hugely motivating. If you learn nothing else from NaNo, you learn you can write, that you can accomplish hard things like writing a novel, that it is possible to do. While there’s a ton else that goes into getting a novel done (revising, restructuring, tweaking, passes for voice/characters/plot holes, beta readers, a billion other things), you can’t start that process unless you actually have something. And for most people, writing a crappy novel can be a great goal. Just having finishing a novel, you’re lightyears ahead of a lot of others who want to write but for whatever reason haven’t.
Crossing the finish line (for a first draft) is a wonderful gift to give yourself. It’s a gift that can come through NaNo.
This Year Into the future
I’m making some changes to this upcoming NaNo, which is a mere few days away. I discovery wrote most of my fantasy novel last year, which was good but it felt like pulling teeth sometimes. This year, I’m applying my new outlining tools (Take off Your Pants!). My writers’ group is once again shooting for winning NaNo (writing 50,000 words) and we’ve all been anxiously working on outlines, tweaking plot holes, getting them in the best shape possible so when November 1st hits, we hit the ground running.
My NaNo book will be the first sequel I’ve ever done, so I’m excited. It’s for a science fiction book I wrote two years ago. My NaNo goal is to get the first 50,000 words done by end of November, while my overarching goal is still to finish a new first draft (this book) by the end of the December.
But how about you? Have you done NaNoWriMo before? If so, what were your impressions? Helpful tool? Wonderful friends? Waste of time? Unhelpful hope? What do you want to get from this year’s NaNo? Leave your comments below!