It’s almost November. (Like really almost November. I meant to post this last week!) Good things happen in November: Thanksgiving is in November. I know about ten people with birthdays in November. November is the kickoff for the Green Bean Project at FTN which helps fatherless kids, single moms, and orphans around the world. And for us writers, November is means NaNoWriMo.
“What is NaNoWriMo?” you might be asking. NaNoWriMo is an event more than a thing. It’s when hundreds of thousands of writers band together and purpose to write to completion a 50,000 word novel—in one month.
Yes, we’re slightly insane.
In order to reach this goal, a writer must write approximately 1700 words each day.
How long does it take you to write 1700 words?
According to an article in the LA Times, 430,000 writers jumped on board in 2015. More than 40,000 finished their novels. That’s roughly about 10%. (I wasn’t one of them. I skipped that year.) Obviously, this is not a task to be taken lightly.
I have only participated twice. Both times I was able to complete the 50,000 words, but ended up finishing the novel at 60,000-80,000 words somewhere in the first week of December. Both attempts have produced some of my favorite stories and characters. Stories and characters, which have yet to be published, mind you.
In case you’re a writer looking to take on this challenge for the first time, here are some things I’ve learned:
Know your story. Even if you don’t write using an outline (which I highly recommend for NaNoWriMo) at least know in your head where you’re going and what the main elements of the story will be.
Research ahead of time, or at least have a plan for your research. Both of my NaNoWriMo novels were more contemporary than the books I have published. A portion of one of them takes place in Zaire in the mid- to late-nineties. Those were not happy times in Zaire. (Were there ever happy times in Zaire?) I did some research before hand, but I also discovered along the way that since I was living in Russia at the time, I needed to catch up on some things about American life in order to fill in the gaps. For instance, the extent of cellphone usage. Believe it or not, we saw mobile phone use become prominent in Moscow much earlier than I saw it become common in my hometown of Billings, MT. Little things like that popped up all through the novel. It helped to have sites identified that I could refer to quickly and easily.
Know when and where you will write. This isn’t always possible, but if you can, have a plan and a schedule.
Set your daily goal higher than the minimum. Writing 50,000 words in 30 days requires a minimum of 1667 words per day. But you’re not going to write every day. Something will come up. (Like birthdays and Thanksgiving!) Aim higher, especially during the first part of the month. If you get a big cushion it will take the stress off. BUT don’t get too comfortable because at a 1667 word/day minimum that cushion falls away very fast.
Don’t edit. I know this can be hard for those of us who like every sentence to be perfect before we add the period at the end, but it is necessary. You will not finish if you edit. It would be much better to finish early (sweating and panting most likely) and edit in the final days, than to edit along the way and never finish.
Watch for signs that you need a break. Even during NaNoWriMo we have to take breaks sometimes. Our brain can only function so well after so many hours awake, surviving on caffeine and chocolate. When you can’t spell your characters’ names right anymore, or you forget which one lives in which town—it’s probably time for a break. Take a night off, get some sleep, and start fresh tomorrow. (That early cushion comes in handy here too!)
Celebrate!!! Tell other people about your accomplishment. If you’re afraid to share it publicly just tell a friend. At the very least, tell your mom. (My mom actually joined me last year, and she hasn’t stopped writing since!)
Take a break. Writing is a little bit like dough. It needs to rest a while. Take some time away from your novel. Come back to it in a few weeks. Nothing will have changed, but your mind will be fresh.
Let your work come alive through rewrites and edits. Your NaNoWriMo novel is probably going to look like someone puked the story out on the page. There will be flaws, mistakes, inconsistencies and underdeveloped plots, scenes, and characters. That’s OKAY. A story comes to life in the rewrites and edits. Take the time to edit for concepts, structure, character and dialog, scene development, style and flow, and finally grammar. Enjoy it! Rewriting is an adventure all its own.
For those of you who don’t participate—pray for those who do! We might be a little insane, but you might just be surprised how many of the new novels you’ve been reading on Amazon were birthed during National Novel Writing Month.
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