If you internet even half of what I do, or hang around Twitter for any goodly portion of your social media interactions, you’ve likely at least heard of or seen “NaNoWriMo” floating around. It rises and falls like any other Twitter trend, just skirting your radar, then it disappears for awhile before stubbornly returning with a vengeance each autumn.
NaNoWriMo (Nano for short) stands for National Novel Writing Month, which is November of each year. We do exactly as it describes: write an entire novel during the month of November.
If it sounds impossible… it sure feels like it sometimes. But after a few years of half-hearted stops and starts, I seriously committed since 2016 and have won each year. Many authors have participated yearly since its inception in 1999.
When one participates in NaNoWriMo, they commit to completing a 50,000-word first draft of a novel. When one declares their project, they are openly welcomed into the world of being a Wrimo (wry-mo, like a fry. Not like Glenn Rhee, long live Glenn Rhee).
Wrimo is both a noun and a verb in the Nano world. One is a Wrimo, and one will Wrimo during November.
The word count is just a goal. The real joy is getting there and its entire focus centers around the creative abandon one must tap into to achieve it. It’s not about having the best words, it’s about first putting the words down. It’s Step One in book-writing: just write.
NaNoWriMo leaders and organizers never shy away from or hide the fact that Nano is hard. They stress that even if you “pants” your novel (that is, to write by the seat of your pants without an outline and nary a plot), planning ahead to ensure you have time, a space just for you to write without distractions, and to review your work and social schedule ahead of time.
To break 50,000 words into bite-sized chunks, a daily average output throughout November is to write 1,667 words. In and of itself is not that difficult, except doing it consistently for 30 days, to complete one single project is. I’m more experienced now, but even I will fall behind sometimes. One year, I had to churn out 9.500 words in one day to finish. Don’t fall behind, folks.
Even though I’m old-hat at this, I still practice in the last couple weeks of October: freewriting exercises, doing timed solo writing streaks, testing out ambiance playlists to see which help me get into the right zone. I’ll haul out old works-in-progress from my files and review them, maybe lifting a few ideas or lines for inspiration, or brushing them off once more before I seal them up for another few months.
Having an idea is the start, but prep ahead of time helps and for me, is the key to success.
There is no trick to writing, except to write and just do it. They do not advertise any one way to complete the novel easily. The point of Nano is that it is a challenge. No matter what life throws at me the other eleven months of the year and distracts from my writing, I can count on the magic of chilly nights, Twitter word wars, and kick-off events and write-ins to come home to.
Writing is a lonely endeavor. It’s long hours in front of a screen (or another writing device, such as uh… a notepad and paper) without anyone to keep you going. Even in the most electric of writing highs and creative zones, it’s easy to lose steam and motivation. Friends roll their eyes at you nesting in the writing cave and don’t understand what you’re accomplishing.
NaNoWriMo does, though. Its key is its community. There is nothing like the support of working alongside other Wrimos. Completing a novel is hard enough, it’s even worse that it’s mostly a solo project and its solitude is one of the reasons it can take so long to complete the first draft.
The answer to that lies within the community. The organization creates and hosts events known as write-ins (meet other Wrimos at a cafe, pub, or library, and write for a few hours), host word-wars 24/7 on Twitter (a designated leader takes over an account for an hour at a time and chooses lengths of time to stop Tweeting and just write, trying to churn out as many words as possible in a time frame of anywhere from five to thirty minutes), and of course, always, there are message boards available for people to run to and shoot the breeze when they need a break, or call for help when stuck or searching for a resource.
For me, thousands of miles from any family, NaNoWriMo feels like coming home each year. It’s the start of the holiday season, cozying in and snuggling up to cooler weather with a mug of tea or coffee (or hot toddies as I prefer). I make new friends and reunite with old ones. We touch base throughout the month and toast when it’s finally all over. We playfully groan when we just miss the next word-count goal, but maybe quietly sniffle when we finally submit the entire manuscript for word count verification.
And we do it again every year. Talk about tradition!
NaNoWriMo is not a “baby step” to novel-writing for aspiring or experienced authors. It is novel-writing. It focuses on the most important thing: sitting down and writing the novel. But the difference in the Nano approach is its community, and it provides a lot of support that first-time writers would not otherwise have.
Yes, NaNoWriMo is a competition, but just like any other writing project, you’re only competing with yourself. There are oodles of discounts and goodies you earn if you hit the 50,000-word goal (and they’re good…discounts on editing, book design, writing software and the like. It’s worth it), not to mention the satisfaction and bragging rights. Oh, and a T-shirt. There’s always a t-shirt, whether you win or just compete.
Many Wrimos end up publishing their novels. When November ends, NaNoWriMo still goes on. Just like they encourage community participation, preparation, and just sitting down to write, damnit, there is postseason guidance of “what next?!” where you’re encouraged to take a break and let your draft sit for a month or two.
In January, they check back in and encourage you to pick it up and revise if you’re ready, provide resources on writing and book contests to submit to, and host special guests to offer talks, webinars, and guest blog spots to encourage you to really push for that final, polished manuscript.
If 50,000 words just seems like too much (and it can be overwhelming!) just take a look at this silly little blog post I whipped up… just about 1,300 words. A titch shy of a daily NaNoWriMo entry.
Whaddya think? Do you have a novel in you, too? Want to take a stab at it? If so, let me know when you announce your project!
If you enjoyed reading this today, consider my memoir, NORDISCO, which is available directly on this site or through Amazon. If you would like to support my work in other ways, click here, or follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Thank you and best wishes!