I first heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 13 years ago when I came across Chris Baty’s book “No Plot, No Problem.” I wasn’t a plotter at the time and the idea of sitting down and letting the novel flow out of me was intriguing. And the idea that I could write a novel in 30 days was something I couldn’t pass up.
My first attempt didn’t go well. It only lasted one session. That day my daughter took a long nap, so I managed almost 3 hours of writing. I wrote furiously and was able to get over 3,000 words written. By the standards of just getting the words on paper, this was a success. However, when I read what I wrote, I realized only a sentence or two was salvageable. It felt like a total waste of time.
This was a huge lesson for me. I realized I cannot write a novel in a month, not even a crappy one. And that’s okay because I don’t want to. Fast, seat-of-the-pants writing is not my style. It’s great for writing practice, but I cannot write at that pace for a whole novel.
Over the years, I have participated in National Novel Writing Month from time to time, but not in the way it’s promoted. My goal is not 50k words. I use it more as a time of rededication. My goal is to write as much as I can. It doesn’t have to be on a novel; it can be a short story or a blog post. The idea is to loosen my writing muscles that have gotten stiff for lack of use. It’s about spending the time and doing the work.
If you are new to NaNoWriMo, I suggest giving it a try. It might work for you, and if not there are still lessons to be learned. Once you’ve tried it, you can use it however fits your work style.
Make NaNoWriMo Your Own
You can do NaNoWriMo in the traditional sense which is basically freewriting a 50k novel. The main benefit is that in order to do this you have to shove your inner critic aside. Most of us could all use a little less inner critic in our writing lives. It also encourages creativity and flow.
Lately, I see a lot of people preplanning. Instead of freewriting, you can plot out the novel. The advantage to this is that it gives structure and a plan of attack. It can also be easier to write if you know what you’re writing for the day.
Or you can take one of my approaches. One year I spent the month editing a novel I had finished. My goal was to do it at least three times a week. I used a similar approach when my goal was to increase the number of days I wrote.
Some years, I set a more manageable word count goal, like 30k. In this case, I’m not trying to complete a novel, just make myself work on one that’s already in progress. I keep track on my dry erase board by marking E or W or the word count for the day.
Not everyone can write super fast, and especially not in November. This is prime crafting season for Christmas gifts. And who wants to get up early when it’s dark out. If you can do it, awesome. If not, don’t stress out and give up. Reformulate the goals in a way that is beneficial to you.