It’s coming! Are you ready?
You’re probably asking, “What’s coming?” Why, National Novel Writing Month, of course. It rolls around every November, that magical month when writers all across this great land of ours shut out every other aspect of their lives to focus on writing the Great American Novel.
Now, granted, no monumental work has ever really come from a scant thirty days (unless you count Handel’s Messiah, which was written in a blazing-fast 24 days), but thirty days is a terrific jumping-off place—and that’s really the whole point.
The premise behind National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) is for writers to cast aside their perfectionism, fling editing to the winds and simply write! Participants are encouraged to “churn out” at least 50,000 words between midnight November 1 and 11:59 p.m. November 30.
If that sounds like an awful lot of writing, let me assure you (as someone who has twice completed NaNoWriMo), it most certainly is. However, when you break it down into chunks, it comes out to 1,667 words per day. Totally manageable, right? In fact, in 2013 (the last year for which figures were available), 310,095 folks buckled down and wrote an incomparable 3.5 billion words (yielding 42,221 successful completions).
So what are you waiting for?
Oh, right. You’re waiting for November. While you’re waiting for that calendar page to flip, here are six specific things you can do in advance of NaNoWriMo.
Do your background work.
Come up with a plot for your novel, develop your characters, devise an outline… the usual stuff writers do when beginning a new project. If you feel stuck on crafting your outline, one of these outlining methods will likely resonate with you and help you get unstuck. Just don’t begin writing yet. While the NaNo folks have no hard-and-fast rules that prohibit working on existing manuscripts, per se, they’re of the mind that NaNoWriMo is “more fun” if participants begin with an entirely new project—separate from anything else they’re working on at the moment.
If, however, you can’t restrain yourself (we writers do tend to be an impetuous breed, don’t we?), keep this in mind: You may not include anything written ahead of time in your official word count. Therefore, if you’re already 15,000 words into a new manuscript, you’ll have to reach 65,000 words during November to be considered a “winner” of NaNoWriMo.
Even if your novel’s setting is your childhood hometown, you’ll want to do this—so you’ll know on which corner the market was, precisely where that big oak tree stands (the one under which the protagonist and his love interest first kissed), on which side of town that bank robbery took place. Things like that.
Assemble your tools.
Know where your dictionary, thesaurus and other helpful writing books are. I particularly like Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. Other fantastic choices are The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White, and On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King.
Create a stockpile of resources for when your word supply is lean.
Is there a website you like to visit for ideas? Perhaps a writing blog you enjoy reading? Maybe even a shelf-full of favorite authors’ books? Know that a writing drought will happen during your NaNoWriMo experience (some folks call it “hitting the mid-November wall”). Be ready for it. Arm yourself with workarounds to power you past that wall and back on the road to your 50,000-word goal.
Mull over a working title.
You don’t need to title your novel just yet—but you may, if you wish. Remember, nothing’s etched in stone at this point, so go ahead and give your tome-to-be a working title.
Visit the official NaNoWriMo page to read up on their FAQs or anything not covered here.
As a rule, writing tends to be a solitary pursuit. So much so that most days while I was writing from home, the highlight of any day was when a telemarketer would call—for the sole reason that it gave me an excuse to engage in conversation with a real human being! The NaNo folks realize this. That’s why they encourage localized meet-ups (or “write-ins”) where authors may converge and write… or commiserate about their story lines, bouts of writer’s block or whatever else strikes their fancy.
You’ll also want to find NaNoWriMo on Facebook and Twitter; or check out Camp NaNoWriMo, which—according to the official website—is an “idyllic writers retreat smack-dab in the middle of your crazy life.” Events are designed to help writers come up with anywhere from thirty to a million words (their actual numbers) in a month’s time.
So next time you’re starting to feel isolated in your writing, remind yourself it doesn’t have to be this way. Writers are resourceful folks who devise ways to connect with other writers. In fact, here are several excellent suggestions that can help you stay connected to the outside world while you ply your craft—both now and during National Novel Writing Month.
Rita M. Reali is an award-winning author whose work has appeared in Reminisce magazine, the S.H.A.R.E. pregnancy-loss newsletter, and newspapers across Connecticut and Tennessee. She’s spoken about editing at writers’ conferences and delivered presentations on proofreading to several professional groups. Rita also runs an editing and proofreading business, The Persnickety Proofreader, and blogs under the same moniker: https://persnicketyproofreader.wordpress.com. Her debut novel, Diagnosis: Love, was published in 2015.