We are halfway through October, and I don’t know about you, but I am enjoying a nice bite of fall weather FINALLY (southern problems include melting for most of the year). I’m enjoying Halloween month, trying to watch a horror movie every day, making my way through IT and the first season of Stranger Things, and figuring out what costume I’ll wear on the big night. But I’m also starting to look ahead, to a month many writers mark on their calendars and a month that’s proved helpful in a lot of writers’ careers.
That’s right, it’s almost November, which means it’s almost National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short). For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is a thirty day challenge, in which writers try to write a 50,000 word story in the time frame. It’s not pretty, and it’s definitely not perfect, but it’s fun and gives what writers like myself need: a deadline. Without some kind of end block or finish line, I am a worthless writer. I’ll stretch out a 200 word story for two months, telling myself I’ll get to it later while I chow down on chips and watch Netflix. It’s why I tell so many people about my story ideas before I’ve even begun working on them, because I need someone to keep me accountable to finish and make it real.
I’ve known about NaNoWriMo since high school, but I have never fully participated. In past years, whenever November rolled around, I would be in an awkward place with whatever story I was working on at the time. Two years ago, I was between drafts for the first book I ever intended to publish (I believe I typed the last words just a few days before November 1st, and I was in serious need of a writing cleanse). Then, last year, I did write a novel in a month; however, I started before November actually began, and it was my senior thesis novel, meaning I’d been writing drafts all semester with my advisor. The November draft was really the “final” draft. This year, though, I am all in. I am minutes away from signing up on NaNoWriMo.org and pledging to write a complete first draft of a novel in thirty days.
NaNoWriMo offers tons of support for writers during the long and agonizing month as we type endlessly. You can get pep talks and connect with other writers participating in the challenge. You can also track your progress and earn badges as you write along, and, at the end of the month if you hit the 50,000 word count goal, you can win prizes that go beyond simple street cred.
One of the great things about NaNoWriMo is that you just have to write the first draft in thirty days. You can research, sketch character profiles, outline the story, and all that jazz before November 1st, but you can’t type a word of the actual novel until the stroke of midnight on the first day of the month.
I didn’t understand this in years past, and knowing it now as really changed my outlook on finishing the challenge, and it made me think about prepping for it weeks before the actual start date. And if you haven’t started getting ready yet, there’s still time! Just take a look at what I’ve been doing this month, and what you can do as well as you get ready to write your story:
- Organize. Here’s where you research, work on character profiles, and outline the story. I’m already finished with the research, and I have one profile left to figure. After that, I’ll make a couple of outlines, including one master, overview outline and a more detailed, scene by scene breakdown of the novel (I’ll talk more about my outlining process in weeks to come). I’m also going to sketch out the setting of the story, which is pretty important to me. I’ve read way too many stories by authors who don’t seem to consult maps before writing scenes in cities, and consequently the paths their characters walk seem impractical at best, impossible at worst.
- Get your writing space ready. A little while ago, I wrote a post about finding your perfect writing space. If you haven’t read it yet, and if you are still trying to find that place that helps you get the creative juices flowing, take a look at that post now. Then, get your space ready. For me, writing in cafes means all I really need is a free table and a hot coffee. So that means I may need to get to the cafe a little earlier and claim my spot for a few hours before it gets packed, and I may need to make sure I have enough money each week to at least get a small drink. I’m also in the process of clearing off my desk in my room for when I write at home. I’ve been packing up a few things that usually distract me, cleaning the dust from the top shelves, and setting up a stereo so I can play some low, coffee shop type music to set the writing mood.
- Plan out when you will write. One of the other things I talked about in my perfect writing space post was finding what time you’re most productive. If you already know, and have been working in that time frame for a while now, it’s time to expand. Maybe you write for thirty minutes to an hour in the morning before going to class or hitting the gym. Or maybe you can get in an hour and a half before starting homework or going out with friends. Unfortunately, that short bit of time isn’t going to cut it in November. For at least three or four days a week, you are going to need to sacrifice some “fun” in order to write your novel. I’m not advocating for skipping class or taking up unhealthy habits, but do you really need to leave your home fifteen minutes early to get Taco Bell breakfast before it ends? Or get dinner with your friends three nights a week? Speaking as someone who loves food and looks for any excuse to eat it, I’m saying no, you don’t. Just keep writing.
- Talk to friends and family about your writing goal, but don’t neglect them. This step goes hand in hand with the one above. You may want to have an open and honest conversation with your loved ones about what you plan to accomplish in November. They’ll probably be encouraging, and understand when you can’t hang out some evenings because you’re squirrelled away with your laptop or notebooks. But this doesn’t mean you should skip out on every plan your friends or family might make. November is a fun month; there’s Thanksgiving, and getting ready for Christmas, and for some of us the first bit of tolerable weather since May (yes, I cannot stop talking about the gloriously cool temperatures in the south right now!) and it’s not something you want to totally miss out on. You have to find that balance, between work and play, but make sure you do get that work done. Maybe telling your loved ones will help keep you accountable, and inspire them to participate in the challenge as well!
- Believe. This is a big one; because 50,000 words may not seem like a lot (it’s less than 2,500 words a day, even if you don’t right on weekends). But as the days go by and you find yourself writing words that may not make much sense some days, you may feel the urge to give up, throw down your pen or exit your writing document without saving. Don’t. Like I said earlier, it doesn’t have to be pretty, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to exist. You can figure out how to make it beautiful later; right now, you just need to get to that finish line.
So, what do you think? Going to take this challenge? There’s plenty of time to decide; you can sign up at any time before the end of November here. Now excuse me while I go do just that!