by Helen Kenwright
We’re already over halfway through September, which means November is fast approaching. For many writers, November means Nanowrimo, the annual challenge to write a novel in just one month. This blog post gives you some tips to help you make the most of the month, and improve your chances of success.
Is Nanowrimo for you?
Nanowrimo started in 1999 as a challenge among friends, and has now grown to a fully-fledged non-profit organisation. It has over half a million participants every year from across the globe, and funds a Young Writers’ Programme which has supported the development of over 100,000 writers through schools and libraries. Over 250 Nanowrimo novels have so far been published through traditional publishers, while many others have been self published through Kindle Direct Publishing and other means.
So, what’s the catch?
Well, for one thing, Nanowrimo is hard work. The challenge is to write a draft of 50,000 words over a month, which breaks down to 1,667 words a day. That’s a tall order for many writers, especially those who also have a day job and other responsibilities. November can also be the busiest month of the year for many people, including exam seasons and of course major holidays. However, as hundreds of thousands of writers prove every year, it is possible.
The principle of Nanowrimo is to put everything else to one side, and just write. No editing, no re-writing, no fixing as you go – those things can wait for the ‘Now What?’ months of January and February. November has just one objective: to get the words on the page. Some critics argue that this encourages sloppy writing; here at the Writing Tree we suggest it frees the writer to let their imagination run riot. So long as you remember that there will be hard work further down the road to wrangle your novel to perfection, you can be fully creative in your first draft. The results can be a lot more original and experimental than writing in a stricter environment.
And if the idea of sitting down cold at 00:01 on 1st November fills you with panic, never fear. There’s lots you can do to prepare yourself.
Here’s a few ideas of things you can start thinking abut now, to make your Nanowrimo journey a smoother one.
1. Join the Nanowrimo Community
Sign up and set up your profile – make the commitment! Nanowrimo has lots of great resources for writers on their website, which is relaunched, all fresh and new, each October. Chief among them is the forums, where you can swap tips, get support and cheer each other on. They are a mine of information, and themed by topics and genre so you can easily find like-minded others.
2. Forge Good Writing Habits
One of the best ways you can take the stress out of writing is to make it part of your daily routine. Whether you get your laptop out on the train during your daily commute, snatch fifteen minutes with your notebook in the staff room at lunch or sit down at your kitchen table when the kids have gone to bed, if you do it every day your mind will learn to expect it. This means that you’re much more likely to get going quickly. If you share your writing space with others, it’ll give them time to get used to it too – you can spend less time answering the inevitable ‘whatcha doin’?’ questions, and more time actually writing. Develop little rituals to further impress upon your creative mind that this is writing time. Arrange your pens on the desk, fondle your notebook, brew a cup of fragrant tea.
Not many of us have the time available to sustain an output of 1,700 words a day throughout the year. But if you can get into the habit of writing for, say, fifteen minutes a day now, it will be much easier to step it up for one month.
3. Clear the Decks
Plan ahead now, so you’ll have the most free time (and headspace!) for writing you can in November. Fill your freezer with quick meal options. Block out as much of your November diary as you can. Tell your family, friends and boss what you’re doing. If you turn to housework as a procrastination technique, make your house as sparklingly clean as possible before you start. Don’t underestimate how urgent it may seem to alphabetise your breakfast cereal boxes when you hit the tricky mid-section of your novel.
4. Find Some People to Write About
Writers vary in how much creative preparation they like to do. Do too much and you could be bored with your story before you even start; do too little and you’ll be wasting precious writing minutes Googling for the perfect names for your minor characters. Personally I find it helpful to at least get to know my main characters before I begin. Prepare character sheets if you like to use them, or just daydream about your people in the bath. Whatever works for you: just let them form and establish the essentials so they’re ready to go when November 1st arrives.
5. Build a World
Some writers I know craft entire worlds in advance, right down to the transportation system and the importance of water symbolism in different cultures. Others don’t worry about any of that stuff until the second draft, happy to make it up as they go along. But I suggest most of us would benefit from doodling a few maps, thinking about some basic logistics and getting together a mood board of likely landscapes and locations. Quite apart from anything else it’s a lot of fun, and gets you excited about your story.
Ah, now we’re onto the more controversial stuff. To Plot or not to Plot? The purist ‘Wrimos would argue that the purpose of the whole month is to let yourself write freely, unfettered by preconceptions or anything as mundane as a narrative structure. That’s one way to go, and it does have a lot going for it. But it can also be very scary, and it does mean more work later down the line, when you have to wrangle your creative chaos into a coherent manuscript. Your outline may range from a list of possible things you think might happen to a fully developed and structured sequence of scenes. It’s up to you. Experiment. Try doing it a new way. That’s one of the many things Nanowrimo is great for.
7. Put Your Perfectionism Away
Writing a rough draft of 50,000 words isn’t the same as producing 50,000 words of finished novel. If you have a loud internal critic they will probably be horrified by some of the sentences you will produce during Nanowrimo. Given half a chance they will be insistently tugging at your shirt, begging you to take out those adverbs, tweak that clause, and fix your comma overload. It’s really important to get into the habit of not listening to them. They will have plenty of work to do come January, when the editing starts. For now, subdue them by getting plenty of practise at freewriting. Try it in your daily writing, even if only for five minutes at a time. Write without censoring, editing or deleting. Accept that this is not a finished product: this is the material you will later build your story from. It doesn’t need to be perfect, or even good. It just needs to be words. (And it doesn’t matter if they’re not in the dictionary.)
These seven steps will help get you in perfect, nimble shape for Nanowrimo. If you want a bit more help, why not take our Creative Writing Kickstart Course? Starting on Monday 25th September, it will take you through the final run up to Nanowrimo and leave you perfectly primed for embarking on your noveling adventure. Happy Novelling!