NaNoWrimo is Fun! But it’s Misunderstood, Too
You may have heard, somewhere in your travels, about a little thing called NaNoWriMo. And while I don’t get paid by them or anything, I am still here to help you along in your quest.
Your quest, should you choose to accept it, should be to:
- Learn what NaNoWrimo is
- Figure out if you want to do it
- And to succeed at NaNoWriMo
Sounds simple, right?
Not so fast, my writing pals.
What is This Stuff, Anyway?
So, the first thing you need to know is that NaNoWriMo is not a competition. Rather, it’s a personal challenge.
What do I mean by this?
The 1999 original idea behind it was to see if an amateur writer could crank out 50,000 words toward a new novel during a set amount of time. November was chosen, and I suspect that was because it starts with the letter ‘N’. It’s also because it’s 30 days long.
And while neither 31 nor 30 (nor 28 or 29, for that matter) divides evenly into 50,000, that’s not really an issue.
The Rules of NaNoWriMo
Write at least 50,000 words. During the calendar month of November.
And… that’s it.
Want to write a memoir rather than a novel? Have fun. Want to write more than 50,000 words? Go for it. Want to add 50,000 words to a preexisting project? Enjoy. Want to set a NaNoWriMo word count goal that’s less than 50,000? No one’s stopping you, although you won’t get a ‘traditional’ NaNo accomplishment.
There are no other rules to remember.
There are no NaNo police.
If you divide 50,000 words by 30 days, you get 1,666.67, or 5,000 words every three days. Of course this is the minimum you need to succeed. Write 5,000 words every three days and, at 11:59 PM on November 30th, you can meet goal.
But life rarely works out that way. And God knows art does not.
There is nothing wrong with this.
What happens if you write only 4,000 words in three days?
Then you’d better write 6,000 in some three-day period, not necessarily the one right after the period where, oops, you missed goal. Just do so before December 1st.
What happens if you write 6,000 words in three days, without having been behind? That is, what happens if you get ahead?
Give yourself a cookie or buy a flower or whatever you do for yourself to celebrate your small victories in life. Because, shhh—come closer now, for this is apparently a secret—getting ahead is the secret to winning NaNoWriMo.
Winning NaNoWriMo—Yes, You Can Do It!
Let’s get back to life.
Look Ma, No Plot!
So let’s say that you’re up early on November 12th, all set to write. You’ve got your lucky mouse pad. You’ve got your coffee (or tea, or juice, or cola, or whatever). And you’ve got time.
No thoughts. No plot. And no words. The blank page or screen mocks you. You stare at it, then chug your beverage and surf the internet. All the while telling yourself that you’ll never succeed at this NaNo business.
Don’t fret, friends. Not every day will be perfect for creating. Our minds don’t really work that way. This isn’t a factory.
What Do You Do?
Give yourself a break. One big part of writer’s block is stress. So get up and stretch! Or take a walk around the block. Another thing you can do is brainstorm what should happen next. That’s even if the only thing you think of to happen next is someone gets a pedicure.
You need to write almost 1,700 words, right? Then that pedicure had better be spectacular. Describe the salon to every last detail. Have your heroine (or hero; not judging here) hem and haw over the color(s). Or even have them unable to pay. Another idea could be them skipping out on paying.
Imagine your character running down the road, Coral Sunset polish still drying on their bare toes, as they try to avoid paying the manicurist.
Silly? You betcha.
But it’s words. And words always beget more words. Your silly idea, by the way, just might lead to a better idea. But even if you scratch out the entire day when you start editing the piece, that’s fine. Right now, your goal is to write. Turn the key in the engine so you can drive to wherever you want to go—and don’t dwell on the fact that you had to drive through a rundown neighborhood in order to get there.
The Facebook NaNo groups, when November (or December) rolls around, are filled with people who’ve got unsupportive families (by families, I am also referring to friends). What if someone you live with turns on the stereo or the TV—LOUD—when you’re trying to write? Headphones to the rescue. Either yours or theirs.
What happens if your kids get into the argument to end all arguments just when you’re trying to write the most amazing sex scene in the history of literature? Separate them, like you always do, and find something for them to do. It could be homework or chores, or contacting the parents of their friends and asking if they could have your little angels over for the afternoon. And volunteer to do the same after November 30th.
There are more ways you can be sabotaged; I’ll get to one of them when I get to the part about saving your work.
The Thrill is Gone
This isn’t writer’s block, per se. Rather, something is just plain keeping you from being creative. Major life events, even happy ones, can do that.
And that’s okay.
If you need to mourn the end of a life or a relationship, or you need to plan your wedding, then put NaNo on pause in your life. There’s Camp NaNo in April and June. Or you can write on your own. On the site, you can use their resources pretty much any time. It doesn’t have to be November.
Preventing Common Problems with NaNoWriMo
I’ve often heard that, to succeed, you need to visualize success. But I don’t do that. Rather, I visualize failure. And then I do everything in my power to avert and avoid catastrophe.
So hear (er, read) me out, okay?
No Brain, No Words, No Ideas
Let’s look back at the three things I said could happen when you try to write (there are more, but these are big ones).
The first is not having ideas.
So get ideas!
But how, I hear you ask.
As Sonny Curtis (and Joan Jett!) sang, love is all around. And so are ideas.
Ideas don’t just exist from November 1–30. They’re everywhere. And they don’t follow a calendar or set schedule. At the time of this posting, NaNo is still over a week away.
So get out and cultivate ideas. Write down whatever strikes your fancy. Whatever will work—or at least gets you words.
If you love to outline, then do so. If you just want a bunch of sticky notes with random phrases on them, go for it. And if you’re like me, and you’re in the middle, write a bare bones outline with some listed ideas and a ton of wiggle room.
You do you.
And no, dear friends, this is NOT cheating.
Because—as I said above—it’s not a competition.
NaNoWriMo Counterspy vs Sabotage
Okay, so maybe you’re not a spy, per se. But if you have the strong feeling that the fam is going to give you grief, prepare for that NOW.
How do you do this?
Have a special day in October. Eat out, go to a film, go leaf peeping, shop, whatever works. That one should be somewhat spur of the moment. And then schedule one, with a bit of planning, for December. With the exception of very small children (think preschool and younger), most people will be happy if they don’t feel you’re neglecting them. And most have enough patience to be able to wait 30 days.
For those who are older and should know better—and just can’t wait? Promise them something special, and of course you’ll need to deliver. A weekend away. Surprise bouquet. Cleaning the gutters without complaining or being nagged into doing it. Whatever works.
Will this perfectly eliminate every bit of sabotage? Perhaps not. But you have counterexamples to show off which can effectively combat any complaints that you’re not being attentive.
Get the Thrill Back
As I said above, you might have to put things off if life is dire or just plain too busy and hectic. Your best friend got Covid. Or your Mom is in hospice. Or the roof collapsed. You’ve got to make 200 favors for your best friend’s wedding in a month. You get the picture.
Your best bet is to keep plucking those ideas out of thin air, and writing them down. And then, when you’re ready, you’ll have a bank you can withdraw from.
And no, it’s not cheating!
Say it with me, people: NaNoWriMo is not a competition.
Practical Planning for NaNoWriMo
By the time this post goes live, you’ll have a little over a week before NaNo starts.
Clear the Decks
So—when does your family next go to the dentist? Make it for October or December. Same with haircuts and nights out. November doesn’t have to be 100% cleared of obligations. After all, Thanksgiving is right in there. But if you can change a few things here or there, do so. Oh, and if you can get ahead at work, at least make the effort. Less external pressure is a good thing.
Plan in Advance
Do you ever cook in advance? No? Then it’s high time you started. Make a few simple things which only need to be heated up. Pasta is your friend! Freeze whatever you can and you’re basically ready to rock. Take it out the night before to let it defrost (inside the fridge is better for food safety than your countertop) and then nuke it or toss in the oven to warm it and finish it off.
Boom, dinner is served.
You don’t have to do this every time, and you most likely won’t want to. But if you can get, say, four or five meals teed up this way, you’ll be a lot happier once you hit crunch time. And no one will have to wait for you to finish writing your epic battle scene so they can be fed.
Need to buy birthday presents, or go holiday shopping? Carve out time in October and December to git ‘er done.
Gather Your Tools
If you’re going to print anything, make sure you’ve got paper and ink, and your printer works. If you’re going to handwrite anything, make sure you’ve got pens/pencils and paper.
And make sure your computer has all the latest updates and patches.
Go to the NaNoWriMo site and, if you don’t already have an account, create one. Make sure you can get into your account! And check on how to save your NaNoWriMo word count.
Why am I not specifying how to do that here? Because it’s changed over the years. So go to the NaNo site.
Make sure you know how to save your word count.
Save, Save, and then Save Again
While saving your work is technically a part of planning ahead and being practical, it’s so vital that it gets its own section.
But keep in mind: you do NOT save your work on the NaNoWriMo website. Don’t even try; there’s no place for it, anyway.
That’s not the purpose of the site. So, you will need to save some other way(s).
The gold standard (it’s the standard because it’s what I do, ha!) is to save in three different types of places.
#1 Save to Your Hard Drive
Saving your work to your hard drive usually means you can open it more quickly. You can probably find it faster. And it may save more quickly. All are good.
But if you’re using a public computer, or traveling and using someone else’s machine, then that’s out.
Also, this is the fourth laptop I have owned, and I’m on my second tablet. Before that, I went through I think three or four desktop units. And I’m on my third phone. In short, stuff breaks.
So don’t stop with your hard drive.
#2 Save to Portable Media Storage
Er, what’s that?
It’s flash drives, thumb drives, separate hard drives, and the like. Back in the day, it was floppy discs. It can be CDs or DVDs, too.
Whatever it is, it’s something you can hold in your hand.
But beware. Flash drives, CDs, etc. can break or die. And I will never forget when a young parent came into a NaNo Facebook group and said their toddler had stamped on their flash drive and destroyed it.
Plus, if you need to work with a public computer, then this may or may not be allowed. You may find that the library doesn’t allow anyone to use a flash drive. That’s okay. There’s another way to save your work.
#3 Save to the Cloud
There are a number of services by which you can store work in what is essentially a virtual form. You’ve probably heard of OneDrive, Dropbox, and Google Drives. Amazon also offers storage, and so does Apple (iCloud). You can use every single one of these for free, and they will most likely offer enough space for your needs without having to upgrade to a paid plan.
If you’re on a shared or public computer, this may also not be in the cards. But there’s one more way you can, in essence, save to a cloud.
Email your story to yourself.
While it’s a somewhat less elegant solution, it will still get the job done.
Let’s Get Psyched for NaNoWriMo!
You can write at any time. And you can write more, or less. You never have to sign up for NaNo, if you decide it’s not for you.
The main thing about NaNoWriMo is that it takes writing, an exceptionally solitary pursuit, and it turns it social. It’s also a convenient way to drum up interest in your work. On Facebook and Twitter, I use the hashtags #CountDownToNaNoWriMo and #CountDownToNaNoWriMo2021 (or whatever the year is).
I post little bits, and I write the blurb. Over time, I’ve found that writing the blurb early can help to crystallize my thoughts. And getting out a blurb and some basic info creates accountability for me. People cheer me on, and I don’t want to disappoint them.
It must be working, because I’ve made it to 50,000 words every time.
Some Final Thoughts on NaNoWriMo
It took me about 3 hours to write this blog post. Its word count is almost 900 words above the minimum you need to write in one day to hit 50,000 words by the end of NaNoWriMo. Some days, it takes me more time than this. Other times, it takes less.
But in the end, it’s fun and rewarding. And no matter what, even if all you write is one word, that counts. If it’s a word you wouldn’t have written before, then NaNoWriMo has done its job, and you have succeeded.
Want to friend me on the NaNo site? Then go here. Go get ’em, tiger.
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