Thursday, October 28, 2010

Everything you need to know about NaNoWriMo

Today's guest post is by Cheryl's brother. Andrew has recently completed the first novel he's going to submit for publication and is participating in NaNoWriMo for the fourth time. He is here to share his wisdom with us. He blogs about writing over at Write Runner.

What is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to writing a 50,000-word novel (or longer) during the month of November.

How do I sign up?

Simply go to and sign up. Be sure to register with your local region.

What’s the prize? What do I win?

The first draft of your next masterpiece. Seriously, it’s just a challenge, not a competition. Yes, if you go to the NaNoWriMo site there are all kinds of friendly wagers and challenges, but it’s all in the spirit of motivation.

So, why should I do this? How?

Here are my top 6 reasons for doing NaNoWriMo:

1. At the end of the month, you will have the first draft of a novel. From there it’s just a short step to edit, polish, and sell it! (but not really...I’ll save editing and marketing for another blog post or ten). The point is that you will have something to work with. And even if you never touch it again, it may inspire you to write other works. It may become the seed for a new project.

2. It’s the start of a great writing habit. Most “habits” take 3 weeks or so to take hold. By writing 1667 words a day (7 pages) for a month, you may start a writing habit that lasts a lifetime.

3. It’s just a month. And a boring month at that.

4. The pressure of forcing your brain to generate that much prose in such a short time is a major spark to creativity. I find that it actually adds a sense of urgency to my characters and forces them to get stuff done.

5. The pace of NaNoWriMo also does not allow your brain to rest, meaning that you will start to think about your story all the time. During breakfast, important meetings, in bed.

6. For me, I like using NaNoWriMo to explore new areas of writing. Last year I wrote my first Steampunk novel. This year, I’m planning on writing a contemporary Mystery.

How do I come up with an idea?

Usually I start with a character or a conflict, sometimes setting. For character, think of 2-word descriptions. Ex. Heartbroken romantic. Desperate spy. Hungry artist. Weatherbeaten retiree. Think of what situations those simple descriptions evoke.

For conflict, use “vs”: Man vs wilderness. Love vs responsibility. Mother vs daughter. Loyalty vs desire. Or use those descriptions above. Deperate spy vs weatherbeaten retiree.

For setting, think of something romantic yet dangerous, using 2-word descriptions: Forgotten Island. Abandoned Spaceship. Mother-in-law’s bedroom. 

Now put all three together: Desperate spy chooses between love and responsibility when faced with caring for her weatherbeaten retiree mother-in-law who lays dying, refusing to reveal the secret that could stop the alien invasion.

Uh, so how do I do this thing?

Tips for a successful NaNoWriMo

1. Do a little pre-planning. Some people literally sit down on Nov. 1 and start from a blank page. I suggest that you have at least a bare outline of the plot and a few character sketches. Who is the main character? What are the major conflicts? Who are the “bad guys”? What are the stakes? What’s the genre? Where does it take place?

2. Write every day. Even if you only squeak out 100 words, or half a page one day, it keeps the story alive in your mind.

3. Turn off the TV, internet, phone, spouse, kids. I know, easier said than done. Just find a way to dedicate some time each day to uninterrupted writing. Go out for “coffee”. Sit in a park or library. Participate in “write-ins” organized by local NaNo-ers.

4. Do not go back and edit. If there is stuff you know is wrong and needs fixing, just jot down some notes and keep moving. Editing is for December. Characters may change names and disappear entirely. Missions are forgotten. Conflicts unresolved. You kill off your main character. Don’t worry about it, just keep going.

5. Crap is good. Especially if this is your first fling at novel writing. They say it takes a writer 1,000,000 words to expel the crap from their system. Well here’s an easy 50K. Seriously though, don’t try to make every word perfect. Your first draft is more like a detailed outline, subject to revision and wholesale cuts. Polishing it now is wasted effort, since you don’t know what you’re keeping or tossing.

6. Do not give up. The first week is amazing. You’ll have great characters and conflict. Week 2 kinds of drags. By week three, you’ll have no idea why you started. That’s kind of where the magic happens. That’s when you sit down with yourself and figure out how to drive the story to its natural end. If you get past that barrier, then week four is a delight as everything comes together in a thrilling conclusion.

7. Backup your work! It’s amazing how often people lose their entire novel because they never saved it, or their disk dies on Nov. 29. Email it to a friend, save it to the cloud (Google Docs and Windows Skydrive offer free online storage of docs), or print it out.

Why do you NaNoWriMo?

I just work better under pressure. I keep charts and things to measure my progress. I spend so much time editing, that I literally have very little time to write something new. This is why I love NaNoWriMo so much. It’s just one month out of my life to create something new. I also like the comraderie of 100,000+ people all working towards the same goal. It makes me feel that I’m doing something important.

How do I find out more?
NaNoWriMo website:
My NaNoWriMo blog page:
Includes a summary of my past NaNoWriMo projects, as well as links to all my blog posts on the subject.

Add me as a friend here.

Good luck, and good writing! See you on December 1!