National Novel Writing Month

By Mark Nichol

On Tuesday, November 1, a couple hundred thousand people around the world will participate in National Novel Writing Month, which, despite its intuitive name, I’ll explain here: The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel (that’s about 175 manuscript pages, based on a count of approximately 300 words per page) in thirty days.

That’s about 1,700 words, or six double-spaced manuscript pages, give or take, a day — assuming that you write every day.

Insane? More like insanely ingenious. The idea behind this seemingly insurmountable goal is to write for quantity, not for quality — to dash off a first draft under the auspices of a worldwide project to distance yourself from the little voice in your head that tells you that you should go back and polish that passage, pare that paragraph, or prune that page.

It’s basically hours and hours of feverish, fervent, frantic freewriting — a technique for unleashing your creativity by abandoning any pretext of inserting your editorial alter ego into the process. Write, write some more, and just keep on writing, without looking back.

The sponsors of NaNoWriMo, as it’s abbreviated, acknowledge that may seem like a risky endeavor. You may limp to a finish at midnight on November 30, only to discover that you have devoted much of your precious time to churning out — what? What did you accomplish? The product of a few hundred thousand keystrokes. Is it ready for publication? Hardly.

But no novel, no short story, no poem, no article or review or essay or other composition, is print-ready. That’s not the point. The point is that you will have overcome your trepidation at devoting so much time and effort toward crafting a towering achievement in prose, using the novelty of the project as an excuse. And then you will have a first draft of a novel (and then the real work starts).

Last year, only a little more than 10 percent of participants reached their goal of producing the first draft of a 50,000-word novel. But nearly 200,000 others staggered away from their computers on the last day of November with at least the start of something satisfying.

Sign up at the NaNoWriMo Web site, and explore the site’s features to help you motivate yourself. One of these is a tool that lets you update your word count daily. You can also post excerpts of your work in progress for others to read.

So, are you going to give it a shot? Of course you are. Good luck!

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21 Responses to “National Novel Writing Month”

  • Patricia A. Hawkenson

    I am one of this year’s first timers. The odds are against me as I am still working full time, but I feel I have a great story to tell, so HERE GOES! NaNoWriMo, you may seem like an insurmountable feat, but my novel WILL be written this November. My baby toe is in the water, and I am just waiting to take the plunge!

  • JK Brennan

    Well, erm, I’m signed up. I do like a challenge, and it might bring me out of the serious case of “constantly editing” syndrom i’ve found myself in lately. “Just write!” is so much harder than it sounds, at least for me.

  • Deborah H

    To borrow a phrase: Just Do It.

    I participated in NaNoWriMo in 2009, and it was a 30-day joy ride careening down a road I’d never been on before. I decided to join right before the deadline, and the only idea I had going in was an opening scene (based on real event), and a way to commit a murder.

    What did I learn?

    1. Never fall behind on your daily word count. I did it twice and it is hell trying to get back on schedule. I was so terrified of not finishing that I reached the 50,000 words goal on Thanksgiving weekend.
    2. Your family will be so happy for you that you won’t have to do anything for Thanksgiving except show up.
    3. I had trouble thinking up names for characters, and then I’d forget the names I used. Keep a list of ALL characters and names from the beginning.
    4. About two weeks in, you will think, “Hey, I can do this! That’s the day you will fall behind in your daily word count.
    5. All first drafts are crap. That’s what the best writers say, even Eudora Welty, who never wrote a word of crap in her life.

  • Joan Campbell

    THANK YOU for this post! I will use it to inspire my student writers, and help their parents realize I am not crazy for suspending our literature study for the next six weeks to participate!

    Last summer, after being asked to switch to teaching junior and senior English, following a far more knowledgeable and inspired literature teacher and feeling daunted with the prospect, I went searching for some ‘signature’ I could put on this final year for my seniors. I stumbled on the NaNoWriMo website, and knew I’d found it.

    I kicked off the program yesterday (NaNoWriMo has great resource- including a student pre-noveling workbook.) Included in the material I provided students to begin planning, were your posts on the ABCs of Plot development, using archetypes to create characters and eponyms to name them.

    I have used many of your posts over the past couple of years to help my students, and myself, become better writers. I will continue to do so throughout this process. In fact, I have given them this URL and suggested they subscribe. How great it would be if you could gather links somewhere on your website specifically for NaNoWriMo paricipants.

    THANKS again for this timely post.

  • Paul M

    Signed up and fully pumped. I too have a maniacal internal editor who abuses me from within. I have to brood over every FB post for ages before I hit enter.

    Look me up, I’m captaincrunch from the Ottawa Ontario Region.

    Cheer us on to the finish!

  • Joan Campbell

    Addendum: I see that your Fiction Writing section already contains the things NaNoWrMo participants could use. It would be a great Helpful Link on their resource page.

  • eekageek

    Signed up and ready. I’m so ready for this – it’s the first time I’ve had the chance to participate in years. I’m working extra hard on my master’s thesis to get it done by October 30th (even though the deadline is Nov 21th), just to be able to do NaNoWriMo!

  • Wordsmith

    I think that NaNoWriMo is such a great idea. It offers the freedom to ignore the urge to edit and sets a deadline. I would love to give it a go, but am I brave enough?
    Wordmith x

  • helmi

    I’ll be happy to join.

  • Gisli

    It sounds crazy, 50,00 words in a month. What shall I write? Any ideas as to where to start. At the beginning or at the end? Not going back to edit until after November 30th sounds good, as I’m always prone to do that. Maybe it will improve my writing, just being free to write whatever comes into my mind. Or maybe let the mind take over and become its instrument. I’ve joined, but I still don’t know which word to keyboard first.
    Gisli from Vancouver

  • Constant Writer

    I’ve done nano for the past two years, though I’ve known about it for much longer, and it really is a lot of fun. It’s challenging, but the clock keeps you pushing through the writer’s block and the pesky thoughts telling you everything you’re typing sucks. By the time you finish, you at least know you’ve done something great, even if it needs some work before other people would think it’s great. I wrote about what makes this a great contest just a few days ago: http://stillinsists.blogspot.com/2011/10/5-reasons-to-do-nanowrimo-next-month.html

  • Eryn

    This is the first year I’m trying it and my friend is doing it as well. I am super nervous and already saving for the great amounts of Starbucks I already know I’m going to be drinking to keep myself awake. I have to go to school which will be a pain in the butt to juggle homework with my writing so I’m carrying around a notebook to write everything down in as well.

  • Mary

    Back in 2003, Nanowrimo was responsible for helping me overcome a persistent case of perfectionism. Had been blocked for a year and was miserable. Between the insane word count, crazy deadline and wonderful fellow writers on the boards, I was able to haul butt and leave my inner critic in the dust.

    What a wonderful, fun journey. I still participate every year. 🙂

  • Deborah H

    @Joan Campbell—what an amazing thing to do for your students. They will never forget you or this year.

    @Wordsmith—taking part in NaNoWriMo was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done. It rates right up there with giving birth and learning how to stall/recover an airplane. I still feel a great sense of personal accomplishment and satisfaction from this. It’s not so much an act of bravery as it is an act of stick-to-it-ness.

    @Gisli—nothing jump starts my creative thinking like a road trip but someone else needs to drive! In a pinch, a trip to the mall will work, too. If I lived in Vancouver, I’d get on a ferry 🙂

    Don’t forget to SAVE SAVE SAVE regularly, and Best Wishes to you all.

  • Grace

    This is insane! I love the idea of not having to be so OC at all (as that hinders me from accomplishing anything.)
    This is going to be my first shot at a novel. The best of luck to everyone!

  • Al McCartan

    Yes! It’s coming around again. What a great blog – and reminder. The fun part of the year.

    By the way, check out the little page on writing jobs. youcanwriteit.weebly.com

  • Kimi

    Good luck to all! I’ve only finished one year out of three, but each year was totally worth it on the creativity scale. Write on, everyone!

  • Stacey Knighton

    I am also a first-timer this year. Very excited though! If anyone wants to add me as a buddy, my name is mywildrainbow Good luck to all! 🙂

  • MsKreative

    I just signed up at the last minute and what am I doing? Searching the web and stumbling across posts like these… sigh… The NaNoWriMo site is down for maintenance and my rebellious inner child is looking for excuses to procrastinate and go off into la la land…

    I have 3 paragraphs blurted out on paper and better return to it if I’m really going to do this.

    Good luck to all!

  • Rhiannon

    To my own astonishment I actaully did it! Producing 53,219 words by the 28th of November. I shamlessly broke all the rules, used masses of padding and unecessary dialouge attribution to bolster the word count, burnt so much Midnight Oil there is now a serious shortage of the stuff in the Western Hemisphere, I even dreamed about the thing and included elements of the dream in it. Above all I had great fun -most of the time.

  • Elaine Hemingway

    I did it! I only heard about nanowrimo on the 3rd November, and on the eve of leaving for a conference with no internet access, so it was the 8th before I could begin. I had the starting idea of a teen novel, and blasted off the first few chapters at full steam. By the end of the month, limping but determined, I completed 53000 words around 11.20pm on the 30th, and was so excited I thought I would have the editing done by March this year, and give it to someone to read. In February I asked a friend to look the first 6 chapters over, and was told I must either spend a couple of years improving the concept or make it into short stories as I had too many sub plots and peripheral concepts. Devastated, I went into hibernation, which briefly brought me back into my husbands good books. Then I was asked to edit a small magazine, and somewhere along the lone my enthusiasm is returning. I have an idea for an historical novel, so am starting notes and hope I will be ready for November! This year I want to show some results of learning by mistakes! Thank you Grant and team. I don’t want to wish my life away, but have an idea November will be a roller coaster ride again, whooshing to the end.

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