NaNoWriMo: A Month of Writing Madly
Every November, writers from all over the globe congregate online with a shared goal: to each write 50,000 words in one month, a month dubbed National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.
What is NaNoWriMo?
Participants, affectionately called “wrimos,” have from 12:01 a.m. on November 1st until 11:59 p.m. on November 30th to get 50,000 words, which averages 1,667 words per day, down on paper. Going against conventional wisdom, the emphasis is placed on quantity over quality, with an end goal of completing a first draft. The painstaking process of editing comes later, but you finish the month with a solid foundation on which to build your next draft.
50,000 words in 30 days
NaNoWriMo is a challenge you win by reaching the 50,000-word mark, but you’re not competing against other participants so much as competing against yourself. It’s the “you” that is determined to finish a novel, write every day and reach your goals versus the “you” that procrastinates, makes excuses and lacks the confidence to finish the job. I won’t lie, it isn’t easy. I mean, some people breeze right through it, but for most of us it’s a challenge. I didn’t come close to 50k words my first year doing NaNoWriMo, instead clocking out around 28k by the end of November.
My second year, I was almost manic about finishing my daily word count. I felt anxious all day, my stomach churning until I had a chance to write in the evening. It was a stressful month, but that pressure was what I needed to stay ahead. I averaged a little over the required 1,667 words a day, building myself a nice buffer in case I had to miss a day of writing. See that blue line in the graph, which indicates whether you’re on track or not? I was obsessed with staying above that line.
Why should you participate in NaNoWriMo?
For me, the best thing about NaNoWriMo is the motivation boost. There are many reasons NaNoWriMo fueled my determination to write every day, but here are the Top 10:
Writing can be a lonely activity, but NaNoWriMo gives you the distinct feeling that you’re part of something larger than just yourself at your keyboard. You gain a huge support network of other writers from all over the world to cheer you on and share ideas. You’re all in it together. You can celebrate with your writing buddies, encourage each other or – and hopefully you won’t need too much of this – commiserate.
You have a concrete, unambiguous, attainable goal every day. 1,667 words. One after another. That’s it. When your goal is too ambitious, it’s easy to get discouraged. Too easy and your progress is slow. 1,667 is a happy medium.
A friendly – or fierce – competition tends to bubble up among writing buddies. Everyone is racing to have the highest word count, which means everyone is writing a bit faster, a bit fiercer and a bit more freely.
The psychological effect of your word count increasing every day, watching as your line gets closer to the top of the graph, is powerful. Every time you see your word count exceed your daily goal, your brain rewards you with yummy chemicals. Quickly, you start to crave that feeling.
Dedicated writing time
Throughout the month, Municipal Liaisons (volunteers who act as local coordinators) organize in-person write-ins, usually at coffee shops, libraries or other public venues. Write-ins are perfect opportunities to set aside several hours of uninterrupted writing time, as well as connect with other local writers. You’ll likely leave write-ins with a caffeine buzz and a hefty addition to your word count.
Even if you can’t make it to local write-ins, there are virtual writing sprints every day. These involve the sprint leader setting a timeframe, for example, a 30-minute interval, during which you try to write as many words as possible. When time is up, people announce their word count (optional), take a break, and start another sprint.
It feels so good to complete a goal you’ve set for yourself. Additionally, when you hit your 50k-word goal, you get to be recognized as a “winner” by thousands of other NaNoWriMo participants. You’re not celebrating in a vacuum, but with a huge community of fellow crazed writers who know exactly how much blood, sweat and tears you poured into your project!
The NaNoWriMo forums are an incredible resource, with thousands of writers contributing content every day throughout November and beyond. The forums can be the rope that pulls you out of a plot ditch, with themed boards like Plot Doctoring and Worldbuilding where you can post problems and give or receive suggestions. If you’re hopelessly striking out, there are resourceful boards such as the Adoption Society. This is where people post plots, characters or other ideas that they’re abandoning, or where you can kill some of your darlings. There’s also Appellation Station, where people share names for characters, fictional places, things – you need it, they name it.
Throughout the month of NaNoWriMo, participants receive words of wisdom in the form of letters from established, successful writers. The notes are often from high-profile, rockstar authors and other masters of their craft. They may be pep talks, tips, anecdotes or random writerly musings, but one thing they share in common is they are thoughtfully written and majorly inspiring.
Last, but not least, NaNoWriMo is an awesomely enjoyable experience. As hard and exhausting as it is, I’m willing to bet that if you put your brain, heart and guts into it, you’ll think it was worth your time. Giving yourself permission to not worry about whether your story is enough – clever enough, funny enough, dramatic enough, whatever enough – and just run with your ideas is freeing. Writing madly may be completely different from your normal writing process, but it’s an experience you don’t want to miss.