If you’re at the point where you want to test your mettle as a writer, NaNoWriMo might be just the thing. Half the writers I know go scarce during November, which is National Novel Writing Month. Worldwide, people are hunched over their keyboards pounding out roughly sixteen hundred words per day to make the word count of fifty thousand by November 30. To the uninitiated, this might sound like mission impossible, but to those who relish a challenge, NaNo is the opportunity to unleash your muse, forget about editing and write the story down in its raw form.
Now this approach is agony to someone like me, who’s neurotic about revising everything I write. But the point of NaNo is to kill – or at least stifle – your internal editor and tell the tale. Even if the end result is little more than drivel, you will get the chance to edit what you’ve written once the month is over. The priority during NaNofest is the diamond-in-the-rough from which you’ll cut smooth prose some time later.
I first participated in 2007 after sitting on the sidelines watching others rave about NaNo. Since these were virtual contacts, I could only gauge their mood by the progress reports given from time to time. Everybody waited with bated breath for November 1. It’s an honor system, so it’s a given that nobody starts writing before then. Once the starting gates opened, the words flowed, but various things happened as time progressed.
The bright-eyed and bushy-tailed found that somewhere in the middle of the month, the geyser of words slowed to a trickle, which threatened to run dry. At the time, I imagined many staring dry-eyed at their computer in panic. Where to find the rest of the material to finish the novel that was going to be an epic when it was being plotted in October? The month rolled by, many finished, some had to be dragged over the final stretch – cheered on by those who had made the word count days in advance, and some didn’t make it.
The latter was my experience when I first took on NaNo. I had the general story idea, but hadn’t worked out the plot twists prior to November. That was a mistake. I wrote right up to midnight on November 30 and didn’t make it to 49,000 words. However, don’t be deterred, magical things can happen from NaNo madness. That novel ended up at eighty thousand words and will be published in 2010.
There’s a good reason why I can’t remember anything that happened during November 2007 or November 2008. In retrospect, the month passed me by – I went to the office early, wrote until the work day started, wrote at lunchtime and then wrote until eleven most evenings. When December hit, I felt like someone who’d been wandering underground for a while – dazed and bleary eyed, conscious that significant things had happened, which I’d catch up on later. And sleep, how I needed sleep. I should stress here, that an organized person can do NaNo without too much dislocation. I haven’t met that person yet, but I’m sure they’re out there somewhere.
Those who do NaNo learn how to compensate. Some subsist on coffee and chocolate; others survive on energy drinks and minimal sleeping time. Some only leave their keyboards for brief periods during the day when nature calls; friends and family are forgotten, romance flags, plants wilt and beg for water, pets only get fed by making their displeasure felt. Once NaNo is over, writers reunite with those around them, conscious that next year they’ll do it all over again.
And the time is upon us, when for thirty days writers worldwide abandon their lives in pursuit of that coveted NaNaWriMo tag.
If the idea sounds intriguing to you, you might just be up for NaNo mania. To help you along, I’ve included five tips for surviving NaNo.
1. Start working out plot ideas in advance. It’s not necessary to fill in all the details, but do get the highpoints of your novel written down somewhere. It will prevent the agony of having your mind running in circles while you try to dislodge elusive thought fragments from September and October brainstorming sessions, which you really should have recorded in detail before you started writing.
2. Gather a cheering squad — whether it is a group of people also doing NaNo, or friends who will encourage you to pick up the pace when you stall. Just knowing there’s someone bugging you to continue will give you the urge to stick it out, even when your wrists gang up with old battle injuries and scream at you to quit.
Having mentioned it, I should note that if you have any wrist injuries, the time to get support bandage would be now. Trust me on this. I speak from personal experience. Day twenty-five into typing, you might want to commit seppuku if your injury forces you to stop when the story is really heating up, and has you in its grip.
To get back on topic, writing networks are wonderful support groups. Some individuals work through the NaNo site where they list their buddies on their member page and stop in to talk on the forums. Others do it from their own writing network site.
3. Pace yourself – at 1667 words per day, you’ll hit the 50k mark on November 30. If it’s possible to write more each day, do so. You don’t want to be caught flat-footed if you have an emergency and your writing time is cut in half. Some people link up through instant messaging and do word sprints — that is, typing as many words as they can within a half-hour or an hour. An aside here – even if you don’t complete fifty thousand words at the end of November, you’ll have raw material for your next full-length project. If you do hit the mark, stop by the NaNo site and upload your project for an official word count. You can’t claim your ‘prize’ if you don’t make this important step.
4. Stock up on food that energizes you — anything that will keep you going when you’re tempted to doze on the keyboard. Believe me, you’re going to have some late nights while you try to catch up on, or surpass your daily targets.
A word of caution here – don’t ingest anything that will keep you awake for days, give you palpitations, or make you hyperactive. You need to rest. Your brain cells will thank you, and so will the people who might have to deal with your new manic persona. If friends, relatives and associates start giving you strange looks, you’re on the edge – get some rest.
5. Never forget it’s all in good fun. If you have a memory lapse and start feeling tense and stressed, remind yourself there’s no prize other than personal satisfaction and the NaNo tag you can place on your blog or website to tell the world that you ‘won’ NaNo 2009.
Think you’re game? Visit the NaNo website at http://www.nanowrimo.org/ for additional details. Be patient, it may load slowly due to heavy site traffic around the start date.
~ J.L. Campbell