Every autumn since 2005, I’ve spent preparing (or sometimes scrambling last minute) for the start of November, and the beginning of National Novel Writing Month. For those of you that don’t know, NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in the thirty days during the month of November. I’m not going to wax poetic about the history of NaNo, if you want to know how it got started, check out the site.
So, why is participating in this madness worth it?
- For the personal challenge
- For the community
- Because you may just surprise yourself
Before National Novel Writing Month entered my life, I mostly wrote short pieces of original fiction and some fan fiction. The thought of writing a novel had never really occurred to me, except for maybe on some sub-conscious level. That first NaNoWriMo changed my life; writing those 50,011 words (hey, I made it, didn’t I?) in thirty days was the most I’d ever written in such a short period of time. It proved to me that I could actually finish something if I set my mind to it. It also left me a very rough draft of a story that I didn’t even know I had lurking somewhere deep inside me.
The Fun Stuff
The forums! They can be source of inspiration, a place of camaraderie, or somewhere to commiserate with your fellow NaNo-ers when things just aren’t going as you’d planned. They also hold a wealth of useful knowledge if you know where to look. One of my favorite forums is NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul, in particular the NaNoisms thread (because sometimes when your fingers are flying across the keyboard mistakes are made with hilarious results). Feeling accomplished for reaching 1000 words? Give yourself some recognition in the Shoutout forums! There really is a forum for pretty much anything. (There’s even a Spork Room.)
If you’re the type of person that likes to get out and about, try going to a write-in, or your regional kick-off if you can make it. I’ve found kick-offs and write-ins to be extremely fun, and a helpful motivator. I’m a really introverted person (outside of the internet) until I know people well, and it was a huge hurdle just getting out to meet a bunch of strangers that first time. But, it was really worth it; I met some great people that I’m now good friends with. Some of which I even started an awesome website with.
A Few NaNo Tips
Brainstorming and Organizing Your Ideas
If you have an idea that you like, go with it. I wouldn’t worry too much about your idea being too basic or mainstream; you can always revise it in later drafts after NaNo is over. Sometimes I over think things and make them too complicated and that’s when I always fail…but that’s just me. Some people need to have every last detail of their novel worked out before going into NaNo. So, when I’m brainstorming, once I get some details flowing if I start feel like things are becoming too complicated I put the brakes on, read over my notes, and see what’s needed and what’s not. The most important thing is that you’re going in a direction in which you feel comfortable; if you start getting bored or feeling blah about your story, then you probably won’t want to write about it come November.
There are different methods for brainstorming and organizing your ideas. I tend to do my initial brainstorming in a notebook and just jot down thoughts and ideas and research and whatever and then go back and try to make more sense of it as November gets closer. Some people use the Snowflake method. Outlines are more traditional, and can be very useful, while some people are non-linear thinkers and use note cards. No method is bad, and what works for one person might not for another.
Instead of an outline, I did a timeline type thing, putting specific large plot points on it, and then working out what happened between those major points, because those smaller scenes are actually going to be the bulk of what’s being written. The more you break it down, the more you’ll know what you’ll be writing specifically when November rolls around. (Although, no matter how hard you plan, once you get to writing NaNo style (all writing, little thinking) some things just happen organically.) Timeline works for me because for brainstorming I’m all chaotic, but then when it comes to organizing my stuff, I tend to think really linear. Some writers can bounce around and write scenes out of order, but I always have to write from start to finish. I’ve tried different methods and that’s what works best for me; you’ll figure out what works for you, too, over time.
Because I Write Fantasy–A Few Tips on Fantasy World-building
There’s nothing wrong with using something you’re familiar with and transforming that into a fantasy world. Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series is a good example of that. I would start with where does the story take place (a single town, a village, a city, over an entire country, or through several countries)? Start with small stuff that’s going to be important to your story. You don’t need to build the whole kingdom if it’s only taking place within a few villages and such (unless the greater picture is relevant to the story).
Another great tool you can use in world-building is to ask yourself questions and then answer them. This year my setting is a large pre-industrial city so I made up a list of questions (which I’ll probably add to): What are the central hangouts in the city? What kind of people inhabit it (and how many)? Are they mostly from this country or is it more multinational? Who are the important people? What are the various neighborhoods like?
Also, drawing maps can be helpful, especially if your story takes place in a larger setting. My first year of NaNo I drew a map because it took place across several countries and even different continents. Some of this you’ll have to do some research to figure out, see what typical pre-industrial cities were like, or research the land that your setting is based on (if it is based on a real place), what the populations were, etc. You can might choose to use that, or alter it. It’s fantasy so there’s some wiggle room.
There’s a site on tumblr that I’ve found tremendously useful, they always provide tons of resources for all kinds of writing questions. Here’s the stuff they have tagged under ‘world building’, maybe some of this will help you out. And also there’s this world-building questionnaire from Patricia C. Wrede that’s extremely thorough.
Making it to 50,000 Words in 30 Days
I’m not going to lie. NaNoWriMo is a challenge; one that I’ve not always been able to meet. There have been times where I just wasn’t feeling things, and I gave up halfway through November. If I were a dark and gloomy person (who the hell am I kidding, I’m wearing an Eeyore shirt as I type this) I’d say that those years I failed. I totally gave up and failed as a human being and I am the giant fat-head King of Loserville. But guess what? I didn’t fail at NaNo. Of all the times I didn’t make it to 50K, the least amount I’d written was a little over 10k. If I hadn’t done NaNo then I wouldn’t have written squat those Novembers. And, so really, I still came out ahead. Plus, the stories I started weren’t complete trash, they just needed a lot of plot revision. I wouldn’t have come up with some really good story ideas had I not attempted NaNo those years.
So, here’s a few things I’ve learned over the years that help me make it to 50K:
- Plan ahead. Being a pantser is all well and good, but it helps to have at least a vague idea of what you want to write going in to NaNo.
- Set yourself small goals and then reward yourself when you make them.
- Try not to get distracted by other things like television shows, books, or the internet. Use them as rewards for making your goals.
- Make sure you eat, sleep, and hydrate. Your mind won’t function well if your body is in need.
- Do take breaks every now and then (but not every five minutes).
- Try doing word sprints! There’s a forum for that. And also Friday Night Writes runs word sprints every Friday night on twitter (and they’re doing something special for NaNo!).
- Make friends with other NaNo-ers. It’s good to encourage each other, and help each other out when you get stuck.
- Back up your work, often. I cannot stress this enough. Losing all your words is not fun.
- Try going to write-ins. Sometimes writing at home can be distracting.
- Get involved. Don’t just participate, but participate. Hang out in the forums now and then, chat with other NaNo-ers, join a cult! Wait, no. Not that last one. Definitely don’t do that!
Anywho. To conclude this post (that has gone on for far too long), if you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, I wish you the best of luck. If you’re looking for a NaNo buddy, feel free to message me on the NaNo site (Serena B) or on twitter.
If you’ve thought about doing NaNo, and you’re on the fence, stop thinking so much and just join already, you know you want to. Participating in National Novel Writing Month is one of the hardest, craziest, most fun, and most enlightening things you’ll ever do. So, get on it.