This month, I, along with 90,000 others, including a few of the awesome members of Intrepid Media, am over-using commas in the name of National Novel Writing Month.
The goal? Write a 50,000-word novel between 12:00 AM, November 1 and 11:59 PM, November 30.
50,000 words. 1667 words per day. 70 words per hour. Or, if you prefer only counting the hours you're not working, eating, sleeping, or driving somewhere, 417 words per hour. That's 7 words per minute. Even the worst hunt-and-peckers can manage that, right? Still, 50,000 words seems impossibly large when you're looking at a blank page on November 1st.
When it gets down to it, though, the difficult part is not actually putting the words down, it's giving them a shred of substance. I'm sure anybody could sit down and write 50,000 words if they didn't have to make any sort of sense. But they do. They should be a story, a novel. Or a novella, in this case. 50,000 words isn't actually that long.
There are very few rules. They aren't even really enumerated outside of the FAQ on the NaNoWriMo site. You can find them if you're looking for them, but it's not like you get a contract to sign when you put your e-mail address on the site. It's really up to you to seek them out.
They are, roughly:
- It happens in November. No starting early. No using something you already started.
- It has to be YOUR work.
- It has to be a novel(la) -- however you define that is up to you. If you want to work on something else, say, a script, there's a different project for that.
It is my guess that the lack of rules is one of the number one reasons it's so difficult to accomplish. Many people need structure in order to function efficiently. When you're free floating on your own it can be difficult to find motivation or to get that fire lit under your butt that will make you sit down and write a novel in a month. To help myself, I've devised another layer of rules and guidelines in order to make the whole thing a little easier. I lay them out here so that others my partake in their goodness. Take it from somebody who's never actually finished NaNoWriMo before. These work.
Write every day. Every. Single. Day. The word count is intimidating, and if you get to the point where you feel like you've fallen behind, it's really easy to just say, "Hey, you know? Next year." This is how I've failed the two other times I've been involved, even though the first time I was over half done. In my experience, if you can make an excuse to not finish it, you will.
Don't give yourself a word count goal every day. Write in chunks of time, not in words. I would bet that most people can chunk out 1,000 - 1,500 words per hour. So, give yourself an hour and a half to write every day and call it good. Some days you'll write more, because you're on a roll, some days you'll write less because you had to work late and you're really tired. It's fine. It'll even out. You can worry about word count on November 29th. If you're close or over, then awesome. If you're way off, take the day off from work on the 30th. Can you think of a better reason to call in sick than, "Sorry, I need to stay home and finish my novel?"
Think about what you're writing before you write each day. I give myself a few points in the day where the only thing I do is think about what I'm writing that day. It might be while I'm in the car driving to work, or walking around at lunchtime, or while I'm cooking dinner. It doesn't matter when. A little thought organization can make an incredible difference. If you don't do this, when you sit down for you're writing time, you're starting from scratch every day. You're figuring out where you were and what you wanted to have happen next. You're wasting your allotted writing time on something that could be ready and done when you sit down.
Keep notes on and develop your characters outside of writing. In my second day of writing, I went through 2,000 words spelling the name of one of my main characters incorrectly the entire time. I mean, I had spelled it a different way the day before. I spelled it differently again the day after, only catching it on day 5 while I was scrolling through to find a reference. If you keep notes, you don't do crap like that. Friends of mine have built up character sheets (among other things) they use for each character which cover a ridiculous amount of detail. Hair color, eye color, tattoos and piercings, affectations, aversions, previous lovers, Sun Sign, Chinese Zodiac, etc. If you have a complete character built up like this, even if you never use half of it in your story, the characters will write themselves.
Don't edit. This is buried in their site somewhere as a suggestion. It bears repeating. "Editing," they say, "is for December." If it sucks, you'll catch it then. You want to sit down and write new words not re-write old ones. There'll be time enough for counting when the dealing's done.
Tell people about it. There's a dual purpose in this. First, if you tell people that you're writing a novel in a month, then you have one more incentive to finish it: the guilt/shame double-whammy. "How's your novel coming?" friends will ask. Would you rather say: "Almost done!" or "I uhh.. I kinda dropped the ball. Maybe next year?" You also have the chance to fulfill one of the earlier guidelines here. Tell people about your plot, and let them ask questions. You might discover things about your story that you hadn't realized before. When I do this, I find myself embellishing the plot as I explain it and discovering, to my surprise, just where it's going. It often makes me want to sit down and write.
Finally, make it fun. This is, without a doubt, the most important one. If you sit down to write and nothing is coming, don't force it. It's a challenge, but it's meant to be fun. If it turns into a chore, you're not going to be very likely to finish your novel. So find ways of making it fun. Get some writing music, grab a big mug of your favorite beverage, throw your pajamas on, find a comfy spot, go to your favorite coffee shop or bar, whatever you need to do. No matter what, relax and have fun.
You'll have 50,000 words in no time at all and you'll have the chance to start anecdotes to your friends with "Well.. when I was writing my most recent novel...."
And now, I need to go follow some of my own advice.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
11.16.07 @ 10:25a
I assume you can repeat words?
11.16.07 @ 2:13p
Oh yeah. It's not fifty-thousand distinct words.
I mean. You'd run out of articles way before you ran out of nouns.
11.16.07 @ 6:49p
lol. I didn't even start nano this year. Life was in the way, and so was an mmorpg I refuse to name.
11.16.07 @ 6:58p
Rock on Erik, best of luck with NaNoWriMo! Let us know what you churn out!
11.16.07 @ 10:04p
A couple NaNos ago I wrote half my novel with the main character's buddy living a half hour away before I decided they should live near each other. So, as you mention in "Don't Edit," I just continued as if they had lived near each other the whole time. I've changed characters' names halfway through, or whether they have a job or not, and other stuff. The first half of NaNo for me tends to be just figuring things out.
11.17.07 @ 12:11a
It's like writing the ultimate speed draft.
You know the real problem I've been hitting? I get bored while I'm writing. Not like I'm bored with my topic, just bored sitting there. I think about all the things I could be doing other than sitting at my laptop. Ugh.
11.17.07 @ 3:54a
I didn't do NaNoWriMo this year. Way too much going on. I find I get bored with life and keep thinking how I could be writing if I didn't have to do this or that. Then when I get to sit down and write I usually can't settle on what to work on.
Go kick that NaNoWirMo butt.
11.17.07 @ 8:33a
How many times have you participated in this, E?
11.19.07 @ 9:49a
Three. Though I've yet to actually finish something, and it's looking a little grim for this year, as well.
Thanksgiving is rough to work around.
11.19.07 @ 11:09a
I am way, way off pace (16K as of this weekend) but hoping to make it all up in the next week or so.
It definitely helps me to do this every year even if I'm not 100% happy with the novel that comes out of it -- even if I don't write every day, I'm thinking about writing every day, and it's a habit that's just as easy to get into as it is to get out of.
Good luck to all the NaNoers out there!