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Why writers should do NaNoWriMo

Published on 22nd January 2019

What is NaNoWriMo?

I recently finished my second NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. The name is a pretty good indicator of what it is, but I'll break it down anyway. It's an online writing project aimed at encouraging creative writers to churn out 50,000 words throughout the month of November. It's free to take part.

Offering something like this to Isaac Asimov wouldn't have been much use, given that he probably wrote this much - if not a lot more - over a month anyway. But not everyone's as prolific, or even has the luxury of being able to write 24/7. That's where NaNoWriMo comes in. It's about:

  • writing like there's no tomorrow for a dedicated period
  • community, as you can ask for another member to be your writing buddy
  • feeling more like a writer
  • giving yourself a kick in the pants to get a good chunk of your first draft done

It's not easy

Before starting, make sure you truly have the time to do it. 50,000 words over the course of a month works out to about 1,700 words a day. The first time I did it, I was working a full-time contract job, so I wrote during the evenings and weekends. I wrote about 1,500 words an evening, making up for the rest at the weekend. I don't recommend this approach. If you end up doing this, then try to write 2,000 or more words a day on weekends to catch up. Whatever happens, you won't have much of a social life. But your novel will save you, as will your characters, story, and those moments when the very act of writing will feel as natural as breathing.

Make sure you truly have time

I was lucky when I did NaNo for the second time. I had a month off between one contract role and another. Even then, 1,500 words a day was a challenge, especially when I hit a wall, and you will. So it's worth allowing yourself some time in advance to think about whether your other commitments truly allow for this challenge. If they don't, then simply find a time and word count target you can manage. The world won't dissolve because you don't have the time to turn out 50,000 words in a month. There's no reason to stop pushing for the best you can do.

To plan or not to plan

If you were a planner before, that probably won't change if you do NaNoWriMo. In some ways you might find it easier to write to a plan. Plan or no plan, NaNo simulates the long haul fiction writing process the old school way, which hasn't changed.

The last time I did it, I wrote with almost no plan. I still think this is one of the best ways for new writers to approach fiction. This will help you feel the rhythm of the art. Some people call it writing by the seat of your pants. The results of this approach can be wonderful.

On both my NaNoWriMo sessions I did have some idea of certain events that were going to take place, and the voices and personalities of characters, but not much else. If anything, NaNo is a chance to hone the art of pure production, which in itself is a valuable part of going the distance.

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