Friday, November 13, 2009

What is NaNoWriMo and Why Should I Care?

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Professional and amateur writers from all over the world come together every November to write a designated amount over a 30 day period. “National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.” Anything over 40,000 words is a novel according to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. “Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved,” says the site.

Why do it? If you’re a writer—well, if you’re human—then you know about procrastination. NaNoWriMo is all about the magical power of deadlines, to help writers achieve their goal of completing a work. Their rationale for participating in this whirlwind month-long marathon is sound:

1. If you don’t do it now, you probably never will. They suggest that most of us, if left to our own devices, would never make the time to write a novel. I agree. Time and again, when I tell people that I am an author, they respond with “I’d love to write a book once I have time.” Well, you never will with that mindset.
2. Aiming low is the best way to succeed. I totally agree. Professional writers all agree that getting that first draft out is crucial. That’s what revision of subsequent drafts is for. No novel emerges at its first iteration as a perfect work of art. Every published book is the end result of revision, edits, polish. But that can’t happen until you have a “finished” product with a beginning, middle and end.
3. Art for art’s sake does wonderful things to you. It makes you laugh, cry, feel, and see. It gives you license to live and express life to the fullest. “Writing a novel in a month is both exhilarating and stupid.” Stupid is good; it’s humbling and reminds us that we are all human.

As we enter week two, the site is registering some interesting snags and victories with a collective word count of 749,689,061 words. It’s not too late to enter; in fact I am thinking of entering to give me the motivation to finish my novel. Here’s the deal (hmmm, you’ve heard that phrase before, eh? But don’t worry, be happy; this is good). You have to be over 13 years old to participate. Here are the ten steps to enter and participate:
1) Sign up for the event by clicking the "Sign Up Now" link at the top of the site. It's right there above "National."
2) Check your email and read the ginormous email our noveling robots send you. It will have "Love" in the subject line, and may be hiding in your Junk folder.
3) Log into your account and use the links on the My NaNoWriMo page to set your timezone, affiliate with a region, and tell us a little bit about yourself.
4) Begin procrastinating by reading through all the great advice and funny stories in the forums. Post some stories and questions of your own. Get excited. Get nervous. Try to rope someone else into doing this with you. Eat lots of chocolate and stockpile noveling rewards.
5) On November 1, begin writing your novel. Your goal is to write a 50,000-word novel by midnight, local time, on November 30th. You write on your own computer, using whatever software you prefer.
6) This is not as scary as it sounds.
7) Starting November 1, you can update your word count in that box at the top of the site, and post excerpts of your work for others to read. Watch your word-count accumulate and story take shape. Feel a little giddy.
8) Write with other NaNoWriMo participants in your area. Write by yourself. Write. Write. Write.
9) If you write 50,000 words of fiction by midnight, local time, November 30th, you can upload your novel for official verification, and be added to our hallowed Winner’s Page and receive a handsome winner’s certificate and web badge. We'll post step-by-step instructions on how to scramble and upload your novel starting in mid-November.
10) Win or lose, you rock for even trying.
After uploading your novel (you can scramble the words to protect your work; they won’t affect the word count), NaNoWriMo verifies your word count and automatically deletes the script. According to them several people have gone on to successfully publish their novel once finished. The site provides an impressive list of NaNoWriMo manuscripts that were published. Finishing your novel through NaNoWriMo doesn’t guarantee you anything except a venue to help motivate you to finish your novel, something many writers need.

If you check out the site, you’ll find some interesting statistics, advice on writing, writing challenges and some funny stories. Apparently, week two is a particularly hard time for writers who have committed themselves to this month-long marathon.

For those of you who have already entered and are entering week two, here’s what Chris says about week two: “In previous years, Week Two has been blamed for everything from incidents of spontaneous limb-sloughing to global potato famines. We're afraid we've contributed to Week Two's poor brand image by yammering on and on about the challenges of this phase of the noveling adventure. We've said that getting over the Week Two Hump is the hardest and most important thing you'll do in November, and that if you can power out of Week Two's orbit with your word count intact then you're practically guaranteed a victory. Because Week Two can be so spirit-testing.”

“In 2008,” says the site, “we had over 120,000 participants. More than 20,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.”

Okay… well, here goes…

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.


...... Bobbi said...

Great post! I, too, am on the NaNo trail ... write on ...

SF Girl said...

WOOHOO! That's great, Bobbi! Yes, write on!

Jean-Luc Picard said...

I think being masochistic is a factor. I'd love to do it, but time would stop me.

SF Girl said...

LOL! Oh, Jean-Luc! HAHA... yes, masochism perhaps... certainly determination... at whatever the cost! Never surrender! Never give up! Hack away and write, write, write!!!!!!!!!!