Never heard of NaNoWriMo? Goodness, where have you been? NaNoWriMo is the fastest growing online novel writing community ever. The aim is very simple. Every November 1st people all over the world sit down at their computers to write a novel in one month. It must be 50,000 words, and completed by 11:59:59, November 30. Your novel can be uploaded at that point and will appear like an online book with your name on it, and pages to turn. You will have competed against yourself and won. There are no prizes, other than entry into the archives as a NaNoWriMo winner, and a certificate. That’s all there is to it. Easy. Right?
Why A Month?
Behind the concept is the acknowledgement that everyone may have a novel in them, but very few of them actually sit down and write it. By providing a structure, a time limit and a supportive community the organisers felt that the creative logjam in people’s minds could be un-jammed; and the pressure to increase output would overcome the internal pressure to constantly hone and finesse the work. Whilst crafting certainly has a big part to play in creative writing, it can be a real barrier to progress. It’s better to have something written than nothing. Focusing on increasing the outturn of words a goal has the extraordinary effect of freeing up the writer to experiment, go on wild flights of fancy, and spend time on description and character development, where they might feel inhibited without the fun and competitive challenge.
What Do You Gain From NaNoWriMo?
Cathy Windlass works part time as a freelance copywriter, but always felt there was more to her than Tempurpedic mattress comparison articles, and advertising copy for Banking Services. She tried NaNoWriMo last year and says it taught her a great deal which she could not have found out any other way: “It just helped to stop that voice in my head telling me it wasn’t good enough,” she admitted, “it could really stop me from writing anything creative, as I was so self-critical. Having someone put the fun back into writing was a way of freeing myself from that. There were other writers going through exactly the same processes as me, and I learned a lot from them on the NaNoWriMo forums. You can ask for a writing buddy to work alongside, to encourage you.” Cathy makes a good point about feeling inhibited about setting pen to paper. Many writers are self-critical and with the weight of the literary canon on their shoulders, if they are readers too, it can feel very difficult to make the first step.
How Difficult Is It?
“Very difficult!” says Cathy, “The actual physical labour of typing that much is astonishing. I got really tired hands! I wasn’t expecting that at all. But once you start rattling along it’s amazing how the word count creeps up. There are word count wigets which help you keep track, and it really is like doing a marathon in writing. You are challenging yourself, and having fun and suddenly you realise your characters have come to life and you’re writing really well. I think it was difficult as a task, but the writing became easier and easier as I felt released from pressure. I found myself introducing new characters to the story I had not planned on, or allowing my characters quite lengthy flashbacks, to their childhood for example, which I may not have done if I hadn’t got the word count clock ticking. I learned how much it fleshes a character out and makes them more and more real on the page. They seemed to take on a life of their own, and I was just a conduit for them.
Isn’t It Just A Gimmick?
Absolutely not, according to Richard Barnes, who also succeeded in completing the challenge. “It’s not a gimmick in the sense that the only winner is you! Even if you don’t make the deadline you’ll have learned a huge amount and have a lot of words written for your novel. It taught me a lot about writing, and how to take on a real writing challenge and deliver. I became quicker and began to take myself more seriously as a result of completing the task. I got great feedback from the community and people got to read my book online. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. It’s free and got me off to a really good start. I went back later and polished up a lot of the work I’d done, and I now feel as if I really have written that novel that was waiting inside me to be produced. I am being sponsored to do it again this coming November, so it’s an added incentive to be raising money for charity. What’s not to like?
Why not give NaNoWriMo a go this coming November, to get yourself off the starting blocks? Start thinking about a plot right now, but don’t worry if it’s not fully developed. With the clock ticking you’ll be amazed how quickly ideas will come to you. To give you some incentive, in 2011, NaNoWriMo had 256,618 participants, from all over the world, and 36,843 of them crossed the 50,000-word target by the deadline. As the organisers sum it up, “They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.” Good Luck! Writers’ digest also has some tips for the month