Do you NaNoWriMo? Let me back up: Are you familiar with NaNoWriMo in the first place? Depending on how long you’ve been writing and the writing circles you find yourself in, you’ve probably encountered the string of letters (at least). You’ve probably also brushed against the maddening frenzy of writers muttering about word counts, plot holes, misbehaving characters, and broken plotlines. Welcome to the Hunger Games that is National Novel Writing Month.
The best writing tool you may not be using.
For anyone unfamiliar with this handy writing trick, allow me to sum up the premise:
- November features 30 days. (I’ll pause to allow you to recite the nursery rhyme and confirm it)
- In that time, the challenge is to write 50,000 (or more) words.
- That breaks down to roughly 1,667 words a day.
- The work needs to be something completely new (otherwise you’re not challenging yourself).
- You CAN do prep work, set up vision boards, prepare outlines, draw up character profiles, etc. (If you’re the kind of writer that works that way)
Now, anyone familiar with the publishing industry knows 50,000 words does NOT equate to a novel; it’s barely a novella. And while you can self-publish your resulting work – following edits – you’re not going to find anyone willing to put out the cash to bind up the work and put it on shelves. The cost isn’t worth it to publishing companies. However, it’s not a bad start for any genre (or even non-fiction) piece. You’re certainly looking at enough to get yourself far enough along to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
And that’s the brilliance of NaNoWriMo.
If you’re anything like me, you can come up with plenty of excuses NOT to sit down and work on your writing. (Not writing for work, obviously. That’s a commitment, and you shouldn’t struggle to bang that out on schedule) You’re tired at the end of the day. Getting up early is NOT going to happen. You’ll open the laptop – just as soon as you finish [insert chore here]. Before you know it, it’s the end of the year, and that first draft is a NO draft. (Or, in my case, you’re half-way through three new short stories, and you’ve barely outlined a new novel) You need SOMETHING to kick you in the butt and get you working.
NaNoWriMo is a handy tool to keep in your back pocket when you’re not getting the words down you want to. And that goes double if you’re the competitive type. Something about getting issued a challenge makes your fingers twitch and fires the synapses in your brain. Excuses look pathetic, and you start setting them aside. Putting that daily word count down on the calendar encourages you to check the box. And that means you start sitting down and writing.
But the challenge does more than that. I’m terrible at editing as I write. Get a paragraph down, and I want to go back and re-read it. That turns progress into something less than a snail’s pace. It also allows doubts more chance to squirm in. After all, if I can’t get a page completed in a month, what chance do I have of ever seeing “The End” on the screen? Clearly, I’m not cut out for the task. NaNoWriMo takes that habit away. You don’t have TIME to go over everything (not with a full work schedule on your plate, anyway). You need to get the words down and move on. Editing will have to wait for another time – say December. It teaches you to write first and edit later. And it gives you the confidence boost you need to trust yourself. Because once you exorcise those doubts, most of what you write WORKS. (I’m not saying you won’t need an overhaul, but it’s not the crap you make it out to be)
I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo since 2012. On two occasions, I challenged myself with a double (100,000 words in 30 days). I’ve completed my goal most years – including those doubles. And every time, I’ve emerged with WORKABLE PROSE. I don’t end up spitting gibberish out, and I don’t bog myself down in a panic. Some days, the words don’t come; others, they flow in excess. Everything manages to balance out in the end. And then I get to move on and continue what I’ve started, feeling energized and enthusiastic.
From one month of pure writing insanity.
It’s something you should consider, especially if you’re struggling to “find time to write.” You have time; what you’re struggling with are doubts. Chuck them to the side and allow yourself a month to play around. You’ll probably shock yourself with what you manage to create.
Or if you want to explore a new idea, set that 50,000-word goal and see where you end up by November 30th. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by your progress.
NaNoWriMo is fun, and stressful, and every adjective you can think of. But it’s also a handy tool writers don’t always think of. Tuck it into the toolbox and keep it around at the end of the year. And if you’re participating this year? Let me know, and we can be writing buddies and cheer each other on: AndiKennedy.