If you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo, allow me to welcome you to the coolest club on the internet.
NaNoWriMo is an abbreviation of National Novel Writing Month. Every November, writers from all over the world take up the NaNoWriMo challenge: write a 50,000-word novel in one month.
If you’re thinking, “That’s completely insane,” you would be right. It is an entirely bonkers challenge that only the most determined of writers can accomplish. To write 50,000 words in one month means that you are writing an average of 1,700 words a day. If you need a little help grasping that number; it’s about the length of this article … twice!
“Who would do that?” You may think, “Who would be so masochistic?”
Writers. That's who.
See, the biggest obstacle for any author is the inevitable writer’s block. At some point, every writer gets stuck. Maybe they noticed a big plot hole in their story, or perhaps they realized their lead character is a jerk. Possibly they have an incredible story but just can’t seem to type anything past, “Once upon a time.” It happens to everyone.
The miracle of NaNoWriMo is that it pushes writers out of their comfort zone and straight through their writer’s block. There simply is no time to stop for rewrites and definitely no time to overthink every paragraph. You just have to get it out of your head and onto paper.
NaNoWriMo has quite the legacy of terrible novels. Why? Because all first drafts are terrible! What’s impressive is those authors having put pen to paper and written a novel at all. But NaNoWriMo simultaneously has a legacy for producing amazing writers and best-selling finished works.
How is that possible? Amazing writers are the ones who always keep writing. While the first drafts may be lousy, bad first drafts are the cornerstone of every great piece of work.
If you find yourself daydreaming of emerging at the end of November with that book you’ve always wanted to write, you likely forgot how insane it is.
NaNoWriMo is like running a marathon; you have to be seriously committed. Runners reach the finish line with blistered feet, chapped thighs and bloody nipples (yes, that’s a thing). Those marathoners are completely crazy, but they will always carry the satisfaction of knowing they pushed their body and mind to the limit. They beat the odds and finished the race … bloody nipples and all.
I’m not trying to discourage you or try some sort of reverse psychology; I only want your expectations to be realistic. Pushing through the pain, whether writing or running, is terrible. But that is how you finish the race.
I don’t pretend to be an authority, but I can say that I’ve finished both (though in fairness, it was a half marathon). So if you’ve seen the runners carried away on stretchers and still want to do it, I can tell you how to get started.
The first thing you want to do is sign up at nanowrimo.org.
There you will find helpful information, as well as meet other daring authors who want you to succeed. A word counter on the site even validates the words you’ve written through a simple copy/paste and awards you badges. When you cross the finish line, they throw you a big party and your favorite celebrity will attend just to tell you how awesome you are and give you a big hug. (OK, not the party or celebrity thing … but having finished your novel is almost as good as that.)
Now that you’ve signed up, it’s time to move on to the next step of your marathon: preparation.
Preparation will help you get to the yellow ribbon. Start off simple and decide how many words you’re going to write per day. Make sure to give yourself a few days off! Now think about the story. What would the jacket of the book say? Let that be your North Star. Make an outline of your plot, knowing you can change it at any time. Don’t get too attached! This is pivotal to NaNoWriMo success. Sometime near the end of the month, you'll find yourself wanting to make changes.
For example, let’s say you’re writing a very original novel about someone who decided to write a book in one month. You write out your plot: Girl decides to prove mother wrong by writing a book. Girl gets behind on the first day and can’t catch up. Girl wants to give up when she meets John Grisham in a bookshop. John Grisham teaches her how to write, Mr. Miyagi style. John Grisham steals her novel and publishes it under his name. Girl decides to learn Kung-Fu and fight John Grisham in a fight to the death. Before John Grisham falls off a cliff, he yells, “Girl, I am your father!” Girl jumps off the cliff and can suddenly fly and saves Daddy Grisham. They live happily ever after.
Oh, not what you expected? Well, this is the progression of the typical NaNoWriMo novel.
You think you know what you want the plot to be. Your characters and their goals are clear. But as the month goes by, you find it harder and harder to overcome your writer’s block. To push through, your plot twists become more and more absurd. You may even steal some trademark moments from classic movies.
But you started with a flexible plot, so it’s great, and you totally did it!
NaNoWriMo isn’t about having an amazing story or multidimensional, prism colored characters. It’s not about appealing to a broad, diverse audience comparable to “Harry Potter.” NaNoWriMo is about doing the writing. No more talking about what you would write. It’s finding out what you will write. It’s about pushing through and crossing the finish line with your head back, arms splayed and the ribbon breaking across your abdomen.
National Novel Writing Month starts November 1. If you’re ready to accept the challenge, tie up your laces, stretch your mind, and I'll see you at the finish line.