September is nearly here. I’m a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Over the next two months, my focus will be on preparing my region for 30 consecutive days dedicated to the act of writing a novel, and my posts here will reflect that.
If you haven’t heard of this before, it’s a worldwide event that happens in November. Each year thousands of people in all parts of the world dedicate themselves to writing a 50,000-word narrative in only thirty days.
I’m a rebel. Some years I work on a new novel, and others, I scratch out as many short stories as possible in those thirty days.
NaNoWriMo is a contest in the sense that if you write 50,000 words and have your word count validated through the national website, you win. But it is not a contest in any other way as there are no monetary prizes or fame for those winners, only a PDF winner’s certificate that you can fill out and print to hang on your wall.
Depending on your intended audience, a manuscript of only 50,000 words is a short novel. It’s a good length for YA or romance, but it’s only half a novel for epic fantasy or literary fiction.
Regardless of the planned length of their finished novel, a dedicated author can get the basic structure and storyline of a book down in those thirty days. They sit for an hour or two each day and write a minimum of 1667 words.
That’s all you need to do, write 1667 words every day. At the end of 30 days, you will have written 50,000 words.
We’ve been doing this for a while, and we have seen a pattern.
The first roadblock happens when reality sets in and the writers realize that it is work.
This usually occurs within the first few days. Last year 64 writers in our region never got more than 5,000 words written. One stopped at 34.
A majority of new NaNo writers are people who “always wanted to write a book.” Often, they don’t know what they want to write and have no clue how to be disciplined enough to write any words, much less the number it takes to make a novel.
They start, get 30 to 1,000 words in, and realize they have nothing to say. But in our region, 17 of these people made it to the 10,000-word mark before they stopped writing. That’s an achievement—it’s almost a novella.
Other new writers are fired up on day one. They go at it full tilt for a week, or even two, and then, at the 20,000-word mark, they take a day off. Somehow, they never get back to it. Their novels will languish unfinished, perhaps forever.
Even seasoned writers who have crossed the finish line at NaNoWriMo in previous years may find the commitment to sit and write 1,667 words every day is not doable for them. Things come up—life happens.
But by November 30th last year, 70 writers out of the 175 in our region had made it to the 50,000-word mark, 3 made it to above 80,000, and 1 exceeded 100,000 words.
Some of these novels had complete story arcs and were ready for revisions. Most were not, but these proto-novels could be made publishable with a lot of work.
It takes commitment and discipline to write 1,667 new words every day. You are not revising old work. Instead, you’re writing something new and not looking at what you wrote yesterday.
To do this, you must sit down at the keyboard, open the document to where you left off, and begin writing forward.
For me, having an outline keeps me on track and writing a coherent novel. We will talk about this later.
How did I do last year? I got started and was doing well, finishing a novel that only needs another 20,000 words or so. Then I intended to write the ending for Bleakbourne on Heath, a serialized novel that only needs 4 chapters. After that, I planned to write several short stories to keep on hand in case I needed a quick story to submit to an anthology or magazine.
But I got side-tracked. On day 5, I thought about an artifact’s origin that has a role in my still-unfinished novel. 80,000 words later, that bunny trail had become a novel, The Ruins of Abeyon.
I’m not a good typist. The words that fall out of my head during NaNoWriMo are not all golden, just so you know. When writing stream-of-consciousness, many words will be garbled and miskeyed.
This means that for me, the revision process is a long and winding road.
I had begun Ruins with no outline, so the story arc evolved as I wrote the book. I outlined as I went. Later, when I was revising, it was easy to see the arc and make decisions to move certain events to more logical places.
Fortunately, the story is set in Neveyah, a world I have been writing in for twelve years. I have a stylesheet for that world, so the magic and political systems are all in place, along with good maps.
Having the fundamental prep-work of magic and social structure in place made switching to a new project easy. This is because, unlike Bleakbourne on Heath, which was written and published one chapter at a time six years ago for a now-defunct website, Ruins had a coherent story arc from the beginning.
Participating in NaNoWriMo is a watershed experience. Some people don’t thrive when they have deadlines, but others work better under pressure.
Succeeding in writing even a short story gives many authors the confidence to continue. In their case, NaNoWriMo is about writing and completing a novel they had wanted to write for years, something that had been in the back of their minds for all their lives.
If you have a novel in your soul and it’s bursting to get out, this might be your chance. However, planning for a successful NaNoWriMo is like preparing for a marathon.
We let our families know well in advance that it’s coming and share how vital reaching our goal is to us. That way, we have their emotional support. We also plan ahead for meals and family time, so the important people in our lives aren’t neglected.
In many ways, we’re preparing for a writing marathon, physically and mentally. We build our strength and get our families behind us by ensuring we have prepared well in advance.
Over the next few weeks, we will focus on laying the groundwork for our novels so that we will be ready and able to write when November comes. Much of what I will be discussing has emerged from our experience and comes from my co-ML Lee’s prep work as much as from mine.
Together, we will get that novel written.