NaNoWriMo: Beginner’s Guide to National Novel Writing Month

Everyone has a writer within them whether they admit it or not. Some will cause it to grow and become a full-fledged author. Others will ignore this notion until they get into the twilight of their life and make a statement like: “You know I’ve always wanted to write a book. One day I just might do that.”  My question to them is why wait for “one day” when you can have a whole month?

The November Challenge

Back in 2005 I was introduced to the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short). It’s a website where people gather together as a community and for the entire month of November, they strive to write 50,000 words. For most that seems an incredibly large amount of words. To others, it’s a casual walk in the park. Either way, it’s a challenge that has been going on since ’99.

Founder Chris Baty and his friends in San Francisco had got together and decided to each write a book in the space of thirty days. He randomly chose a book off his shelf and did a word count and obtained the goal of 50K words. As the years progressed the number of writers increased as did the location of these people. Now heading into its 18th year (2016) they are hosting thousands of writers worldwide!

How to Prepare

The goal of course is to write your story starting at Midnight November 1st and ending at Midnight on November 30th. Of course you want some time to be able to submit your work into their validation counter and be officially listed as a winner.

So how does one prepare? The goal is to do all of your writing in the space of 30 days but that leaves the rest of the time to prepare. The website itself usually relaunches at the end of September or beginning of October to give people opportunity to check in, introduces themselves, upload information about their current WIP (Work in Progress), and generally wander around the site meeting new people and playing the games that are there.

This also gives you time to setup everything you need for the upcoming challenge. Things like:  Create a plotline, develop characters, create scenery, and the like. You might also outline your story so you can adhere to what you are working on; how you start and where you will end.

If you’re not into outlining, you can always enter into the month with no ideas and no plot and just start writing and have things develop as you progress. Chris Baty has written a book called: No Plot? No Problem. I’ve read it several times over the years and it really gives you an insight into, not only the NaNo challenge itself, but also how to achieve that magic number.

I’ve never been one for doing outlines; official outlines that is but I usually will write down a list of scenarios and the characters involved so I can keep things in a (somewhat) orderly fashion. There’s no right or wrong to preparation but if this is your first time, I would suggest putting together a group of characters and a couple of plot ideas.

The Magic Number

As you begin your trek towards 50K words you have to keep one number in mind. 1,667. That’s the magic number because that is the average number of words you need to write every day in order to stay on track and reach those 50,000 words in 30 days. If that’s too complex a number to remember try this…Every three days you need to write 5,000 words. Technically it’s 5001 words but let’s not argue over exact amount. 5K every 3 Days is a good mantra to use as you are writing.

What do you win?

In a word, nothing. There is no prize to win, no honors to achieve. However, you will receive a nice certificate of completion worthy of hanging on your wall to show your accomplishment. But you will also have the satisfaction of writing a foundation for a book and you’ll get to meet a lot of fellow writers from all over the word. These people usually end up becoming friends, supporters, and even contacts in the literary world. You’ll enjoy their company in the remaining 11 months of the year until the next November Challenge comes along.

To some people 50,000 words is only a novella and so they won’t even go into the challenge because they want to write more. There’s nothing wrong with writing more. I do know of a challenge called, A Million words in a weekend. That might be more your speed.

I’ve been using NaNo as a way to discipline myself to write the story and most times my story will exceed the 50K after I’ve completed my challenge. Doing NaNo for me is just a way connecting with other writers who are online at the same time. It’s like going back to Summer Camp every year but without the mosquitos and the sadistic camp counselors.

The bottom line is: What you put into the challenge is what you will get out of it.

Getting to 50K words

Sometimes this can be the tricky part especially if you’re not very good at writing. What I mean by that is coming up with ideas and dialog naturally without thinking about it. If the words can flow from your mind to the keyboard you will have no problem. If not, here are some suggestions to help you out:

  • Word count is the key. Do whatever you have to do to get to the desired number of 1,667 a day or 50K in a month. I’ll have more to say in another article called, The Cheater’s Guide to NaNoWriMo. Remember the mantra: 5K every 3 Days
  • Shut off your inner editor. One of the main problems people have is dwelling on mistakes like misspellings, grammar usage, and describing the same character two different ways. Always remember, this is only a first draft and most of it might be discarded in the long run. You’re not writing useless stuff, you are creating a foundation from which to build a story on. Here’s another way to look at it, if you want your garden to grow, you need to shovel a lot of manure.
  • Find time to write. All too often I hear people tell me, “I’m too busy, I don’t have time to write.” Those who do have time usually find other things to do instead of writing. People get that sudden urge to clean or make that special supper, or set that new movie that’s just come out. Anything to avoid the actual writing part.

Instead of saying you don’t have time, you need to FIND the time. To help you find time to write: a) list the things you do every day b) Write down when you do them c) Go back and eliminate the excess stuff. For example, if you check your e-mail four or five times a day, cut it down to twice a day; once in the morning and once at evening. Another idea is to get up thirty minutes earlier or stay up thirty minutes later and use that time to write.

You can always record your favorite TV shows and binge watch them in December or, if that’s too long a time, treat yourself to two episodes every week. Reward your accomplishments of writing will also help you find the time to write.

  • Notify Family and Friends. More often than not, the people who are a daily part of your life may not understand what you are doing or why you are doing it. Explain to them your goal and ask for their moral support and encouragement. Even if they still don’t understand just tell them it’s something you have to do. Make sure they help you find time to sit down and write. And above all, when you are in the process of writing make sure no one disturbs you during that time. Yes, Thanksgiving is in November and I’m sure you’ll be expected to attend. Use that date as your goal to finish your 50K words so you can sit back at the table and brag to all of your family of your story.
  • Lastly remember that Life Happens. No matter what has happened last month or in previous Novembers, every month is different and comes with a new set of problems. In other words don’t neglect Junior if he’s broken his leg or ignore the electric company who’s threatening to shut off the power. Take care of these important things because they will not wait. Keep an eye on your word count and always try to stay ahead. I always try to get 3K-5K within the first day to make sure I’m always ahead for just such emergencies.

Final Advice

Remember this is only a rough draft. You can’t expect perfection in thirty days nor should you try for it. Just get all of your thoughts and ideas on the page then go back later and edit. Too many people, who are against the book in a month idea, think that it will be immediately published. Even if you do write a story perfectly in the first draft, it would be better to read it over and share with others before you put it out for sale. You might find where certain ideas that worked at the beginning of the story no longer apply because of what happens later on.

Should you decide to enter The November Challenge or try it during any other month, make sure you at least try to reach 50K words. It’s better to try and fail in thirty days than to not even bother to start and spend the next eleven months wondering if you could have succeeded. During my first attempt I only achieved 25K words but that was my personal goal and I was happy that I tried. You may not win every year but if you at least try, it will be worth it in the long run.

So what about you? Think you have what it takes to write a story in thirty days? If you’re a former WriMo, share your previous experiences below.

Happy Adventuring!
Chris Mentzer

This post is contributed by Author Chris Mentzer