It’s October again, which, to many people, signifies Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the onslaught of some gloomy fall weather. But not me. For me, this month is the calm before the storm—base camp, if you will, stocked up with provisions and outlines, ready and waiting to tackle the vicious beast that comes out of hiding every year on November first.
Just to clarify, NaNoWriMo isn’t actually a mythical monster that devours souls and crushes dreams. It just feels that way, some days. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month.
It’s a challenge, basically, to write 50,000 words in the month of November. There’s no reward, besides seeing your word-count bar change to the flashy purple color of a winner, and a deep sense of pride (oh, right, and a finished novel!). So why even attempt it? A thousand word essay can be hard enough, why subject yourself to this kind of literary torture?
There are a few features of NaNoWriMo that make it almost completely different than any other writing challenge or community I’ve ever seen:
1. No Editing. The whole idea of NaNoWriMo is that you write as much as you can. Butt in chair, hands on keyboard, type away madly—that kind of thing. For the month of November, your task as a writer is to produce quantity. The quality bit can wait until December. This takes away a whole lot of pressure and makes the idea of writing a novel into something attainable.
2. The support. When you first visit nanowrimo.org and set up your account, you might notice something about the site. It isn’t a death trap. One of the things that makes NaNoWriMo so unique and so fun is that, on November first, you might be writing your own novel—but you’re not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of like-minded, slightly-insane writers rolling up their sleeves and typing away. You can make writing buddies, challenge each other to word wars, and make some great friends.
3. The forums. The site (nanowrimo.org) features a little subheading near the top—Forums. Who could’ve guessed that one little word could hold so much magic? I’m not kidding. The forums offer different pages for each genre, groups for teens (including separate pages for different ages, band geeks, NaNoWriMo participants who aren’t telling their parents about it—all started by the teens themselves), and, the Holy Grail of the site: The Adoption Society. There’s a thread completely devoted to adopting other people’s unused titles, lines, villain catchphrases, characters, snippets of dialogue, anything.
4. The pep-talks. All throughout November, Chris Baty and the other organizers of NaNoWriMo—plus a few famous authors—send out pep talks via email. Even beyond the forums—which are massive time-wasters, by the way, when you’re supposed to be working on your daily word count—these pep talks are hilarious, heartfelt reminders that you’re not alone. Plus, you learn some interesting facts about the world in general. For instance, I still remember a pep talk YA author Maureen Johnson wrote last year, in which I learned that koalas are smelly and carry disease. Still cute, though.
This year will be my fourth attempt at NaNoWriMo, and guess what? I’ve never won. Yes, sad as it is to admit that, it had to come out sooner or later. So why do I keep coming back? There’s an irrevocable truth that goes hand in hand with the very idea of NaNoWriMo—the more you write, the better you get.
There are a few different approaches you can take. There’s the prepared planner—you can have as many notes, characters, and outlines as you want, you just can’t start writing your novel until November (I'm trying this out for myself--I've only outlined chapter one, but it's already helping my plot). Or you can go with the tried and true strategy of completely winging it. Maybe you have a character name (Betsy), a bit of dialogue (“And then all our cows were zombies!”), or a rough idea (it’s like, Nancy Drew meets Jurassic Park).
If you do decide to sign up for NaNo this year, add me as a buddy! My username is love-Spencer (it's a long, boring story). Good luck with all your writing!