Experiencing NaNoWriMo for the First Time

Do you know what November is? If what comes to mind first is Thanksgiving you are like most people. But there are more and more people every year to whom November means first and primarily: NaNoWriMo.

What is that? Well, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. Created by Chris Baty, a writer in San Francisco, California in 1999. Originally it was just a fun project to encourage his friends to write a novel within a month just for the heck of it. Every year the project has attracted more and more people to it, with 2004 attracting 42,000 participants.

Held in November NaNoWriMo is a month where participants aim to write a 50,000 word novel. You can write in any genre that thrills you – romance, mystery, chick lit, erotica, sci fi, fantasy, whatever floats your boat. There are some basic rules (visit the website for the full details) but really it is a very relaxed approach to this competition. The goal is simply to keep writing. There is no pressure for correct punctuation or spelling. There is no pressure for perfection. No pressure for publication. Simply the goal is full speed ahead – towards the goal of 50,000 words on those pages. Your plot may take off and leave you in the dust. Your characters may leave you after Chapter Three and new ones may show up suddenly to take their place. Everything may turn on a dime. Your sci fi story may turn into a mystery and your fantasy novel may morph into a romance novel – and then back again. You may produce complete and utter nonsense – but you will keep typing. (A great way to learn more about this is to read Chris Baty’s book No Plot, No Problem that explains everything about NaNoWriMo and offers suggestions to inspire your writing and keep to a writing routine to reach the finish line).

I wanted to do NaNoWriMo for about three years, but the timing was always off in my life. November somehow just seemed to always be a busy month. But last year the stars were aligned and everything seemed to fall into position. The timing was right. So I registered and decided that what I was writing would fall under the category of chick lit.

Joining the forums for NaNoWriMo I discovered that people approach NaNoWriMo different ways. Some people have “writing binges” where they will write many thousands of words at one time and they will do this several times to reach the 50,000 goal line. Others will write a certain amount every day, or set some type of weekly goal giving themselves a day or two off every week. Other more ambitious writers not only reached the 50,000 goal line, but worked to surpass it, writing 75,000 words or even a stunning 100,000 words.

I found it best if I wrote about fifteen hundred words every day. With my schedule that was really what I could manage well and I could usually do that in less than an hour every evening. Then one weekend I wrote like ten thousand words! That helped get me towards the finish line in a big way – so those “writing binges” can be helpful sometimes, that is for sure. NaNoWriMo does get a little consuming, I found myself thinking about my novel at odd times, while at the gym, at the grocery store, standing in line at the post office, while getting my nails done – even in my dreams! It was pretty intense, but a lot of fun. You can get pretty hooked on watching your word count bar rise, its pretty funny.

The community feeling with NaNoWriMo is really wonderful. The idea that you are sitting down to write this novel, just as so many others are sitting down at their computers – it is like you are all participating in the same marathon race. You can visit with other writers in the NaNoWriMo forums online. One of the fun things you can do in the forums is you can post sections of your novel as part of your profile, so people can read and comment on your novel. There are also Municipal Liaisons in your communities that host events that you can attend. Typically there is a starting party and a Thank God Its Over party, as well as some get together to write together and cheer each other on as your word counts build.

I did complete NaNoWriMo last year with about 53,000 words. I was thrilled to have completed, having never written a novel before. I will readily admit that I produced something that probably only my parents would be willing to read – what loosey-goosey plot that does exist is all over the place and looking at it in the cold harsh light of daylight – the thing makes very little sense. But I kept writing and I think there is really something to doing NaNoWriMo, that is very helpful that no other experience is going to give you. It somehow gave me the push I needed to start writing a second chick lit manuscript – one with an actual plot and characters that didn’t vanish after the first chapter. I thank NaNoWriMo for getting me started on writing the manuscript I am working on now. I am going to sign up for NaNoWriMo 2006 without a doubt.

Interested in signing up? Registrations begin in October but you can sign up to get a welcome email that will come to you in October. Visit www.nanowrimo.org for more details.

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