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2015 NaNo Encouragement

October 23, 2015 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified October 23, 2015

Many of you are likely familiar with NaNoWriMo—the National Novel Writing Month event that takes place every November. The yearly NaNo challenge is to write 50,000 words of a novel during the 30 days of November. That averages to approximately 1667 words per day.

The NaNoWriMo folks provide plenty of resources and encouragement. Their goal? To get writers writing. To keep writers committed to a goal and on track.

You don’t have to complete a full novel in 30 days to “win” NaNo. You just need to write 50,000 words.

For some that seems like an impossible goal. Yet many have met the goal. You could be one of them this year.

If you’ve been on the fence, let me encourage you to come down on the side of joining NaNo. If because of other commitments you know that you can’t commit to 50,000 words for the month, why not make up a goal of your own?

–  Set your own word count, one that better suits your schedule while at the same time pushes you to work

–  Commit to beginning a novel

–  Commit to getting back to a project you abandoned

–  Commit to rewriting that first draft that you set aside some time ago

–  Commit to outlining a novel

–  Commit to writing a short story or novella

–  Commit to trying a new genre, just as you’ve been promising to do

NaNo is a great goad for writers because it gives them links to a community of writers all pulling to accomplish the same goal. The NaNo organization also provides tips for writing, for getting through blocks and discouragement. The NaNo people even help writers get together with others in their area for write-ins.

NaNo is fun.

NaNo is a true challenge.

NaNo helps impose structure, at least loosely, for those who work better with a deadline or solid goal.

_________________________

For those who do commit to NaNo—or some version of it—this year, allow me to share some tips and encouragement.

~  You probably will miss your goal on one or more days—that’s okay. Make up the word count on another day. You can do it. You can write more than 2,000 words a day. I know you can.

~  Don’t edit yourself as you write—this is a first draft. Let it be messy and wordy and confusing and incomplete. A first draft is allowed to be a wild and woolly mess.

~  Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar, or format. Those are unimportant details as you’re creating. If you find yourself spending time looking up rules for comma use, you’re not using your time to write.

~  The same warning goes for research. This isn’t the time to research, this is the time to write. You can check facts later. Or start your fact checking now, before November 1. Use your limited writing time in November to write.

~  Write scenes out of order if the idea and words are there. Write notes if you don’t have a full scene. Write out dialogue.

~  Write something. Describe the setting, the characters, the story world. Write flashbacks if you can’t think of events in the current story line. Write a single scene from the viewpoint of multiple characters. (You never know where such an exercise might lead—even to a new viewpoint character or a new protagonist.)

~  Use any method you can to put the words down. Once you begin writing, begin framing your world and its characters, it’s likely that scenes and events will come to you and words will start flowing.

~  Write the most emotional and dramatic scenes.

~  Write what comes easiest to you first. If that means the opening or ending scenes, the climax, the dark moment, or wildly emotional dialogue scenes, begin there.

~  Write more than 1667 words per day when you can.

~  Work on a project that excites you. Work on a story that challenges you.

~  Try a different method of writing in order to simply try something different. Shake up your 20-year-old writing patterns.

~  Work on two projects at the same time. There’s no rule that says you’re limited to a single novel.

~  If you’re planning a series, use NaNo to write scenes that overlap between books. This way you’ll be sure not to make mistakes from one book to the next.

~  Enlist a partner to help you. This can be a support person who kicks your butt or feeds you ice cream when you need a boost, or your partner can be a fellow writer who could use your encouragement at the same time you need his or hers.

~  Refuse to give up on day 10. Or day 13. Or day 22. It’s only 30 days—surely you can commit to working on your craft in some capacity for 30 days?

~  Even if life intrudes and your NaNo schedule is interrupted, return to it when you can. Don’t let a pause derail you. NaNo might officially be 50,000 words in 30 days; unofficially, make it about committing to writing a chunk of a novel, trying something you’ve never done before.

~  Visit us here for encouragement or to share your successes.

~  Don’t evaluate your project midmonth. Much of it won’t be great, but some of it will be awesome. That’s true of nearly every first draft, so you’ll be right on track. Make the month about writing the story, not analyzing it.

~  Allow yourself to write freely and creatively. Allow yourself to try something odd or unusual or merely new to you.

~  Turn your internal censors off. Let your imagination wander unfettered.

~  Write while you’re waiting in line. Write in the bathtub. Write during lunch. Write instead of watching TV for three hours at night.

~  Create a writing niche for yourself—dining room table, back porch, library, coffee house. But don’t get so locked into a space that you can’t write anywhere else when you can’t get to that space.

~  Thank those who help you by stepping in while you turn your attention inward to your fictional world.

~  Expect a good and positive experience. Make writing a good activity in your life.

_________________________

I wish you great success with all your writing projects and I encourage you to challenge yourself this November. I’m in agreement with you that you’ll accomplish something worthwhile, something that you can be proud of.

You don’t have to wait for November and NaNo to set goals for yourself. But there’s nothing wrong with jumping in with others and having some fun while writing.

Here’s to accomplishing your writing goals for the remainder of 2015. I’m lifting my frosted mug of root beer high in your honor.

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16 Responses to “2015 NaNo Encouragement”

  1. It has been my experience that it takes seven years or seven novels or a million words to begin to write well. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes ten thousand words to become proficient in just about any craft. If this challenge is to hack out fifty thousand words in a short time, I doubt this will result in anything put hasty, sloppy writing. If they are fifty thousand words carefully considered, that’s another thing. Two hundred and fifty to three hundred and fifty words a day is the best to shoot for if you want to carefully craft your vision. A page a day.
    I do understand that Ms. Hill uses the word “if” and that she wants people to sit down and commit to writing, to get in the habit of living, breathing, dreaming, and listening to the voices of the characters in their head.
    Just know that for the artist and craftsman it will not do. You should know the story of the great writer who said he spent half a day putting in a word and then the rest of the day taking it out–or vice versa, I don’t remember.
    Words are serious things. They can do damage or heal. Fiction can bring us a felt knowledge that changes us. Books have changed the world more than any other thing. Enough of the platitudes. Forgive me.
    Just write the best damn sentence you can and put one word in front of another with care and love.

    • Frank, words are indeed serious and powerful, powerful, powerful. The right word or phrase can make a paragraph, scene, chapter, or even a book. The right words strung together can start wars, bring lovers together, and literally change our world.

      What I love about the craft is that there are multiple ways to approach a writing project. While working and reworking a phrase can produce the perfect wording that serves not only that moment of the story but several additional moments later in the same story, taking the freedom to write without pausing, to let words come tripping off the fingertip and heart, is also valid and powerful. Letting characters talk until they’re gasping, or spending two pages on a description of a new-to-the-character village are marvelous methods for producing long and fluid sentences, for producing rhythms that are difficult to create with another approach, for producing off-the-cuff character insights that might be difficult to eke out if you stop in order to figure out just the right word.

      On the other hand, finding that perfect word is sometimes the catalyst that leads deeper into the story, deeper into a character’s motivations.

      Both options are valid. Both can produce extraordinary results.

      Sometimes a writer needs to toss aside rules and limitations and simply write. At other times that writer needs to focus narrowly, add that one word and take it out again before adding it back and then moving it around.

      I agree with those who say that the major part of writing is in the rewriting. First drafts, no matter how well written, are first drafts. They will have gaps, they’ll have words that won’t make it into the final version, they’ll have scenes that will need reworking. Since all first drafts will require revision, it’s okay to try something unusual in them. If an experiment doesn’t work, the writer can always toss out the material that doesn’t work.

      But even when something doesn’t work, that material that doesn’t fit might be the very impetus for something that does work. I’m for anything that gets writers exploring, especially if they’re in a rut. I’m for anything that enhances the creative process.

      I hope I didn’t give the impression that I think that writers should expect to have a complete novel at the end of NaNo. I believe that getting the words down—getting the bones of the story out—is just the beginning. And 50,000 words is a good start toward that one million you mentioned.

      But the real work does come in rewriting and refining. And whether a writer does that rewriting the same day he or she creates a section of text or rewrites after the words have built into something substantial, those words—each one—will need an evaluation.

      As you said, write the best damn sentence you can. And then write another. And then another. And once you have them all collected, make them fit the story as a whole.

      Isn’t writing the most fascinating and rewarding of endeavors?

      ————

      I’m glad you took the time to share your wisdom and experience. Both are very welcome.

      • A journal can contain all sorts of things including 50,000 words of a first draft of a story. That’s where those words belong, I believe. They can be moved out and flesh hung on their bones in later drafts. The thing that worries me is so many endings are wrong, and what causes that is usually that the writer has gone astray (sometimes more than once) along the way. Rapid writing is usually the cause of that.
        I do not believe in automatic writing or just spilling words on the page. A lover of the word strokes carefully. Quickies are not going to exude the passion for the word that is meet and right and enduring. If one gets off on the wrong foot in the relationship, wrestling with the word can be brutal. We can come out bruised with a bad experience. On the other hand we should recognize that we wrestle already wounded and can come out changed and healed a bit if we work well.
        True creativity is born in the subconscious. If one does one’s homework (generally by reading voraciously and studying carefully what the best of our writers of today do, how they do it, and considering if what they did the way they did is the best way, as well as sleeping on the story writing at hand and listening to the voices of the characters in waking moments)–if one does one’s homework, the subconscious will do its work when its ready. It can’t be forced. There are many better ways to cultivate creativity than writing wildly. The writer, as all artists should be, is a Centaur–half beast (the passion part) and half Man (the thinking part).
        You are to be commended for encouraging people to write, write, write and read, read, read. I hope you don’t mind my trying to temper the idea of what writing should be and not be.

        • I should add that writing is one of the three most sacred acts.

          • Roy says:

            Enjoying the comments. I just had this fleeting vision of Ben Franklin sitting at a candle-lit desk with turkey quill in hand trying to rip out his 1,700 words for the day. When I was a kid and filled up notebook pages with a ballpoint pen, I was more sacred about how I wrote, but of course it wasn’t the pen itself but the pace it forced on me. Anyway, I was going to say, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. If you look on NaNoWriMo as an exercise, maybe there’s a case to be made for having a slow-writing month.
            A last thought–I type fast but think slowly, so that fine line of functionality sometimes disappears entirely.

        • Your comments and insights are welcome. There is true wisdom in a variety of counsel and a number of counselors.

  2. Pat says:

    Thanks for the encouragement. You have given me multiple ways to look at the challenge. Deeply appreciate your insight and support.

  3. maya says:

    Every year at this time I reach an impasse. I’m writing a novel. It’s going slowly. I’m one of those people who doesn’t consider crappy writing in the word count. I write for several hours, edit as I go along and take stock of what’s left at the end. I aim for at least 400 good words in any one day. Sometimes I get carried away in a scene with lots of dialogue, and can produce up to a 1000, but sometimes the most I can manage is about 300. I tried writing more freely, but maybe because I’m bilingual and English isn’t my first language, or because I wrote non-fiction for a long time, fiction to me comes more slowly. I just had an idea for a short novel a coule of weeks ago, wrote out the first chapter a few days ago, so that could be an ideal candidate for NaNoWriMo. On the other hand, it would be nice to take my WIP to 60-80k by Christmas. What to do? I can never make up my mind about these things.

    • Maya, use whatever methods work for you. If trying to put together this many words a day frustrates you and hinders rather than helps, don’t put yourself through it. Write in the way that you know helps you produce words.

      For those who’ve never tried writing so many words daily, NaNo is a good experiment. Writers might discover that they get great ideas when they’re free to explore. Of course they might also find that what they write isn’t good at all. The thing is, it’s another option to try at least once.

      As for you, if you were planning to work steadily on your WIP, don’t let a new NaNo project derail you. Yet if you’re stuck or bored with your WIP and aren’t really getting anywhere anyway, switching over to a new project might help stir your creativity.

      This is where you have to understand yourself and your motivations. For some, it’s very easy to abandon a story when the writing becomes difficult. The excitement of the opening pages often doesn’t last through the writing of the whole story. If you’re the kind of writer who jumps from project to project without finishing any, I would suggest sticking with your WIP. Make yourself finish it. But if you don’t have a problem interrupting one project, starting another and then resuming work on the first, then maybe you should try the short novel.

      This could be a good time to shake up your writing habits if you’re in a rut that doesn’t produce much. It’s only 30 days—you could try something new in any field for 30 days. At the worst, you lose 30 days. At the best, you learn something about yourself or your writing practices or the craft and you might also have the beginning of a new story.

      Weigh your needs and your responsibilities. See if there’s something you could do these 30 days that will produce something positive for either a story or for your writing skills.

      You could even spend the 30 days giving yourself a course in the fiction elements or grammar and punctuation.

      What have you got to lose?

      • maya says:

        Thanks for such a helpful reply Beth, I haven’t taken a few things you raised into consideration. Last time I was writing several thousand words a day I was a teenager, writing romance novels about my best friend, me and guys from Bros, lol. So yeah, that sort of output hasn’t followed me into adulthood, regardless of the language. As for this WIP, I got the idea and started it in 2008, after writing a series of short stories. Then I realised I needed to learn the craft if I wanted to do a semblance of a decent job, so I spent a year learning and practicing creative writing as well as grammar and style. Since then, I wrote another novella and quite a few essays, some poetry, and started two other projects, before I realised both of those were aspects of the original WIP. So at this point I feel I really need to get this story finished, in order to move on. I have quite a few promising starts and outlines for other stories, but I’m not at all bored of my WIP. It’s more that it’s a slightly more complex story than those I wrote so far. So I think I better press on with it. Thanks for helping me decide, I really appreciate it!

  4. SeasideBelle says:

    Thanks for the encouragement. For years I’ve thought about taking part in NanoWriMo but I’ve always made excuses – usually that I don’t have a concrete idea or a plot plan… But your post has encouraged me to get on and commit to just writing something every day. So perhaps this year I’ll finally board the NaNo train. I wonder where the journey will take me.

  5. Claudia B. says:

    I’m in! I’m gonna do it! (The nonfiction version of it.) The thought of an editor lifting a frosted mug of root beer high in my honor was enough to persuade me to give it a go. Slurp! Totally delicious. Thanks!

    • Claudia, I’ll lay in a couple of extra cases—maybe I’ll even have a root beer float on November 1 in honor of those tackling the challenge.

      I hope you succeed beyond your expectations. Maybe you’ll let us know how it’s going for you.

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