The Gathering is Upon Us: NaNoWriMo

Full disclosure: yes, I do equate NaNoWriMo with The Gathering from Highlander.  Because a) I am a huge nerd, and b) Queen is the best writing music ever!

Once more NaNoWriMo is upon us!  For those not in the know, National Novel Writing Month is an annual event encouraging people to write 50 000 words of a novel over the course of November.  NaNoWriMo is the perfect event for anyone who feels they have a novel in them, but have had trouble getting started.  To quote from the official website:

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. This approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

This is what has attracted me to NaNoWriMo in the past.  Years back, I actually completed a 50 000 word “novel” during the event.  (What happened to it?  Let’s just say it was merciful and quick. And I’m a man now.)  But without the push that NaNoWriMo gave me I would never have made the attempt, and the doing was the important thing in this case.  Yes, the result was so bad I destroyed it rather than infect the minds of others.  But forcing myself to write every day, and more importantly write without self-criticism, was the best thing I could have done for myself.

That’s why the time has come for me to enter the fray once again.  Yes, for the first time in many years I will test my mettle ‘gainst the blank screen, and I will emerge victorious!  On November 30 I will survey the screen, the vanquished words piled high around me, and only then will I set down my keyboard… (cue Bagpipes)

Now I’m sure not any kind of NaNoWriMo veteran, but if you would enter fight by my side here is some advice that will help you rack-up the word count and get to the end:

1)  Make an Outline – I did this the first time I participated, but not the second. Result? I finished the first time and not the second.  And then didn’t participate again for a while.  Your outline is going to be your rock; besides keeping you on task, it can help keep you motivated, get you excited about your story again.  Make sure there is enough detail in the outline to be useful, but don’t write a novel when you write your outline.  I keep mine purposefully brief by writing it out on index cards; one per major scene/plot point, plus one card per main character.  You can also find outline helpers online (Splashnotes or Freemind, for instance), and both Google Docs and MS Office can be used to outline.

2)  The magic number is 1667, not 50 000 – 1667 is the daily word count you need to hit if you are going to get all 50 000 words by the end of the month.  Or if you plan to take weekends off, you’ll need to achieve 2273 per weekday.  Either way, keep that number firmly in your mind.  Thinking about 50 000 words every day is going to make this overwhelming, so don’t do it.  This is about quantity not quality, remember?  So start each day with the thought that you have zero words, and you need 1667.  Hit that daily total and then reward yourself; high-five the cat, have coffee with cream, whatever does it for you.  Do that thirty times and boom, you’re done.  Should you keep writing even after you’ve made your daily quota?  I would say yes, as long as you don’t use it as an excuse to let the next day slide.  Remember, every day starts at zero.

3)  The Process is the Goal – This is important.  NaNoWriMo will give you many things: confidence in your writing, a sense of accomplishment, new habits and tools to improve your future work, and connection to a wider community.  The true goal of NaNoWriMo is helping you develop these things.  If you have managed to find a new way into your writing, then you have reached your goal.  But what about the 50 000 word novel, you might ask.  Oh, be proud of that too, but know that 50 000 words is not a novel.  Most novels fall in the 80 000 to 120 000 word range, so you have at least 30 000 more words to go.  If you want to shoot for that after NaNoWriMo, excellent!  Keep to your word count and you’ll get there in 18 more days.  At that point, your copy will be ready for editing, which will drop it below 80 000 words, which will mean more writing… Not trying to scare you off, but I am trying to illustrate why bothering the nice publisher with your “manuscript” on December 1 is a mistake.  Enjoy the journey, not the destination.

I hope I see you on the battlefield, fellow NaNoWriMo-ers!  Songs will be sung of our glory!

(For your edification this post is coming in at 916 words, roughly half of your necessary word count.  Knowing is half the battle…)

Are you jumping into NaNoWriMo this year?  Are you too scared?  Comment below…

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