Hello! And welcome again to the Everything’s All Write podcast blog. Today is a very special episode where we explore and prepare for on of my favorite yet most exasperating times of year. What time of year is it? It’s NaNoWriMo time!
Now some of you may be wondering what the heck am I talking about? Nano wry mole? Is that some weird kind of science fiction animal? No, it is the best thing ever! It is a very odd acronym for the National Novel Writing Month, and though it sounds like it's a 30-day thing, it's really much bigger than that. So, before we get into the details of NaNoWriMo time, let's get a little history about what NaNoWriMo is. And who better to explain it that than the wonderful people of NaNoWriMo itself?
What I'm about to tell you comes straight from their website. That way I know I won't be getting anything wrong. So, what is NaNoWriMo? In their own words, “NaNoWriMo (that's N-A-N-O-W-R-I-M-O) is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that provides tools, structure, communities, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds on and off the page.” Well, that sounds lovely, but what does that really mean? That's where the fun part comes in. What it translates to is something that “began in 1999. National novel writing month. It is a daunting but straightforward challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel during the 30 days of November.” Once again this comes straight from the NaNoWriMo website at NaNoWriMo.org. Now each year on November 1st, hundreds of thousands of people around the world begin to write, determined to end their month with 50,000 words of a brand-new novel. You may know this mass creative explosion by the name National Novel Writing month or NaNoWriMo, but that's not all NaNoWriMo is. NaNoWriMo is a nonprofit organization supports writing fluency and education, but it's also a social network for writers like LinkedIn is for job professionals, or DeviantArt is for artists, or Facebook is for moms whose kids accept their friend requests only to provide them with limited profile access. It tracks words for writers like Fitbit track steps for the ambulatory. It's a real-world event during which 900 plus volunteers in places like Mexico City, Seoul, and Milwaukee coordinate communal writing sessions in thousands of partnering libraries, coffee shops, and community centers like well nothing else. It’s internet famous. It's a community powered fandom. Before there was a Beyhive or Nerdfighters there were Wrimos. It's a startup incubator for novels. Books like Water for Elephants, Fangirl, and Wool began as rough drafts in November. It’s a teaching tool. It's a curriculum, and its programs run year-round. Whatever you thought NaNoWriMo was, it’s way more than that. Once again, this comes strictly from the website, but I can vouch for everything they just said, and I just read.
That is what national novel writing month is and what it means to me. But more than that, it's a challenge. It’s a challenge to writers to do one of the most difficult things there is when it comes to writing—which is sit down and write. If you want to get 50,000 words on the page for a new novel (or whatever project you're working on, but this is really geared toward novels) that's an average of almost 1700 words per day. Not a small task for most people when the hardest thing is just carving out five minutes to even dedicate thinking space to your project. But if you going to take up this challenge, you have to do it. That's what makes National Novel Writing month so popular because it forces that attention, it forces that dedication if you’re going to meet your quota. Now, that's the overarching quota that everyone's looking for, 50,000 words-30 days. That doesn't mean that to participate you actually have to do that. Though I do encourage you, go Full Monty, go full speed ahead and at least try but if you’re honest with yourself and you’re like, “A.S., there's just no way I can put that kind of time in every day for 30 days with my lifestyle the way it is. It’s just too unpredictable. I just can’t do it.” Okay, that's fine. You don't have to do 16,609 words every day. Let’s aim for something more manageable. Can you do 1000 words a day? No? Can you do 500 words a day? 500 words for 30 days. At the end of that you still have a substantial piece of writing that you otherwise would not have had. It's still worth it, so I highly encourage you, if you’ve never done it by all means, please make the attempt. Anything you write, even if you fall far, far short of your goals like I do every year that I've done it, I always end up with writing that is usable and still moving forward on the project. I didn't meet my goal, but at least attempting to meet it created new work product, and we're always looking for that as writers because if you're not writing then you're not a writer.
So, what can you do to prepare for NaNoWriMo? It’s only in three days. What can I do? Easy! This is the time when, if you have a story idea and you need to do a little bit of research, these are your three days of research. The actual month of November is not for researching; it's for writing. So, you want to make sure you get that done in advance and it doesn't have to be extensive (obviously you're doing it in three days) but just enough to get you going and to feel comfortable in that writing process. Also, this is a great time to do your outlines. Well, if you’re a planner it's a good time to do your outlines. And for those who don't know, the writing world is pretty much divided into three types of writers. You have your planners and your pantsers and you have those that are somewhere in between.
A planner is someone who needs a plan. They like to do detailed outlines and make sure they know where everything is going every step of the way. On the other hand, there are pantsers that fly by the seat of their pants if you will. And they're just going to sit at the keyboard and let the characters breathe and run the story as they see fit. They have no clue where they're going, but they have confidence that they will get there. Most people fall somewhere in the middle (I know I do) where I like to have a general plan, which makes me somewhat of a planner, but when it gets down to the scene details, I like to let the characters decide what happens which makes me a bit of a pantser. I’m not sure what the middle ground would be, but whatever it is that's me and a lot of other people out there. So, whichever character type you are make sure that you are respectful to your process. If you’re a planner, plan. If you're a pantser, get excited. Surround yourself with the right music to get you in the mood, the visuals that get you there, whatever show you want to binge to put you in the mindset. Set your brain to work in the next three days. And, if you’re someone in the middle, do a little both. Make a basic outline, but also set up your space and get your mind right because the next 30 days are going to be intense!
What's your last step in preparing to participate in NaNoWriMo? Well, go to the NaNoWriMo website at NaNoWriMo.org. From there you can create your own profile to set everything up, so we can keep track of your progress. There are badges and other merits to win as you make your way you know through the month. Every time you meet your goal there are reminders and encouragement for when you fall short. There’s a little bit of competitiveness, if you want to befriend other people to keep track of where they are versus where you are. But most importantly it's a community of writers, and they'll set up, depending on your location, meetups that will be physical or virtual that will allow you all of you to work on your writing at the same time even if it's not a shared space. It's a shared moment to keep you connected to the community at large. That way it can help motivate you, inspire you, recharge you. It's tied to an international writing community that’s likely like nothing else you've ever done, and it's quite amazing. And for those people that need a little more material motivation, they also tend to have awards especially for those that actually complete the 50,000-word challenge. I wouldn’t know about that. I’ve never done it, not even close, but I still do it every year. I still aim for it every year, and every year I fall short but that's okay because it's not about hitting 50,000. It's about writing and that it does for me every year without fail.
Oh! And did I mention they have some cool swag and T shirts and stickers and all sorts of things to announce to the world what a fantabulous nerdwriter you are! By all means, check out their store. It is a-mazing.
So, I hope I've gotten you fired up to want to participate in NaNoWriMo. You’re starting to think about, “OK, I've got three days, what do I need to do to focus on? Am I going to outline, am I going to get my soundtrack ready, and I might need to log into the website to create my profile? That's great, but when it actually comes down to it, how do I get through 30 days with that intense writing?” Well, as always, I have a few tips and tricks up my sleeve that I’d love to share with you in the next segment.
Tips & Tricks
Here we are with some tips and tricks to survive NaNoWriMo with your work and sanity intact.
First and foremost, number one: create a writing schedule. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you don't have a dedicated time to write then I guarantee you, you will not continue to write, not at the pace that NaNoWriMo requires. It doesn't have to be, you know, 7:30 in the morning if you’re not a morning person. It could be 1:00 o'clock in the morning instead if you’re a night owl, but whatever it is it needs to be a space that remains constant, at the very least, through these 30 days.
Which brings us to the second point: make that writing time sacred and recruit any family members you need to make sure that happens. This is the time where mommy, daddy, sister, brother, cousin, nephew, whomever the writer is, doesn't get disturbed, and I would recommend to never do it in segments less than an hour because, otherwise you're trying to get back into your flow of writing. So, either you have an hour dedicated, two hours, three hours… that would be optimal to be quite honest, but we'll take what we can get. But even if it's just one hour in the middle of the afternoon, that one hour is not to be disturbed unless the world is literally on fire… and it started in a location near your home. Because, if it’s across the globe, you still have time to finish your hour.
Which brings us kind of to number three: be vicious when it comes to your daily chores and tasks. We have three days left. If there's anything that you know is outstanding, that you could get done do it in these three days, so you don't have to worry about it during the month of November, by all means, get proactive. Go ahead and do those. But outside of that, you want to schedule your life and your writing time in such a way that you don't spend your hour of writing worrying about the fact that “I was really supposed to take my cat to the vet” or “oh, this was when I was going to do XY and Z.” No! Writing is just as productive an activity as anything on your To Do List for life, so it needs to have that same kind of priority and no guilt associated with it. This is your job, you're calling, this is what you want to do. It doesn't need to compete with other things, but you need to make sure that it's competitive with your other things. So, get vicious. If you can't do it or it could wait, let it wait. If it can be passed on to a loved one or friend, let them take up this task. It’s just 30 days where you are absolutely giving full dedication to the thing you should be giving dedication to 12 months out of the year (but we know how hard that is). Life happens. Things get in the way, but for 30 days don't let life happen don't let things get in the way, at least during that dedicated time that you have set aside to be a writer.
And since one, two, and three revolve around dedicate time, four, of course, deals with the dedicated space. Don't just find yourself in whatever closet, hole, patch of dirt, or corner you can find, setup a space. This is your work area. This is, like I said, it's your job. This is your calling. Set up your desk that is for your writing. If you have a favorite pen, you get your favorite pens, your highlighters, your sticky tabs, your notes, your favorite legal pads or notebooks. Whatever quirks help you get into that space where you are writing. Set up that space for yourself. That includes visual boards. That include soundtracks to play to keep you inspired. Whatever it is, set up your optimal writing space and it is not to be used for any other task, at the very least, during these 30 days. No other task except your writing and your writing time.
Next, organize all of your notes. Whether you're the planner with the outline or the pantser with just vague ideas and character names, they need to all be in one easy to reach, easy to review place, so you don't have to go too far. And if you don't feel like you have enough plot points, we still have three days start brainstorming. Add to those list notes. Add to that possible plot point. Write down the little things you think about the villain or the protagonist that you want to make sure that you include. How detailed you go into these details is completely up to you. But make sure that whatever it is that you have done as your prep work is easily accessible and ready to go in your writing space when you sit down for your writing time.
Make goals other than the 50,000 words. As I said earlier, that may not be feasible for you. I'm not entirely sold that it's feasible for me this year, but for the first time it’s more feasible than it has been in the past because, regardless of whether I wanted this my circumstances have changed, and my schedule has opened up a tiny bit. So, I could have a slightly higher goal than before, but I probably can't do the full 50,000. But just like I do every year, that's what I'm going for, and if I fall short so be it. Because it's not about the word count. The word count is the goalpost. It's about the writing. And then I also have mini goals for me. Because I know that the 50,000 is not necessarily possible, so I reward myself for just doing 30 days consecutive writing. Even if I only get 100 words a day, those are 100 words a day that I had not been doing consecutively. So, I reward myself with something. Maybe that's a special trip to my favorite coffee store or maybe my favorite candy shop to get some chocolate covered strawberries. Whatever it is, I have mini goals that help me motivate myself. And some of the goals are things that can do relatively easy. Some are little more difficult. Some are a lot more difficult. And then you have the granddaddy of all the goals, the 50,000. But don't let the 50,000 be that one monolithic structure looming over you creating the sense of dread if you don't finish. It's all about the writing. It's all about you and your pace. Set goals to match your desires.
And last but not least, get excited about your project! This is going to be 30 days of the most intense writing you will ever do, but it's supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be an enjoyable experience, and if you're writing about a topic you don't like that's not going to happen. So, if you're on day 14 and you realize this is not working that’s fine. Switch it up! But keep writing. It’s not expected that you're going to finish up with an actual, you know, publish ready masterpiece. That's madness! That is not going to happen, but what you could have is several thousand words that are ready to be workshopped, trimmed, edited, and revised then turned into a substantial part of a soon to be publishable piece.
Which reminds me, special note, do not edit during the 30-day process. You don't have time! Aside from that typo that you can't help but correct as you type it on the screen, don't worry about going back and refining characters, sentence, scenes, or reordering things. There will be plenty of time for that starting December 1st. November is for getting the thoughts on the page, errors, inconsistencies, warts, and all, because it's so much easier to go back and fix something that’s there then it is to write something that you haven't put down. Do the hard part first. Write now, edit later.
So, you know what NaNoWriMo is. You know your plans of attack for the next three days. You know your strategy for conquering it during the 30 days. What kind of challenge awaits you now?
As I said, this was a special episode in preparation of National Novel Writing month or NaNoWriMo, and this challenge will also be a little different. There will be no 500 or 250 words or less component. Instead, your challenge is to register at the NaNoWriMo website and participate in the national novel writing challenge this month. If you do that, you can take a screenshot of your profile (minus in the personal information, I don't want passwords or anything) just your name or your screen name so I can look you up. And anyone that does that and sends it to me you to confirm that they're now member of the NaNoWriMo community, will be entered to win. And we will be drawing for those entrants and one of you will win something very, very cool that’s right up a writer's alley. So, go to NaNoWriMo.org, register, and send me proof of your registration or your profile name or your screen name whatever you want to do so I can verify your entry, and I'll put you in the hopper so at the end of 30 days, I will announce our winner. Also, as far as the winners for setting description and character voice, they will still be featured on the next podcast. Like I said, this was a very special kind of self-contained beast that we're going to all tackle together. And please, share your experiences over the next 30 days, your anxieties, your fears, your accomplishments, and your successes with me on social media. I’d love to hear from you. I know I'll be tweeting about what's going on, what's going wrong and what's going right (when that happens occasionally). So, I invite you to join in and if not with me, then with other members of the NaNoWriMo community. It's really a wonderful experience, and I look forward to sharing it with all of you!