Love it or hate it, NaNoWriMo is coming.
Short for National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in a single month, November specifically. In the first year, it was a handful of friends in San Francisco; 15 years have passed and now 500,000 people are expected to start participating in NaNoWriMo on Saturday.
In 2013, 310,095 adults started NaNoWriMo (plus another 89,000 students), but not all of them crossed the 50,000-word finish line. Fifty thousand words isn't a long novel, but it's the length of "The Great Gatsby," which is no small potatoes.
It mandates starting from zero and writing an average of 1,667 cogent words a day -- that's counting every day, all month long, no days off, not even on Thanksgiving. That sounds both doable and brutal, and it's part of the point. Writing a novel is hard. NaNoWriMo tries to make it possible.
NaNoWriMo provides collective support (and procrastination) via its website, emails and offline gatherings around the world. And in 2004, founder Chris Baty published "No Plot? No Problem!" subtitled, "A low-stress, high-velocity guide to writing a novel in 30 days." The book has just been reissued in an updated, expanded edition by Chronicle Books.
Here are 11 spoilers from it:
- Take risks and swing for the fences.
- Drink coffee. A lot of coffee.
- Make a playlist to be your novel-writing soundtrack.
- The first week is easier than the second week
- Lower your standards for household cleanliness. You can clean in December.
- If you are stuck for finding a quiet place in your house to write, try the bathroom. People rarely interrupt when you're in the bathroom.
- Back up your work; emailing pages to yourself is a good option.
- Don't edit what you've already written -- keep moving forward.
- Take occasional breaks while writing to step outside.
- Reward yourself for work completed
- Don't give up.
This is only the beginning of what's inside, really. Baty does a great job of following the psychology of taking on the challenge and facing its biggest hurdles. He's even got a few chapters dedicated to each week, with specific advice and cheerleading appropriate to that moment in the novel-writing sprint.
And when it's all over, he recommends taking a breather, then getting started on editing. But so far there is no NaNoEditMo.
In addition to the book, the NaNoWriMo online communities are robust and engaged; they're full of old hands and newbies, people to answer questions about character and plot, the nitty-gritty of sentence structure or factual details, or just to provide a friendly ear.
That can happen in person, too. In Los Angeles, there are meet-ups at diners, libraries, cafes and the occasional bar. The complete calendar is here.
Novels that have been published that were first drafted during NaNoWriMo include "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen, "Wool" by Hugh Howey, "Fangirl" by Rainbow Rowell, "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern, "Self Storage" by Gayle Brandeis and "Cinder" by Marissa Meyer.
NaNoWriMo-ers, good luck!