by Jackie Houchin
NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. You knew that, right? But did you know that it is the largest writing event in the world? More than 300,000 writers sign up each November for a “simple but audacious” challenge: Write 50,000 words of a novel in a month. In the twenty years of NaNoWriMo, approximately 3 million writers have taken that challenge, including many bestselling authors.
Fifty thousand words in a month means 1,667 words per day. Doesn’t sound too hard, right? Maybe an hour and a half at the keyboard? Two at most? A mere sliver out of your day. HA!
I’ve entered NaNoWriMo five times since 2004 and it IS a heck of a lot of writing time; my bottom got numb, my fingers stiff, everything around me was out of my mind except “The Story.” Sadly, I only completed the challenge once with my novel “Sister Secrets.” The novel was only 2/3 done at 50,000 words, but I never finished it (let alone edited it). It sits in a dusty file in my computer. (sigh)
So, if you plan to write the 50K words in a month, you’d better allow yourself a bit more time. Many NaNo veterans suggest bumping that word count up on the weekdays, in case your weekends get crazy. And remember, in the US, we have the Thanksgiving Holiday in November. (Eek! Can Aunt Sally do the turkey this year??)
Speaking of word count, why 50K? The staff of NaNo believe that this number is challenging, but doable, even for people with full-time jobs and children. It is definitely long enough to be called a novel. That’s about the length of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
A NaNo novel is defined as “a lengthy work of fiction.” Any genre of novel is okay.
Nonfiction, memoir, biography, essay, unrelated short stories, music, etc. do not qualify. But, if you want to write 50,000 words in any of those categories, there is a special group for you – NaNoRebels. Join that forum and you can chat with your fellow outlaws. You can also use the NaNo site to upload your 50K words and validate your work.
Here’s how one “rebel” couple did it: Nanotunes-NaNoWriMo-NaNoMusicals
NaNo never questions a manuscript. “This is a self-challenge” say the moderators. “The real prize is accomplishment and a big new manuscript you have at the end. Everything beyond that is icing on the cake.”
There are only a few rules.
- Write a 50,000 word (or longer) novel, between November 1st and 30th.
- Only count words written during November. None of your previously written prose can be included (although outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine). If you choose to continue a previous work, ONLY count the words you write during November.
- Be the sole author.
- Upload your novel for word-count to our site during the winning period.
- Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.
“Traditionally, NaNoWriMo works best when you start a brand-new project. It may be an arbitrary distinction, but we’ve seen that novelists do better (and have more fun) when they’re free from the constraints of existing manuscripts. Give yourself the gift of a clean slate!
“That said, we welcome all writers at any stage. Outlines, character sketches, and other planning steps are encouraged, and you’re welcome to continue an old project. Just be sure to only count words written during November toward your goal.”
So you decide to accept the month-long challenge, what kind of preparation can/should you do before NaNo begins? Anything, from a vague idea of your story to one of the detailed outline structures found in the following blog sites.
- Develop a story idea – September 9-13
- Create Complex Characters – September 16-20
- Construct a detailed plot or outline – September 23-27
- Build a strong world – September 30-October 4
- Organize your LIFE for writing – October 7-11
- Find and manage your time – October 14-18
Writers Write – Countdown to NaNoWriMo 1 month Prep.
- Week One – 1-8 October – Decide on your story idea, protagonist & antagonist, their names, the setting
- Week Two – 9-16 October – Work out your plot. Give your novel title.
- Week Three – 17-23 October – Flesh out your characters.
- Week Four – 24-31 October – Create a timeline. Write a LIST of 60 scenes and sequels that you will include in your novel.
Angel Leigh McCoy on AngelMcCoyBlog recommends the Milanote.com: “How to start your novel: 5 critical questions you must answer first” article. How to start a Novel
- The Premise – In 20 words or less, what is this novel about at its core?
- The Stakes – If the story ended in tragedy, what would that look like?
- The Core Conflict – What are the opposing sides?
- The Resolution – How does the core conflict resolve?
- The Lesson – What is the moral of your story?
There are many more places you can Google to get a head start if you plan to join NaNoWriMo this year. I know it’s late for most of the above now, but you can do a crash course over an upcoming weekend, or lay out a simple outline to show you a direction.
NOTE: Be sure to check out the blogs above, especially Writers Write which is packed full of writing advice. The daily blog also offers writing tips, writing comics, writing quotes, and writing prompts. They have a monthly Short Story Challenge. And they offer seven extensive online writing courses (fee).
Speaking of costs, all of NaNoWriMo’s programs (including Camp NaNoWriMo and the Young Writers Program) are FREE. They run on donations. (tax-deductible) Whether you are writing or not, you can donate here NaNoWriMo – Donations
Yes, I signed up this year. But 50K words? Probably not. But if I get 5K words and finish my children’s mystery “The Bible Thief,” I will jump for joy!
Give me a Na!
Give me a No!
Give me a Wri!
Give me a Mo!
My Declaration of Accountability
NOTE: The links to NaNoWriMo may be a little slow loading right now. They changed their hosting company (Yeah I know, dumb time, right?) but they promise all will be up to snuff in the next week or so.