It’s September! Which means it’s Fall, which means:
The stretch between September 10th and January 10th is my favorite time of year, and it’s not just because of changing leaves, sweater weather, crisp Fall air, and the promise of holidays with family and friends. I love this time of year because if I really focus, I can have a fully drafted manuscript created out of thin air by the time December rolls around. And so can you, thanks to National Novel Writing Month.
What is NaNoWriMo?
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with it, National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) is an event that takes place every November around the world. The community is online, but there are also write-in events in most major cities. The goal is simple: write 50,000 words of new fiction. That’s it. It can be about anything you want and you can write it in a notebook or on a typewriter or your laptop. You can write 1,667 each day, or 50,000 words on November 30th (not recommended). The only rules are: it has to be new, you can’t start it before November 1st, and you have to validate your 50,000 word count online by November 30th to be considered a winner. I firmly believe with a bit of concentration and a supportive community, anyone can achieve this goal.
Okay, but Why Should I Give Myself a 50,000-Word Homework Assignment?
Fair question. I suppose the answer is different for everyone, but for me the appeal is the built-in community and support system as well as the strict deadline. You know that feeling you get walking into the library during finals week? Every seat is taken, people are strung out on coffee, sitting on the floor and sleeping at their desk? But everyone is in it together? Everyone is going through the same stressful thing. That’s NaNoWriMo. The NaNo community exists around the world and just by signing up, you get to be a part of it. You can go online and find people writing, complaining, struggling, and celebrating pretty much every minute of every day from November 1st until 30th. Apart from the actual joy of creating your own story, NaNo is so much fun because you get through it together like:
And the other important difference is, while it might feel like getting a stressful paper done, you’re not being tested or graded. You’re not writing about a topic you don’t care about. You’re doing it completely for yourself, with no performance review hanging over your head. On December 1st, you aren’t going to sit at your computer refreshing a page, waiting for your professor to post a grade. You’ll be celebrating (or more likely sleeping) because you already have the satisfaction of having created something by and for yourself.
Cool, This Sounds Fun and I Might Do it…But Why Are We Talking About It Now?
Just because NaNo is a few weeks away, doesn’t mean you can’t get started now. No, you aren’t allowed to write any words towards your word goal, but you can start making plans and doing research. For those of you who haven’t done NaNo yet, you’ll see two terms being thrown around a lot: pantser and planner. As the name suggests, a planner is someone who goes into NaNo with a plan–some sort of outline, a character sketch or two, maybe even some historical research that has to get done. And that’s awesome, but it’s not for everyone. The other type of writer is a pantser: someone goes into NaNo with no plan or no outline. They will (hopefully) have the an idea of their story, but maybe not. It’s different for everyone.
Last year for my first NaNo I was a pantser. I had no plan, just a rough idea of what I wanted to write about, a new laptop, and the determination to meet the 50,000 word goal. And I have to admit, it was really fun. My story took twists and turns I never expected it to. I completely felt what E.L. Doctrow said:
“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
That was exactly my experience: I could see a little bit in front of me at all times, but everything was being newly discovered as I went. And every now and then something would unexpectedly jump out in front of me, or I’d miss a turn and have to back up, but the discovery process in and of itself was really exciting. Going into it without a plan did have some drawbacks, though. It made hitting my daily word count tough, and it was difficult to keep track of some of my subplots because I made them up on the spot. At the end of each day I would log my word count, and this is what it looked like at the end of the month:
As you can see I wasn’t as consistent as some people. That second week was tough (as a lot of people experience) and as a result I maybe kind of had to make up an excuse to go to a café and write for a while over Thanksgiving weekend. But I got it done.
Wait, So, What Can Do In The Meantime?
So very glad you asked. There are a few things I recommend you doing right now:
- Make an account here.
You’ll get e-mails from the NaNo community that will help keep you on track and make sure you have all the information you need to know.
- TELL PEOPLE you’re going to do this.
I don’t say this lightly, because I know a lot of writers don’t like to tell anyone they’re writing until after they have a viable manuscript. For this particular challenge, I think you should tell at least a few people you’re going to be participating because they’ll support you and hold you accountable. There were a few times last November friends wanted me to hang out, or my family wanted me to spend a weekend with them, but I had to say no because I was behind on my word count. Because they knew this challenge was important to me, they didn’t give me a hard time and gave me the space I needed. Also, you never know who else is participating in NaNo. By spreading the word, even a little, you might get a few writing partners you can meet up with in November. You might also inspire someone else who was on the fence to take the plunge and make the commitment. Don’t be shy about telling people you’re doing NaNo.
- Keep coming back to Riveted
We’re going to be doing a weekly series just for NaNo writers to help get you prepped for November 1st. We’ll have resources, writing tips and strategies, advice from authors who have done NaNo in the past, and some fun giveaways leading up to the big day.
- Ask us questions
Have questions about NaNo? Will you be participating this year? Want tips and best practices for specific things leading up to November? Let us know in the comments! We want to give you information that’s useful for you to help you get your novel out there in the world. Tell us what you want to know, and we’ll help however we can.
- Start thinking about your story ideas
Everyone is different, but it takes me a while to come up with a viable story idea. They usually plop into my head at the most unexpected times and I know I can’t come up with one on short notice or on demand. By the time our next post goes up, I want you to have signed up for an account, told three people you’re doing NaNo, submitted one question that you want us to talk about in our weekly series, and come up with five possible ideas for your novel. Your ideas don’t have to be good, or fully formed, or something that you end up going with. You just need to start the process now so that by the time November is here, you’ll have an idea you love so you can get to work.