It’s late. Your heart-rate is elevated. The coffee is still percolating. Your hair, unwashed, is now reaching skyward as you tug on it almost every minute. You look over at your wall calendar, but you don’t need to be told what month it is: it is November. It is National Novel Writing Month.
Started in 1999 by Chris Baty and “20 other overcaffeinated yahoos,” the write-50,000-words-of-a-novel-in-a-month challenge started with 21 participants and 6 winners. In 12 years it’s grown exponentially. By 2011, 256,618 writers attempted the feat and 36,843 finished.
The word count threshold, 50,000 words, means that a writer must commit to writing just a little under 2,000 words a day, or, to us writers, A LOT OF STINKIN’ WORDS. While some established authors take months or years to craft a narrative, writers participating in National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo), have just one month to commit to a draft. Several best-sellers have emerged from NaNoWriMo including Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.
We totally understand that finding the time and creative energy for this 30-day challenge is a huge feat, so here are a few ways to make the words flow!
Create your ideal writer’s space. Whether you’re a desk or an on-the-couch-with-your-laptop writer, carve out an extra special place in your home to work. Prop up inspirational photos, a plant, or maybe even come up with an ideal playlist that’ll make your fingers tap-tap-away. Wherever you choose to focus, make it off the beaten path in your home so your brain and creative juices know that when there, it’s their time to shine.
Same time, every day, no excuses. Writers work best, strangely, when they are creatures of habit. Even though inspiration might strike at the most unlikely of moments, writing must happen at the same time every day. Missing your writing appointment leads to putting off writing, which leads to falling behind on your novel. By writing the same amount every day, you avoid burning yourself out, and exhausting your ideas.
It’s ok if it ain’t great or proper. Listen close — you are writing a first draft. It’s fine if ideas aren’t fleshed out or if the grammar is off or huge parts are missing. You can go back and fix it. If writing is re-writing, think of a first draft as a template for your novel. No one expects you to finish a perfect book in a month, just to create a great first draft that you can then leisurely revise and fix.
Keep going. We know, we know, we know. The part you wrote last night is just awful. But you have to just put that behind you and keep writing. The idea is to get to the end — then look at what you have and assess and improve.
Write out of order. There’s the thrill of starting and the rush of accomplishment when, in only a few days, you’ve surpassed 10,000 words. For the not-so-inspired, or maybe those who don’t love to outline, there can also be the moment you realize you’re in deep and may not know where everything is going. So write your climax, or your ending, even if you’re not there. It may inspire you to figure out the in-between parts, too.
Talk to other writers or artists. They will understand what you’re going through. Connect to other writers groups through the National Novel Writing Month website and share drafts, problems, and ideas.
Have fun. This is arguably the most important tip to remember. Once you view writing as a chore, your story and quality of prose will most likely suffer. So remember that NaNoWriMo should be a challenge of the most fun kind. If you’re not feeling it, get up, put on loud music, and dance around your house like a maniac until you connect with that other side of yourself where your crazy creativity lives.
Celebrate. Even if the novel just goes into your drawer and you don’t think of it again — hey, you wrote a book! That’s pretty cool! Remember to be proud of your accomplishment.
We’re no NaNoWriMo experts, of course, so weigh in and tell us what worked for you — or didn’t — in years past.
Contributing author: Max Rivlin-Nadler