NaNoWriMo. An acronym to either strike fear or send a surge of excitement through the heart of any creative writer. NaNoWriMo, or to give its full title ‘National Novel Writing Month’ refers to the month of November, in which aspiring and established writers from all over the globe attempt to write fifty-thousand words of a novel within thirty days. Simple, right?
Although today NaNoWriMo boasts an established website, an impressive social media presence (#NaNoWriMo #amwriting), and is even a teaching tool used in over five-thousand classrooms, its origins are considerably more humble. It all began in a small San-Francisco coffee shop back in 1999, when twenty-one friends decided to get together, and help one another through the challenge of writing a decent chunk of a novel within a month. The emphasis was on support and making the process fun, rather than trying to create something perfect. And it caught on. Within two years the number of participants had swelled to five-thousand, and last year that figure exceeded half a million. Many people take part for the pure fun of it, rather than as a serious attempt to create something publishable, but several well known novels also began life as a NaNoWriMo project (ever heard of Water for Elephants?)
Although the title gives the impression that completing NaNoWriMo will see you with a finished manuscript by the 1st December, it should be noted that the challenge is merely to make it to fifty-thousand words, roughly half of the average novel length. Further, there is more to completing a book than merely putting words on a page - the endless hours of editing, the painstaking first, second, third drafts and beyond. To manage all this within a month would be asking a lot.
So, if you aren’t coming out of it with a completed work of utter brilliance, what are the benefits to NaNoWriMo? Most obviously, it will get you writing. There is certainly some freedom in just scribbling (or tapping, if your handwriting is as bad as mine) hell for leather, allowing the words to stream out unchecked. Whether you keep those words after is up to you - perhaps like Sarah Moss (Summerwater, Ghost Wall etc) you will simply decide to delete the whole first draft and write it up again from scratch or, if this thought fills you with dread, then there is the comfort of knowing they can always be edited. Not aiming for flawlessness is often the key to success: the perfect can be the enemy of the good. In order to maintain motivation you can track your progress online, earn badges along the way, and upload your finished fifty-thousand words to receive a ‘win’: all incentives guaranteed to give you that extra boost. Beyond providing a structured environment in which to be creative, NaNoWriMo also offers something of equal importance to a writer: community. Connecting with people online or in your local area (meet-ups are a popular option) means that you will be encouraged and inspired - or held to account! Whichever helps your flow. By the end of the month then, not only will you have created something new which - however many words you reach - you can be proud of, you might just also have made some friends along the way.
If you like the sound of NaNoWriMo, and want to get involved, you can still sign up for the challenge here: https://nanowrimo.org/sign-up
Once you’ve committed yourself, it never hurts to get a little extra advice. Here are some writing tips and resources to help you along your authorial adventures:
And from one of the world’s most prolific authors (2000 words a day folks!), Stephen King’s tips for successful writing: https://writingcooperative.com/stephen-kings-top-13-writing-tips-69dbbcbb4cc2