What is NaNoWriMo?

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.

Timeline Outline

When writing historical fiction work, it’s important to have an outline—a timeline to be more precise. This allows you to keep track of actual dates and events without having to dig through piles of books. This is also useful when you have a specific, complex story possibly with multiple sub-stories.

What is the difference between a normal outline and a timeline outline? The normal outline is vertical dealing mainly with the progression of the story, chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene. The timeline outline, however, is horizontal, showing mainly the relationships between specific events and character in a specific range of time. You can also see, in a snapshot, other events that occurred at the same time but with different characters.

How do you create a timeline outline? Well, you can do it by hand, but you’ll need continuous printer paper because timelines can be very long due to their horizontal nature. Or you can use an Excel program. Or you can use an actual timeline program on your computer. I have done it by hand as well as with a timeline program. Unfortunately, I can’t show you what it looks like when done by hand because the computer can’t scan continuous printer paper. However, here is a screenshot of what it looks like on the computer—at least one part of it. This is from my historical fiction novels, The Last King of Legend series, research I did for Book 2, ‘In the Face of Trials’, so there are no spoilers unless you haven’t read the books—in which cause I can’t really help you, but this IS history, so technically it’s still not spoilers.

Timeline Outline
This is Aeon Timeline. If you did NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) or Camp NaNoWriMo, and if you won, you obtained a discount for this program for a limited period of time. It’s incredibly easy to use. Let’s break it down.

There are multiple timeline templates you can use for your story. This specific one is BC – AD because I have historical dates to use. When I am outlining my fantasy novel though, I tend to just use ‘Years Only,” create a year, and go from there.

At the top you see the months and years. It has the ability to go to specific days, but I didn’t use that too much since I didn’t know the exact dates most of the time. In the middle with the little red dots and red vertical lines, the dots are the date of the event with a brief description of the event beside the dot. The line then goes down and hits horizontal lines. Those horizontal lines are the lifetime of characters (in this case ‘King Baldwin IV, Princess Isabella, and Baldwin V).

Now, if you look along the blue line of King Baldwin IV’s life, you see blue circles–circles that are full and hollow. The full circles mean Baldwin participated in that specific event, and the number beside the circle is how old he was when it happened. You’d have to turn on ‘Toggle Age Display’ to get that to turn up, but it’s a marvelous tool to have. Now, the hollow circles are events of which Baldwin was present but merely observed. For instance, he only witnessed Sibylla’s marriage to William Longsword whereas he participated in the Battle of Montgisard.

There are two other symbols you will see along the characters timeline. First one is a star. You see this on Baldwin V’s timeline in that picture. That represents his birth. The next symbol you will see is a block, and that represents the character’s death. It’s very handy.

Now, here is a glimpse of the timeline outline from my fantasy universe. This isn’t just one story but rather three different stories happening at the same time, but they’re all in the same world. It was getting confusing in my head, so I made this timeline to understand what happened first, who was how old when what happened, and who was where when that happened.

Fantasy Timeline
As you can see, this is a little more complex and compacted. There are more characters and more events than what you see in that snapshot, but it gives you an idea of how something like this might turn out.

“But Kelly, I don’t have Aeon Timeline. What am I supposed to do then?” I am sure there are other programs available to you, but I haven’t researched them. Otherwise, you can mimic this idea on a spreadsheet or by hand on paper.

When I wrote my timeline by hand, I had two characters’ lifespans I wanted to record for sure–King Baldwin IV and Baldwin V. My historical fiction novels ‘The Last King of Legends’ is based on the life of King Baldwin IV, so I had his lifeline go the length of the paper, and below that, I made vertical columns–each column a specific year from 1161-1185 because that was the length of Baldwin IV’s life. Now, Baldwin V was born during Baldwin IV’s life, and because of his importance, I wanted to include his lifespan so I could calculate his age at specific times. I put his lifeline directly above Baldwin IV’s. It looked something like this. I made this as a spreadsheet, and I’m starting at year 1174 due to limitations of space here. Also I didn’t fill in ALL the details of the years. Otherwise that would be spoilers for the books!

Spreadsheet Timeline
Now, of course there could more space between each year (sometimes as wide as a small paragraph). In each column, I wrote the events that happened in that year, and so on and so forth. This way I could just glimpse at the timeline and see which year was the busiest or the slowest. I could also look at it quickly and remember I had to set up for this specific event.

Does every story require a timeline outline? No. Must every author create a timeline for their stories? No. All of this is merely a suggestion for organization when writing something complex. And I have to admit, it is a lot of fun creating timelines (especially on the computer), so if you’re looking for another way to procrastinate while technically working on your story, there you have it. No, I’m not promoting procrastination–just always try to remember to procrastinate later.

For now, you have a fair idea of how timeline outlines might be beneficial to you. Now, with the next several posts, we will focus on the pros and cons of outlines–to use or not to use or just throw away the outline you had. That is what we will discuss.