I look forward to this event each year as this is the time for my hard-core writing. 2021 is my third year of participating in NaNo and, as I’ve been asked by a number of people what’s it about, I’m going to write this post as an FAQ and share my experiences so far.
What is NaNoWriMo?
I’ll use the official NaNoWriMo site as a guide for this:
National Novel Writing Month began in 1999 as a daunting but straightforward challenge: to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. Now, each year on November 1, hundreds of thousands of people around the world begin to write, determined to end the month with 50,000 words of a brand-new novel. They enter the months as school teachers, mechanics, stay-at-home parents, but they leave as novelists.
Why do (I) participate in NaNo?
Having this challenge pushes me as an author. Having a flexible schedule is great, but I can get easily distracted, especially when you consider that writing is only about twenty percent of the job when you’re an indie author.
Knowing I have the challenge before me, I spend October putting together a detailed outline, so that when November 1st comes around, I’m ready to write.
It also connects me with other writers, both online and in person. I find NaNo joins all writers in this endeavour, no matter where they may be in their writing journey. I’m part of an incredible group in Tasmania. Had it not been for NaNo, I may not have found these incredible individuals. Not only do we encourage each other with our individual pursuits, but we share information and experiences. We lift each other up when we accomplish our goals and provide that push that’s we need some days.
Is it hard to write 50,000 words in a month?
It depends. To get to 50,000 words, you must write, on average, 1667 words a day. To share a NaNo term, there are pantsters and there are planners. (Pantsters go by the seat of their pants.). I’m somewhere in between.
I believe, if you go into NaNo thinking “I’m going to write a novel” with nothing more than a vague idea, you will find it very challenging. Some people can do it, but I would guess they have an idea somewhere in their heads, they have a good grasp of the characters and, so when they finally start writing, the story flows out.
When I began writing Beneath the Surface, it started with a dream. I woke up thinking it would make a great scene in a book and was still writing eighteen hours later. And then the writing stopped for a while. I was a long way from 50,000 words. After taking a writing class, I sketched out the story further. But, from the first sprint, to what became the published version, there were about ten rewrites over five years. The final rewrite was done during 2020’s NaNoWriMo.
My recommendation, and this is based on my experience and understanding my own writing style, is to create a solid outline before you head into November.
Is it hard to stay focused?
When I know I have one book to focus on, it’s not too difficult for me. I find it hard to focus on anything else. Once I’m immersed, the book consumes me. I spend every waking hour thinking of the characters, the plot, the holes (!), the timeline… then it tends to blend into my sleep as well. Often times, when I’m deep into the book, the characters talk to me in my dreams. The climax of Beneath the Surface came from a dream. I woke suddenly, realising I’d finally found the missing piece of the story. Maybe it has something to do with my brain being relaxed, but I consider my dreams a HUGE part of my writing process.
How do you manage your life while writing 50,000 words in a month?
I’m lucky because I have a flexible schedule and remember, this is my full-time job. It is my business. My career. But even with that, there’s a lot of other stuff that still needs to get done with the rest of that business. Marketing. Sales. Newsletters. And yes, log posts!
I’m very fortunate to have an understanding partner who knows this is a key time for me. The first year I handed him a letter from the NaNo Prep page that is addressed “Dear Important Person”. It outlines how to support the NaNo participant. My husband has taken every word of that letter to heart.
Even if you don’t have that, NaNo does take some preparation. If you have a family, rely on family and friends for support. Plan easy meals. Get help for errands and chores or give yourself permission to slack off from your regular duties for the month. Turn off your television (let’s be real, we all know how much of a time suck it is). Set yourself a timer. Do word sprints. I have a friend who is a single Mum, works full time and she still manages to crank out 3-4 books a year. She gets up before the sun and writes for a few hours before the rest of world wakes up. (She is my inspiration although, since I’m a night owl, you won’t see me getting up before the sun. Not unless I’m heading off on a grand adventure somewhere.)
My point is: understand your priorities this month. If writing a novel in 30 days is important to you, you’ll find a way.
Is NaNo a competition?
No. It’s not. You are challenged to write 50,000 words, and there are rewards if you ‘win’, but any competition is internal. You compete with yourself to achieve the goal.
I’ll be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with NaNo. I love NaNo because this is the part of being an author that I love most. But I hate it because I feel an undeniable pressure to finish writing an entire novel. This pressure is not from any outside source. It’s an internal thing. I know I write more than 50,000 words for each of my novels, and I am driven to get the entire novel written. That pressure percolates the entire month.
How do you sign up for NaNoWriMo?
Once you know what you will be working on, sign up on the official NaNoWriMo.org website and declare you project. The website helps track your progress, set milestones, you can connect with other writers (be sure to add me as a buddy- crackpotwriter!) and you can even join a local NaNo group. I LOVE my Tasmanian NaNo group. I’ve never met a more supportive group. We encourage each other and our leaders provide writing prompts to help keep the words flowing. There are even write-ins, although they are virtual thanks to the pandemic, so you can participate in word sprints and other writing activities to keep you accountable. The Tasmanian NaNo group use Facebook and Discord for our virtual write-ins.
How much does it cost to join?
The best part about NaNoWriMo—it’s free.
What happens when NaNoWriMo is over?
When December 1st rolls around, you need to do one thing: collapse. You’ve just written 50,000 words (more or less) in a month and you will be exhausted. Writing takes a lot out of you. AND you’ve WON the NaNo challenge.
Look, even if you only get 20,000 words written, that’s a great start. You’ve begun to write your book. That’s huge. But it’s still taxing, especially if you’ve managed to juggle a full life around it.
To receive the rewards offered by completing the challenge, you must upload your draft to the website as proof. The rewards mostly pertain to tools that will aid you in continuing your writing journey. I have all the tools that I need for writing now so I haven’t submitted my drafts since my first NaNo.
I recommend once you’re written your draft, put it aside for a while. Leave it for a week or a year. The time is up to you, but you need to separate yourself from it before you begin revision. Now the hard work truly begins. And you MUST edit it yourself before you send it to an editor or let anyone else touch it. As much you may believe it’s worthy of a Pulitzer, it’s not. That’s harsh, I know, but first drafts tend to be rough. Mine sometimes amount to vomitus drivel. But that’s the magic of revision. And that is the next step in the writing journey.
If you have questions about the NaNo process, feel free to pop in a comment. I’ll be happy to share my experience with you.