What is NaNoWriMo?
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The name is a little deceptive as it is actually an international initiative that encourages people to try and write 50,000 words in one month, which is hardly ever the exact length of a novel, but it is a good chunk of any book or project. This total averages out at about 1667 words a day. While there is the word "novel" in the name, it is generally accepted that you can tackle any writing challenge in the month; it doesn't have to be a novel. What's more important is that you write, you write quickly (i.e. without going back and editing) and you aim to get as close to 50,000 words as you can. Of course this doesn't mean your project will end at 50,000 words, but that is the goal for November.
NaNoWrimo & Me
(NB UPDATED Oct 2016) I've already written about how NaNoWriMo changed my life, what my first year was like and I've summarised some tips on how to best prepare for NaNoWriMo. My four years of taking part in NaNoWriMo have all been very different.
My first year I used NaNoWriMo to help me write the first drafts for Shy Feet.
In my second year (after already writing the first drafts for London Eyes in my own personal pseudo-NaNoWriMo in October 2013) I wrote 50,000+ words of a draft for a novel that I'm still not sure if I'll pursue.
In my third year, I wrote the first draft - or rather two thirds of a first draft - for a novel I'm still hoping will see the light of day, but I'm still working on it.
In my fourth year, I was a new mum, but went ahead and tried to write 50,000 words of short stories and a novella that would be a sequel to The Wait. I was amazed how well I did with a demanding three month old baby in my full-time care, but I "lost"my first NaNoWriMo, though it didn't really feel like it as I still managed to write over 35,000 words.
I currently have new two ideas for novels, one very strong novella idea that I've partially mapped out already and would be the beginning of a series of books, several story ideas for another short fiction collection (the theme - AMSTERDAM!!), plus I'm fighting the urge to write a non-fiction book all about making writing easier (because I believe we often complicate it and make it a harder challenge than it really is). I have more ideas than ever before and I know exactly what is responsible for this: Writing. By writing regularly (I try to do 5000 words of new fiction or editing old drafts each week) I find my mind is getting more and more used to coming up with ideas.
And what kick-started my writing habit? NaNoWriMo.
At some point this month I will chose which idea I will pursue this November. I'm not too worried about which one it will be and if it will be the right decision because this actually doesn't matter. It's not what you write, the most important thing is THAT YOU WRITE.
Writing makes me happy. I think it will make you happy to.
Writing has brought an unquantifiable amount of joy into my life. Joy that has got nothing to do with being published, being read or being seen as a writer, though these are all things that make me very happy and are a very pleasant side effect of writing.
Writing gives me freedom, purpose and a sense of achievement like no other in my professional and possibly personal life.
That's quite a bold statement, but it's true and it's why I believe everybody should consider doing NaNoWriMo. Whether you want to publish a book, get ahead on your blog posts or just explore an idea that just won't quit you. NaNoWriMo is the perfect environment in which to just sit down and write.
Because that's really all there is to it.
If that didn't convince you, here are twenty-one reasons why you should consider doing NaNoWriMo this year.
1. You want to write a book.
Let's get the most obvious one out of the way. Books don't write themselves. And all books begin with an idea and a first draft. The idea part is all you need before November 1st, and the first draft is what that month is there for, or at least 50,000 words of it. Don't think about NaNoWriMo as being anymore complicated than that.
2. You have a story to tell.
This is not the same as writing a book. Some people have a story to tell living inside them. It may hinge around a key event that turned their life upside down, or it may be related to the loss or gain of somebody or something they loved. Or it could be completely fictional, an idea that you keep going back to like those warm socks that keep your feet warm like no others. Either way there are just some stories that need to be told. By putting them down on paper or into a folder on a computer, the stories gain a new set of wings and give the author an alternative perspective on that event or on the future. Stories only ever come to life when they are told, even if nobody is listening or reading. Give your story a home in the world.
3. You have memories you're afraid of losing.
I kept a diary from when I was nine until my early twenties. While I have no doubt most of the content will induce a nasty case of cringeing, I'm so glad I have a record of those formative years. I'm regretful that I didn't continue but (un)fortunately social media and blogging stepped in to take over. If something has happened to you and you want to have a written document of it, use NaNoWriMo to get this done.
4. You want to see what all the fuss is about.
I've made no secret of why I love NaNoWriMo, but I'm very aware that it's hard to express so don't take my word for it. Indulge your curiosity, and find out how wrong or right I am.
5. You need a project.
6. You don't think you can do it. Or you do.
A friend of mine recently revealed to me that whenever somebody tells her she can't do something, she instantly wants to do it.
I'm not like this. If I think I can't do it I won't waste my time trying. Plus, I'm scared of failure so avoid it like the plague, and licorice.
If you're the same as me, let me tell you something. YOU CAN DO NANOWRIMO. It's completely achievable. Best of all you have nobody to prove this to, but yourself.
(And if you're like my friend: Nah, there's no way you can do NaNoWriMo. No way. Don't even bother trying. You'll fail.
You already signed up, right?)
7. You know you can do it, but you haven't yet.
Believe it or not but to some people 50,000 words is not a scary prospect. To some 50,000 words is a walk in the park. (Indeed there are some crazy people who write that in nine days.) And yet, there are still so many people who haven't actually gone ahead and written 50,000 words in 30 days. If that's you - and I only hate you a little bit because 50,000 words STILL frightens the bejeebies out of me - now's your chance to show us how easy it is.
8. You want to be part of something.
I personally think the best part of NaNoWriMo is the community. Whether you follow people's NaNo profiles, join a local NaNo writers' group (and take part in one of their Write-ins) or simply search Twitter regularly for #NaNoWriMo related tweets (guilty!!) you will find comfort and encouragement in the NaNo community. Embrace it and use that energy to fuel your writing.
I'd love to follow your progress so let's make friends, I will follow you back.
9. You want to get your creative juices flowing.
Many famous writers weren't just writers, and many were artistic in other ways. I strongly believe that being artistic in one way can help you be creative in any other number of ways. I know that my passion for photography definitely helps me write, even if it's just by offering a break from the words through a very different creative outlet. If you're struggling to start or finish another project, maybe doing NaNoWriMo will help.
10. You want to achieve something before the year is through.
I'm sure you've already achieved a lot this year. But if you feel like you need to have something (else) to feel proud of before 2014 is over, getting 50,000 words out of your head and on to paper will be an almighty high to end the year with.
11. You want to leave something behind.
Now it's time to get deep.
When I told a friend of a friend that I was publishing a book, his response surprised me. He asked me if I was doing so in order to "leave something behind". While I think I shrugged off the comment at the time, it wasn't until I had released Shy Feet that I fully appreciated what he was suggesting. Because yes, while I do want to make my living from writing fiction, I also realise now that there is something very comforting and purposeful in knowing that my books may be read long after I am gone.
If you think you feel the same, then please don't delay realising this. NaNoWriMo will help you leave a little piece of you in the world.
12. You want to spend your time more wisely.
Get off Facebook. Stop watching TV. Stay out of the pub. And sit down and write.
All those things you waste your time doing will still be there in December, but something else will exist: YOUR 50,000 WORDS!!!
Now that's something worth boasting about in the pub on 1st December.
13. You want to finish something.
I have a confession to make.
In my short career as a writer there has been one event that made me feel happier than holding my published books in my hands.
Finishing my first NaNoWriMo.
I have been writing fiction for pleasure for over twenty years but apart from the ten page story "Zoe and the Zombie Queen" written by hand on sugar paper at the age of 8, complete with illustrations, I hadn't finished anything until NaNoWriMo.
For me, doing NaNoWriMo wasn't about writing, it was about finishing something.
14. You want to learn something about yourself.
Thanks to my NaNoWriMo experiences I have learned that:
- I write quicker in the morning, but I am more creative in the evening (d'oh!).
- I can touch type (60 wpm according to this test).
- I find thinking about my characters helps me fall asleep.
- I write best when listening to good music and with a pot of hot tea by my side.
- I write surprisingly well to drum and bass music.
- It's possible to make yourself laugh out loud when writing dialogue for your most eccentric characters.
- It's possible to make yourself cry when describing a character's sense of loss or struggle.
- The characters I make up in my head now feel like old friends. I actually feel sad when I realise they don't actually exist.
- Writing fiction is as much fun as binge-watching TV series' on Netflix.
- Not being able to high-five yourself when you finish a tricky scene is one of life's greatest let downs.
And more... What will you learn about yourself if you do NaNoWriMo this year?
15. You want to hold yourself accountable. In public.
I once heard someone say that they spent several years trying to lose weight but didn't actually shed any pounds until they joined a weight loss club and had to stand on the scales in front of other people. Having an audience suddenly became all the incentive they needed.
I think the same is true of NaNoWriMo. I'm certain I wouldn't have written the first draft Shy Feet as quickly if I'd not had a public NaNo profile and tweeted about doing the challenge. While there is nothing shameful in not "winning" NaNoWriMo, there is something motivating about knowing someone else is watching you do your best to get those 50,000 words written.
16. You want to be happier, or a "better" person.
If you Google "benefits of writing" you will find over 400 million results. Even just flicking through the first few pages of results confirms that writing has many positives. Here are some of them I discovered from dipping into these articles:
Writing makes you happier.
Writing makes you healthier.
Writing helps you express yourself and communicate your thoughts and opinions effectively.
Writing helps you prepare your brain for other tasks.
Writing helps you process events you can't understand.
Writing makes you more productive.
Writing makes you more employable.
Writing even makes you sleep better.
17. You want to get smarter.
As mentioned above, writing regularly helps "sharpen the brain" and improves how well you communicate. There are also countless articles claiming that writing regularly is a shared habit by successful entrepreneurs and professionals.
It's impossible for me to say whether writing has made me smarter - I actually think reading is more beneficial and often more enjoyable over long periods of time! - but I do know that some of my favourite writers have astounded me in interviews with their intelligence, clarity of expression and insightful, original points of view.
18. You want to share your knowledge.
Come on. Don't be selfish. Share what you know. Others will benefit. You will make money from doing so (if you publish it as a book). Win-win?
That's one way to look at this, or you could consider the argument that we have a moral obligation to share what we know and to contribute something to academia, or to the enjoyment others may take in reading your work.
19. You want to boost your business.
I was due to speak at Big Sister Summit this month, but unfortunately the conference has been cancelled due to unforeseen circusmstances. My topic was going to be "Life as an Author-Entrepreneur" and this is something I'm still keen to share more about soon. I was particularly keen to discuss how writing a book can boost a person's business or professional life.
Rightly or wrongly, writing and publishing a book carries a lot of weight, even if the book is about something completely different to what your career is and even if you're writing fiction. Of course, if you can write something that proves your knowledge on a subject, you're potentially creating a new revenue stream, client generation and networking tool. But even if you want to write about something else completely unrelated, people will recognise that writing a book demonstrates a number of attractive qualities; dedication, determination, commitment and perserverence. And this can only benefit your professional goals.
20. You want to help your friend.
One of my closest friends was once training for her first triathlon and my other friend offered to accompany her on training runs and swims because she wanted to get a bit fitter, but she had no intention of doing the triathlon herself. I thought this was an incredibly generous gesture (note, I didn't offer to do the same!). They both spent many hours together each week and encouraged one another to keep going. As a result they got closer and when it came to the day of the triathlon I could see how much it meant to both of them. I really wish I'd offered to join them on their training sessions.
Do you know someone who is planning on doing NaNoWriMo? (Actually you do, ME!)
Do it with them. Support them. Offer up how hard (or easy!) you find it and share the experience with them. I know this sounds like a big undertaking for someone else - though maybe not as hard as training for a triathlon! - but I think there's a lot to be said for someone who isn't intimidated by this level of generosity.
21. You have no reason not too.
You may think that there are countless reasons not to do NaNoWriMo; you don't have time, work is too busy, you've never written anything before, you don't know what to write about, you don't think you can do it, you have too many other commitments.
But if you want to do it, and I think if you've got this far down the list, there's a very good chance that you do, then there really is no excuse to not do it. You don't need much equipment - just paper and a pen and time. And you can make time. There is always flexibility. One thing I realised during my first NaNo was that you have to sacrifice to make "winning" easier and this was an important life lesson and has definitely helped me learn better ways to prioritise in other areas of my life.
So, get up an hour earlier, or go to bed a bit later. Give yourself all day on Saturday to catch up and cancel all those social occasions you don't have to go to. Tap out some words on your phone while you're waiting for a bus or carry a notebook with you everywhere you go so you can jot down words when they start bouncing around the walls of your mind - and trust me, they will.
It's only one month, it's just 1667 words a day, and it could be the start of something quite special.
It could, like it did for me, change your life.
Ready to go? Read these tips for how to prepare for NaNoWriMo.
Frances M. Thompson
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