National Novel Writing Month: Is This Your Year?

November is National Novel Writing Month, know affectionately as NaNoWriMo. In this quantity-over-quality dash to a 50,000 word finish line, tens of thousands of aspiring novelists put aside the excuses they cling to year round and just hammer out a (very short) novel.

The gist of National Novel Writing Month is that it’s an opportunity to let go of your inner critic and get your ideas onto the page. An oft-repeated NaNoWriMo axiom is that “November is for writing, December is for editing.” This has led to some backlash from the writing community at large, as detractors claim that it encourages poor writing skills and lackluster novels from amateurs.

While there’s no arguing that writing for speed rather than quality results in a lot of dreck, the point isn’t really to create a publishable draft in November.  For those who are trying to make a go as a professional novelist, it’s a way to get into the habit of writing a set amount every day, no excuses allowed, and to find other aspiring novelists to keep one another accountable. The companionship offered is an added boost that gets people inspired to do what they’ve been putting off for years or even decades. For people who have no interest in being a professional published author, it’s simply a time to get together with like minded people and encourage one another while doing something fun.

While anyone can participate in NaNoWriMo without signing up at the website, the forums provide many people with camaraderie and fun features to make the most of this yearly event. Here’s a very brief summary of what one can expect from the forums:

  • Timed writing sprints
  • Lounges dedicated to discussing genre-specific issues and methodology
  • A forum dedicated to novel research, where people ask and answer questions about everything from the gory realities of various wounds to what daily life would be like for a fisherman’s family in 16th century Scotland to the best way to dispose of a body.
  • Reviews and suggestions for writing software
  • Tips and tricks for overcoming writer’s block
  • Regional lounges for organizing meet-ups and “write ins” with other NaNo writers in your area
  • Tips for parents, busy students, and workaholics on how to carve out time for writing from hectic schedules
  • Lists of adoptable plot points

The most common method is to set a daily word goal of 1,667 words (roughly 3x the words of an average blog post)  to add up to 50,000 by the end of the month. The NaNoWriMo website calculates a user’s word count when one uploads a file (the document is neither read nor stored on the site; it simply adds up the words), and one “wins” by reaching the minimum word count by midnight on November 30th.

If you’ve been struggling for years to get past the first few chapters–or even the first few pages–of your novel, give it a go. And just remember that the point isn’t to create a publishable manuscript on the first go; it’s to create the skeleton of a book you can fix after you’ve taught yourself to sit down and just write every day.

Because John Green makes just about everything better, I’ll leave you with his video on NaNoWriMo:

While no great book can be written in a month, no great book can be written in a first draft no matter how long it takes you to write it. Books are made in revisions.

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