NaNoWriMo—I cannot believe I hadn’t written a post about this yet! Allow me to remedy that immediately. First we’ll discuss what NaNoWriMo is, what sort of things you can write, and what it means to ‘win’, but then I’ll mention some tricks of the trade.
NaNoWriMo stands for the (inter)National Novel Writing Month, which is a free challenge that takes place every November. There are two branches of this—the official NaNoWriMo site and the Young Writers Program. The official site challenges all writers to write 50,000 words in 30 days, but in the Young Writers Program writers are able to set their own reasonable goals for the month. Many schools have adopted the Young Writers Program into their system to encourage young writers to write since the challenge takes place during the school year, and the site offers many tools for educators. The official site is much more independent and had forums where individuals can interact and regions so people in the same area can get together and write.
The official site: www.nanowrimo.org
Young Writers Program: www.ywp.nanowrimo.org
Now though, with that introduction out of the way, what are you allowed to write? What can you count for the 50,000 words? It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, script, blog posts—whatever you want it to be (although if it is poetry or a script, you’ll have to write a lot to reach the 50K word count goal), but it has to be written starting November 1st. You can’t just use some old writing you’ve done before just to reach the word count goal. Technically that’s cheating, and yes, even if you did that, no one would ever know—except you, and it’s totally up to you.
How does one win the challenge of NaNoWriMo? What chance do you have to win since there are over several hundred thousand writers participating? Well, good news is everyone has the chance to win because you’re not competing against everyone else. You’re competing against yourself. If you reach your word count goal within the 30 days, you’re gifted with a WINNER’S certificate, which you can print out and brag about your achievement. You’re also given discount codes for numerous writing tools (Scrivener, Aeon Timeline, Createspace, to name a few), but mainly you earn bragging rights and the accomplished feelings that you can write that many words within that timeframe.
Usually on November 25th, validation opens on the site. If you’ve written your 50K words, you copy/paste everything into the validation box, allow the computer to calculate the words just to verify the word count, and if it concludes you indeed have 50K words (or more), it will send you on to the Winner’s page. No one will read what you wrote. No one will see it. No one can steal it. Note: sometimes the program you use to write in may have a different word count than the validation of NaNoWriMo. It’s always a good thing to write a thousand or two thousand words over just to be safe.
Now though, with all the official stuff out of the way, just how do you tackle NaNo? Some people plot their stories ahead of time very carefully. Other people completely wing it. There is no right or wrong way to do it. There is only the way that works—and that way is different for everyone. However, it is a good idea to know what story you’re going to write before November comes.
There are 30 days in November, and the calculations have been done that to reach 50K in 30 days, you need to write 1,667 words a day. Personally, I like round numbers better, so I aim for 2,000 words a day. Depending on my speed of writing that day, I may split the 2,000 words into two sections: one thousand at one time and then another thousand another time, or—if I’m having a slower day or just a busy day with real life—I will split the 2,000 words into four parts: 500 words for each section.
When you’re considering NaNo, and if you have a busy life and lots of commitments, it’s a good idea to know how many words you can type in 15 minutes. This will give you a general idea how long it’d take you to reach your word count that day. For instance, it takes me 15 minutes to write 500 words, so that means it will take me an hour to write 2,000 words, so technically I only need an hour a day in order to complete NaNo. Figure out your pace ahead of time and stick to it as best you can.
NaNo Tip: You can play tricks on your own mind when you’re doing NaNo. Say your goal is to write 2,000 words a day, but the first day you write 2,500 words. Technically, this means you’re 500 words ahead. The following day though you could get away with only writing 1,500 words which brings you total word count to 4,000. That’s a good even number, right? But then in the evening before you go to bed, you hammer out a few hundred words just to get ahead and bring your word count to 4,500. It looks and feels as though you are ahead, but in reality you only wrote 2,000 words that day. You have that little cushion in case a day just totally gets out of control leaving you with little time to write other than the 1,500 you wrote earlier. Just a little trick that might help!
If you need help, there are forums here: http://nanowrimo.org/forums And you can find just about everything there.
If you want to connect with fellow NaNo writers and do Write-In, you can find regions here: http://nanowrimo.org/regions
However, if your region isn’t very active (or even if it is active), and you really want more immediate interaction as well as *word sprint/word wars, you may join the Facebook group of NaNoWriMo Participants here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/NaNoWriMoparticipants/ It is an impressive group of over 21K people, and it is very active, resourceful, and encouraging though it has its moments of insanity. This group is active all year round.
If you’re interested in a more quiet but still active and inspirational group, you’re welcome to join my own Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/AuthorKellyBlanchard/ It is there where I post a lot of pictures that may inspire scenes in your story or even your characters and much more and try to encourage writers.
All in all, NaNoWriMo started as a small writing challenge, but now it is an international writing community, and many NaNo books have been published. You may find an incomplete list of those published works here: http://nanowrimo.org/published-wrimos.
Word of warning though, just because you complete NaNoWriMo, that doesn’t mean your book is ready for publication. It might not even be finished. This is where the community of NaNoWriMo off-site is useful because it’s around all-year and is a tremendous support and resource and can help you every step of the way.
On a random note, it is possible to reach 50K words in a week. It’s even possible to reach 50K in three days, and yes, as impossible as it may sound, it is possible to reach 50K words in one day. I’ve seen it done though I would not recommend it.
And that is NaNoWriMo. It is a free competition though it’s encouraged that people donate to support it because it is free, and it’s an awesome community. If you’ve always wanted to write but just never took the time, this might be exactly what you need to get you started. For those who always write and love writing, this is the one time when writing isn’t such an isolated task although throughout the year there are two challenges known as *Camp NaNo, but that has its own unique traits. NaNoWriMo is a fun and creative event. Every writer should participate in it at least once just for the experience.
*Word sprint/word war: These are challenges writers present one another. A select time is set (usually 15 minutes), and you have to write as many words as possible in that pocket of time. You’re racing against time, against each other, and against yourself to see who can write the most words written. It’s just a game we writers play with each other to motivate one another to write. This is extremely useful when you’re begin in your word count and want to get caught up.
*Camp NaNo: Usually takes place during the months of April and July (although the months have changed in the past, so checking the site during spring/summer is a good idea: http://campnanowrimo.org/ ) Unlike the official contest, with Camp NaNo, you may set your own goal with word count. Also, you are given the chance to be in a virtual camp with fellow writers where you’re given a chatroom where you can chat, brainstorm, and keep track of each other’s progress.