By Chris Mandeville
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month: a frenzy of writing with the goal of producing a 50,000-word novel during the thirty days of November.
NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity to push yourself as a writer. It’s all about quantity of words, not quality. It’s vomit writing, spilling your guts, taking an idea and running with it, sans editing, revision, and second-guessing. It goes to the core of the creative process of writing: putting words on the page.
The official NaNoWriMo was created by author Chris Baty in 1999 and is now run by the nonprofit National Novel Writing Month. Hundreds of thousands of writers have participated over the past sixteen years, writing billions of words.
Why do so many people set out to write 50,000 words in just thirty days? There’s a lot to be gained beyond word count: NaNo forces you to focus, put writing higher on your priority list, and say “no” to distractions – habits you may carry over into life-after-NaNo. It can help you build other good habits, like writing every single day and shutting up the “inner critic” so your story can flow out uncensored and uninhibited. It’s also a great way to try on a new idea without investing months or years to see if it will hold water.
NaNoWriMo is itself a powerful tool to better yourself as a writer.
Overall NaNoWriMo is a short-term investment with a BIG payoff: one month of crazy-busy writing that results in a 50,000-word rough draft and the knowledge that you can do it.
Of course another reason to do NaNoWriMo is that you might be one of the lucky few whose NaNo book gets published. Some of the more recognizable titles to come out of NaNo are Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This is a rarity, so it shouldn’t be your primary reason for trying NaNo, but why not dream big?
For more info about NaNoWriMo or to sign up for the free program, visit www.nanowrimo.org.
If you’re going to embark on NaNoWriMo 2015, you can greatly improve your odds of success by using these “NaNoPlanno” tools now to prepare yourself, your space, and your loved ones for November:
Take a critical look at your schedule for November and follow these steps to provide yourself with more time for writing:
- Eliminate all non-essentials
- Reschedule as many tasks as possible to another month
- Delegate to others (co-workers, friends, family, hired help)
- Reduce what you can’t eliminate (e.g. 20-minute workout instead of 40)
After you’ve rescheduled appointments, cancelled weekend getaways, and delegated household chores, take another hard look at your calendar and see if there’s more you can do to carve out additional writing time. Is there anything you’ve neglected to consider? Can you take some time off from your day-job? Can your kids do their own laundry? Do you really need to shower every day? Be creative and find writing time wherever you can.
Once you’ve eliminated all non-essentials, take that nearly-empty calendar and block out time to write.
To write 50,000 words in 30 days, you must write an average of 1,667 words per day, or about 2,000 words per day if you take one day off each week.
Only you know how many hours it will take you to write 50,000 words, and your output can vary from day to day. When in doubt, budget for more writing time than you think you’ll need.
There’s a lot of time—and peace of mind—to be gained when your loved ones “buy in” to your crazy November endeavor. So communicate with your friends, family, and co-workers your reasons for participating in NaNo and how important it is to you. Share your plans for conquering NaNo, and enlist their support in achieving your goal.
Let them know what you expect of yourself and what you expect of them. Maybe you’d like them to agree not to tempt you with fun outings or ask for favors. Maybe you want them to take on some of your non-writing duties. Or maybe you simply wish for them to be more respectful of your writing time and more understanding of your limitations during November. Whatever your expectations, be clear about them in advance so everyone is prepared.
Also be clear with your loved ones about what’s in it for them if they cooperate—offer prizes, rewards, and gestures of thanks. Then when November is over, be sure to follow through on any promises you made.
Don’t be above bribery—offer your kids a big reward in December if they agree not to interrupt your writing time in November.
You may want to try to get through NaNoWriMo without anyone being the wiser, but your odds of success are a whole lot better when you have the understanding, help, and support of the people closest to you.
Where will you write? If you don’t have a private writing space, now’s the time to get one. It doesn’t have to be big—a prolific writer I know turned a closet into a desk when she didn’t have any other option. So find, make, or clear out a space. Do it now! Next, create a sign to let others know you’re busy writing. It can be anything from a literal “do not disturb” sign to a hat you wear. Just make sure it’s a clear signal that you’re not to be interrupted unless there’s a true emergency. If you can’t write at home or prefer not to, scout alternate spaces. Libraries and coffee shops are great, but think beyond that: what about house-sitting or using the conference room at your day-job after hours? Scope out your physical writing space now so you don’t spend precious November moments looking for it.
Likewise examine your virtual space. Are you distracted by social media and email? Is research a siren’s song that tempts you away from writing? Does your phone interrupt you incessantly with texts, calls, Tweets, and Google Alerts? Make an effort now to clear up your virtual space for November writing time. Set up a personalized “do not disturb” mode on your phone so only emergency calls can get through. Turn off email and social media. Even consider using a program that prevents you from accessing the Internet until you’ve met your daily writing goal.
When your writing space is littered with opportunities to “connect,” you can lose a lot of productive writing time to interruptions, distractions, and temptations.
The official NaNoWriMo site does offer lots of resources to help you during NaNo, but use with caution because “official” or not, they can clog up your virtual space with distractions and detours. By completely removing the option to access the Web during your designated writing time, you can become laser-focused and uber-productive. But if going completely “Webless” is too difficult, try setting a timer to allow yourself ten minutes at the Procrastination Station, or reward yourself with an hour of research after you’ve reached your wordcount goal for the day.
Practice writing now in your chosen physical space and your newly de-cluttered virtual space so you feel at home when NaNoWriMo begins. And prepare to be amazed by your increase in productivity.
The NaNoWriMo rules say you aren’t allowed to count any writing you do prior to November 1 in your official NaNo wordcount. But prep is okay. So prep away!
Here are some tools and resources I use when prepping a new story:
NaNoPlanno tools for plotting/story-planning:
NaNoPlanno tools for character building:
NaNoPlanno tools for creating setting:
Whether you story-plan in a structured way or you prefer to spend October daydreaming about your story, any prep you do now will give you a leg up in November.
NaNoWriMo is a great way to challenge yourself as a writer, and NaNoPlanno tools can make your NaNo writing experience more enjoyable and more successful. So get out there and NaNoPlan up a storm! Create characters with vast backstory, clear goals, and driving motivation. Dream up a difficult journey for your protagonist, complete with insurmountable obstacles, impossible conflicts, and terror-inducing villains. Build your world, do research, think about theme and character arc and all that good stuff. Clear your schedule, enlist support, and make your writing space conducive to prodigious productivity. Then buckle-in for the wild ride that is National Novel Writing Month.
What are you still doing here? November is just around the corner. Get thee to NaNoPlanning!
Chris Mandeville writes science fiction and fantasy, as well as nonfiction for writers. Her books include Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure and 52 Ways to Get Unstuck: Exercises to Break Through Writer’s Block You can find find out more about her at her website: chrismandeville.com.