For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is an awesome event that writers everywhere should attempt at least once. Like the name suggests, the goal is to write a complete first draft of a novel (50,000 target word count) in only a month. Impossible you say? Yes, sometimes it is. And then again, sometimes not.
My first experience with NaNoWriMo was back during my sophomore year of college. Tons of people in my creative writing classes were talking about it and freaking out about how their word counts were not on track to finish by the end of the month. Once I found out about the challenge, I thought it was definitely something I wanted to try. So I cluelessly jumped into the chaos already a week behind everyone else. And not only that, I also changed my novel idea two weeks into the challenge. I had completely set myself up to fail at this, and yet the strangest thing happened, by the end of the month I had a complete 50,000 word novel!
How did that happen? Well, it had a lot to do with having no friends. But in all seriousness, the thing that helped the most was the word counter that the NaNoWriMo website provides. Every day you enter in your word count on the NaNoWriMo website. It keeps track of your pace and how many words you need to write per day in order to finish. Needless to say, it was quite the motivator, especially once it got down to the wire and I could see how many words short I was. It gave me that extra push to catch up and finish my novel.
Because of the rushed timing, you shouldn't expect your novel to be very good once you are done with it. It is a first draft after all, and those always need work. But the point is to get something completely finished down. Too many times, and I am so very guilty of this, writers start off strong with a story and then slowly lose motivation and inspiration. Then there is an unfinished first draft which is never going to mature into a novel. NaNoWriMo helps you get that first draft done so that you can move forward and shape up your writing into the awesome story you first imagined it to be.
I wills say, this challenge is not for the weak of heart. It is a mad rush during that month and you give up on basically everything else but your novel. For college students, Thanksgiving Break suddenly becomes a whole bunch of free time for writing, forget the turkey! But with all that said, it has been one of the most rewarding experiences, and I'm sure even better if you can find a writing group to get plugged into and go through it with together.
I have done NaNoWriMo for three years now. The first year was an unbelievable success and that last two, well, have been flops. My novels still sit unfinished despite my harried attempts to put words down and finally giving up halfway through the month. Yet, I have not been deterred. This year I will try once again to finish the challenge and I hope that you will join me and try to do the same.
Want to give yourself a head start two months out? Here's how:
1. Sign up and make a profile at nanowrimo.org. It takes hardly any time at all and gives you time to explore all of the resources you will have for the month of November.
2. Start connecting with other writers who are going to do the challenge. I have a friend who I have known for four years that I met in my first college creative writing class. Throughout the years we have met in coffee shops and encouraged one another in our writing. She does NaNoWriMo as well and it is so helpful to be able to talk to her about my frustrations and encourage one another to push through to that next word count.
3. If you're a planner like I am, start an outline. Some writers work well with outlines, others don't. But if you find that outlines help keep your writing on track then use these months to thoroughly think out your story world, develop your characters, and pay special attention to your plot. Then when the craziness begins, you're better equipped to avoid writer's block and work towards completing the challenge.
4. Get pumped! Get excited about NaNoWriMo and especially get excited about your story. Tell people about it who will be your cheerleaders and help you through that month. It's a great time so don't take things too seriously. Even if you don't finish, you've still written a large amount of your story and have connected with other writers.
I will be keeping you posted about my experience during this year's NaNoWriMo. Whether I succeed or fail, I'm hoping that it will be a fruitful month of writing. Good luck and let the prep begin!