Every November Twitter is taken over by desperate writers mounting an immense personal challenge – the writing of a 50,000 word novel in 30 days – otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. Now in its 15th year, this yearly word marathon has developed quite a reputation. Some love the excuse to devote an entire month to writing, children and partners be damned, and the social opportunity of write-ins for otherwise word hermits, and of course, the global writing community coming together to celebrate this shared hobby. Detractors, however, decry the flooding of unedited self-published NaNo Novel uploaded to Amazon in December by enthusiastic people who haven’t heard of the term “revision”, and the detrimental approach to speed writing that values quantity over quality. But love it or hate it, NaNo is an institution, and one this author would definitely recommend giving a go, if only to see if you can, at least once, if only for the 40% Scrivener coupon.
So, how should you go about undertaking such a challenge? By following my simple rules:
1: Register on the NaNoWriMo website
Perhaps the obvious first step but I’ve met a surprising number of people who started NaNo without even realising there was a specific organisation that started it all. It’s free to sign up and participate in NaNoWriMo (at https://nanowrimo.org), although they do take donations and have a pretty snazzy merch store, if you’re into that sort of thing. The site also lets you track your word count and spits out some pretty neat progress graphs and statistics (such as an estimated finishing date, and approximate daily words needed to finish in time). You can also join your region and meet a bunch of people in your area who are also taking part in this event. Which leads me to;
2: Join your local region
Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary pursuit. It can be even more fun to do with other people around you, who you can bounce ideas off of or ask for feedback. Your local ML (Municipal Liaison) will plan write-in events throughout the month, as well as some more casual social gatherings, and also offer online support on the official forums and possibly a Facebook group, depending on your region. I’ve made many new writer friends through these events, whom I catch up with during the rest of the year as well. So it’s definitely worth getting involved.
Even if you’re someone who likes to just sit down and write whatever comes to mind, novel writing is a Big Ordeal. Those 50,000 words will feel mountainous, unless you break it down. Planning as much as you can before November will make your month far less stressful, but if over-planning saps your motivation to actually write the thing, try just creating a loose plot outline and character sketches. And even if you do plan in great detail, don’t be afraid of throwing way that plan if you think of something better as you go.
4: Pace yourself
It’s tempting to want to lock yourself away all month and do nothing but write, but this isn’t sustainable nor particularly healthy. Make sure you take breaks from your work to eat and drink properly, see friends and give your hands and brain a rest. If you’re balancing NaNo with full time work and/or managing children, you may have to get really great at fitting in writing where you can. But don’t go so hard that you give yourself RSI. NaNo isn’t worth physically injuring yourself over.
5: Don’t Panic
If you fall behind, miss a few days, or even start after November 1, don’t panic. There’s still time to catch up. You can do this. As mentioned, the website will tell you how many words per day you will need to finish on time. Doubling your daily target a few times can make up for a few days when you were too busy to sit down at your computer. Some people can only write on weekends because of weekday commitments. Whatever your life demands, you can still do it. Just take a deep breath and go.
6: Have Fun
NaNoWriMo is meant to be a fun challenge. If you’re finding yourself exceedingly stressed out, step back and evaluate if it is realistic for you to force yourself to do. If 50,000 is too long, try setting your own goals. The Camp NaNo events, (held in April and July) allow you to specify your own word goal on the website, but you can still aim for whatever you want to aim for in November. This is entirely a personal challenge after all. No one is policing what you do. No one will dob you in for doing it differently. And even if you don’t make it to your goal at the end of the month, that’s still okay. Ultimately any words you wrote are words you didn’t have before you started this challenge, and that’s amazing. The discount code prizes for “winning” are pretty nice but the real prize is the work you wrote during this time.
No matter how you go this month, NaNoWriMo is about building a regular writing habit, and engaging with other writers about this art form you all love so much. So give it a go. Take the excuse to sit down with that novel idea you’ve always wanted to write ‘if you had time’, and see what happens. Lock away your inner editor and just start typing. As a wise person once said, you can’t edit a blank page.
Words by Simone Corletto
Simone Corletto is an Adelaide-based YA and Science-Fiction writer. She spends her spare time crocheting lumpy hats, writing about teenage superheroes, and telling people about her science degree. She tweets at @SimCorWrites