• Elan Cassandra

Why NaNoWriMo Works: And why you can do it any month.



As I write this, I'm on day thirteen of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2020, which for those who perhaps haven't heard of it, is a community-engaged attempt for writers to write 50,000 words toward a novel across the month of November. (The math breaks down to approximately 1,667 words per day.)


I am indeed on track to hit 50,000 words by the end of the month, I don't completely hate the 40% of my novel that currently exists, and it's all been a relatively smooth ride, despite the fact that I did very little prep work ahead of time (which is very unlike me).


For anyone who's been dreaming of writing a novel, I wanted to take a moment to say, "hey, you can do it--it's not as hard as you think," by breaking down why NaNoWriMo works, how best to approach it, and how to set up a "novel writing month" any old month you choose.


Why NaNoWriMo Works


The emphasis on word count removes the ambiguity that surrounds most creative projects and has a tendency to put many of us in a state of paralysis. It is a specific, tangible goal. Every day, your total word count should add up to at least 1667 x the day of the month you're on. Simple. Clear.


Your word count is the only thing that matters. It doesn't matter if the story is good. It doesn't matter if the words are right. The only thing that matters is that the words end up on paper. While me may know that first drafts are usually not meant to be very good, most of us aren't able to let that happen. In this case, our word-count goal becomes the priority and distracts us from potential perfectionist tendencies.


You announce your goal publicly. You share it on social media, and you post updates as you go along. (No, this isn't a requirement, but it sure helps to keep you committed.)


Other people are doing the same thing at the same time. Rather than feeling like this is something you're attempting alone, you know that there is a community of other writers struggling through the same thing, and there are many opportunities to connect with those writers both on the organization's website and through social media.


Why You Don't Need to Have Missed It


Sure, we're almost half-way through November, so you're probably not participating in the official event. Ah well, no big deal. You can do it any month.


You just need to put the same parameters and more or less the same environment in place.


Engage a few writer friends and acquaintances to do with you. Even just one writer friend who's as committed as you are, can make all the difference. Keep each other updated. Check in, if not every day, then at least every week.


And try to recruit a close non-writer to keep you on track. (I live with my partner of seven plus years, and although he's not a writer himself, he has been on my butt every day making sure that I get that word count in. While I'm sure I could do it without his prompting, it absolutely does help.)


Here's How My Month's Going

As I said before, I didn't have much of a plan. I knew the basic premise, how the book started, basic character relationships, and a couple of things I was pretty sure would happen. That's it. So it's very much felt like I'm writing blind.


After the first two days of writing, I switched from first person present tense to third person limited in the present tense. Yesterday, twelve days in, I decided to take my third person limited, and distribute it among four different characters, changing between them at scene breaks.


I've made these changes as I've gone because the story and how I've felt about it, has dictated those changes. Because I know I'll need to rewrite anyway (and because of the tight schedule!), I haven't gone back and changed what I've already written (just made notes of the changes I intend to make).


I haven't gotten caught up in what I've already written--I'm focused only on the writing that happens each day. It hasn't been "easy" every day, but it's certainly been doable, and much less intimidating that I had previously imagined.


It takes me between an hour and an hour and thirty minutes each day to get to my word count, depending on how well things are flowing. It's usually the last thing I do each day, and it gets done.


So when are you doing it?

December may not be the ideal month, but January, perhaps? If you were to start on January second, you'd end up with thirty days of writing. Just a thought.


The truth is, it doesn't matter when you do it. It only matters that you do. Stop putting it off. You have nothing to be afraid of. DO IT. You'll finally get to call yourself a novelist.


Happy Writing!


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