Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
I’m certain a number of you are gearing up for NaNo this year, the National Novel Writing Month that is set to begin November 1.
I wish you great success. I hope you find a plot or characters that get you excited about writing. I hope you find joy in letting the words flow. I hope you discover a spark that gives you ideas for half a dozen other books or encouragement to buckle down and write the one novel you’ve always dreamed of writing.
If you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, I can give you a few details. But visit their website for the full scoop.
National Novel Writing Month began in 1999. Every November writers from all over the world use NaNo to help them start (and sometimes finish) a novel. Groups get together online and in person to encourage one another, though writers can anonymously write away, with no contact with other NaNoers. Individuals and groups challenge each other to high word counts and other writing milestones. The NaNo website features forums for plot, characterization, grammar and punctuation, and all sorts of other issues. Participants receive weekly emails for encouragement.
Nano is fun, it can be grueling, and it can be exciting, forcing writers to get the words down and push through blocks and challenges.
But there are rules.
While you can make notes and work on an outline ahead of time, you can’t begin your writing before November 1. And you must finish by midnight your time on November 30. The goal is to write 50,000 words, which averages to 1,667 per day.
The NaNo site helps you keep track of what you’ve done. If you finish your 50,000 words by the deadline, you win. There aren’t prizes other than a badge you can post online to show others that you met the goal and the satisfaction in doing what to some seems impossible.
Over 250 traditionally published books were begun as NaNo projects. I’m guessing that many more NaNo projects have led to story breakthroughs and insights into the writing process and to self-published novels.
NaNo isn’t for everyone and it’s not for every writer every year. But it may be just what you need this year to get you moving.
If you’ve wanted to begin a novel but keep putting it off, try NaNo. Try writing every day for a month. If you can’t write every day, simply plan to write more on several days.
NaNo is about freeing yourself to write; it’s not about editing or second-guessing yourself. It’s about getting a scene down and allowing that scene to lead to another and then another. It’s about letting character emotions fly and allowing dialogue to soar.
If you’ve always wanted to try a different genre, to challenge yourself, NaNo is a great time to explore. I admit that the only time I finished NaNo was the year I tried an untried genre. It was fun making the story work, challenging myself and seeing what I could do.
If you do try NaNo, keep in mind that you’re writing a first draft. Don’t expect perfection. Don’t expect a seamless plot. Don’t expect cohesion or fully realized characters or dazzling dialogue.
Do expect some surprising scenes, a character quirk that you’d never imagined but which is perfect for your antagonist, or maybe character motivation that gives your protagonist depth and a weakness that can be exploited both by you and the other characters.
Use NaNo to try a new style or even a new approach. If you’re a plotter, try winging it instead to give yourself one more option, one more way to get at your plot and characters. If you’re a pantser, use this week to set up your plot and scenes—yes, write an outline—and see how a bit of plotting changes the way you write and the way you approach a writing project.
Challenge yourself to something new—a different kind of story, a different approach, a different feel. Maybe a character of a different sex. Maybe a different point of view. Maybe past tense rather than present or present rather than past.
A month is a commitment, but it’s also only one month out of many. What’s it worth to your writing career and to your skills to try something different, to stretch yourself, to either have some fun or to buckle down and get serious?
Whether or not you officially join NaNo (which you can do at the website), do consider a new approach for November. Push deeper. If you typically write a page a day, try two or three or five. If you always write one day and then edit what you’ve written the next, try going a week or more with just writing, just creating, just pushing into the deep parts of your story.
Try something new, whatever new is to you, and give yourself a boost.