NaNoWriMo, a different kind of November

Ever said heard yourself proclaiming that you’d ‘love to write a novel’? Perhaps you’ve done so while sentimentally gazing into the middle distance, your eyes glazed over by visions of the things that could be? And you’ve still not written that novel? Don’t fret – NaNoWriMo is here!

‘NaNoWriMo’ is short for the ‘National Novel Writing Month’, an annual creative writing event ran completely by the National Novel Writing Month charity, and it’s free to take part. Participants in ‘NaNo’ are often referred to as ‘WriMos’ – people who have committed to writing a novel of at least 50,000 words during the month of November. 

The premise of NaNoWriMo is simple: creative writing is great, but it’s hard. It’s especially hard if you are a self-doubting type prone to staring at a blank page for hours on end, unable to come up with the perfect opener. So NaNo says instead that the quality of your writing doesn’t matter; what matters is that you write something. Then you can go back and make it better later.

From the 1st until the 30th of November, WriMos can update their word count on their profile, which automatically updates a little graph on your ‘Stats’ page and shows you how close you are to the 50,000 word goal. Everyone who reaches 50,000 words by the end of the month is named a winner, and entitled to extra offers and deals from NaNo’s sponsors.

To give some idea of how long 50,000 words actually is, it’s worth comparing it to some other well-known novels. For instance, F Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ stands at approximately 47,000 words and ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding counts just under 60,000. The term ‘novel’ is only very loosely defined by its word length in any case – generally it’s anything over 40,000 words.

NaNoWriMo’s community is there to help you write your 1,667 words per day, both online and offline. Online there are forums and chatrooms where writing advice, anecdotes and encouragement are exchanged and Word Wars waged. Word Wars (or ‘Word Sprints’) are a central part of the NaNo experience; a group of people collectively sets a time limit, usually fifteen minutes or half an hour, and then race to see who can write the most words in that time.

Offline all sorts of writing events are organised worldwide. This can go from Kick-Off parties on Halloween where you can start writing as soon as the clock strikes midnight to Write-Ins throughout the month and ‘Thank Goodness It’s Over’ (‘TGIO’) parties once it’s done. Write-Ins are the most common meet-ups; WriMos meet anywhere from cafes to theatres to other WriMo’s houses for Word Wars and sometimes there are even small prizes for those who write the most.

Even if you get involved in neither the online nor the offline community, NaNo keeps you in the loop with encouraging emails every few days. Amongst these cheery words of encouragement are Pep Talks. These are written by published and often quite famous authors offering writing advice and encouragement. Pep Talks have been written by authors as well-known as John Green, Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman and Lemony Snicket.

One of NaNoWriMo’s biggest draws is its unbridled positivity. There is no room for snobbery or pretentiousness with NaNo; the focus is making the effort to write and doing something creative, not showing off or judging others’ work. No one has to see your novel but you.

Similarly the community’s combination of online and offline aspects is another of its great strengths, and one which demonstrates the true power of the internet in bringing people together. This also makes it a great way to make friends locally, even in an area you’ve known for a long time.

We’re only a week into the month at the time of writing, so it’s not too late to get involved! Here’s my advice:

Download a NaNo tracker to use – this is a spreadsheet with some pretty formatting and fancy formulae already written in. All you have to do is fill in your word count each day and it will calculate all sorts of statistics for you, as well as giving you a record of your achievement when you finish. Perfect if you’re a bit of a numbers nerd like me.

Secondly, as the aim of NaNoWriMo is to make writing 50,000 words as accessible and as un-daunting as possible, I’ve found there can be a lot of emphasis on ‘just writing and seeing where the characters take you’ online and in Pep Talks. This is understandable as a way of underlining the importance of creativity over ‘quality’, and many people do have a lot of fun writing this way.

However, I would like to make sure the opposite is advocated for as well – if you want to plan, that’s fine too! I have really enjoyed planning the overall plots of both of my NaNo adventures, and this year I have particularly liked using the ‘story circle’ method of Dan Harmon, the creator of Community. An introduction can be found here, and a more detailed analysis here.

On a similar note, while Word Wars might be a big part of NaNoWriMo, it’s OK if they don’t work so well for you. Some people like to work in short bursts, write really fast and have a break, and some people – like me – take a little longer to warm up, writing slower but for longer periods.

You could compare this to the tale of the tortoise and the hare if you wanted… Of course the tortoise did win in that instance but both crossed the line, and crossing the finish line is what NaNoWriMo is all about!

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