A time to reap, a time to sow, a time to NaNoWriMo?

Sally Hare

Sally Hare gives her advice on what – and what not – to expect if you’re brave enough to take up the Nanowrimo challenge.  

Remember, remember, the first of November …

I wonder if you, like me, feel a certain restlessness at this time each year? As late summer warmth turns to autumnal bluster, the annual question nags. To NaNoWriMo, or not to NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month – the 50,000-word writing sprint – is certainly one way to avoid facing up to Christmas. At a steady 1,667 words per day it’s certainly not for the hesitant. But is it really worth giving up your life, and possibly your sanity, for a whole month?

Success in my first year I attribute to the fact that I was already working on a novel: I had characters, a vague plot and an even vaguer idea of where it was going. By the end of November I had a complete first draft. The second year I wasn’t so lucky regarding an initial idea – instead I decided to write 50,000 words and hope that, somewhere in the process, a narrative would develop. Two weeks and 12,000 words of choppy, unfocussed prose later, I chose common-sense over bloody-mindedness and gave up. Last year, finding myself in a similar creative space, I didn’t even start.

fastest writer in the world
Could you be the fastest writer in the world?

That’s not to say my enthusiasm for NaNoWriMo has cooled. But let’s not be under any illusions: if you manage to stay the course, by 1st December you’ll have 50,000 words of little literary merit whatsoever under your belt. Publishers will not be beating a path to your door. Yet. That’s not the point. What you will also have is a first draft to work from over the coming months. And that’s a fantastic treasure. Especially if, like me, you’re the sort of writer who writes ten words then re-edits them for an hour rather than moving the narrative on. Or the sort of writer who, wrangling a precious hour or day to work, finds it incredibly hard to get back into your current project, totting up endless games of Freecell while trying to regain your creative mojo. Then manages it ten minutes before the kids are due home. Having a rough template of where you’re going makes it so much easier to get back into and move along, even if you didn’t make it all the way to the magical 50,000. Plus, having spent a month totally immersed in grit-toothed word production mode, you’ll be less likely to fall into the time-wasting traps in the first place.

No plot no problemIf you are considering NaNoWriMo, I recommend the companion book to the challenge, No Plot? No Problem! by its founder, Chris Baty. It’s an easy read, full of infectious enthusiasm for dumping quality for quantity – from handy hints to keeping going (make a cheque out to an organisation you despise, then give it to a friend: ask them to post it to said organisation if you give up: p.55), to week-by-week support for the various stages of the progress (delight, despair, determination, celebration). There’s also a lot of support on the website http://nanowrimo.org/ where you can track your progress, network with other participants, and find local groups (these groups often stage mass writing sessions, if the wallpaper’s starting to close in).

This year, I’m fortunate enough to have started a new project, so I think I’m ready for the marathon again (brag to everyone that you’re doing it, then fear of public humiliation will keep you going: p. 53). For those considering it, good luck! We will recognise each other on the December streets by our other-worldly stares and panicked Christmas shopping.

11 Replies to “A time to reap, a time to sow, a time to NaNoWriMo?”

  1. I tried it last year, Sally, for the first time! Wow! Like banging your head against a brick wall – it’s lovely when you stop. Simply couldn’t manage the 1,600 words a day, so I only clocked up about 30,000 by the end of the month. But, as you point out, it was “stuff” I could get my teeth into during the long winter months. And I certainly have mined those words thoroughly, over and over, so they’ve turned out to be worth their weight (perhaps not in gold, but definitely in chewed fingernails). Am currently havering about this year. Another 30K would be REALLY useful, or maybe insane, or a good way to lose more hair, or … Will keep you posted.

  2. The first time I tried to participate, I told only a few others who were participating and never got the ball rolling. Now I am spreading the word joyously in hopes that “fear of public humiliation” will really help me get writing. I’m already impressed with the strides I’ve made above the first time I tried to participate. . .after an hour conversation with a fellow NaNoWriMo participant and good friend last night, I have an actual idea for a story and am planning to spend the rest of October developing characters and ideas for plot points. Somehow, this feels a little bit like cheating to me. It’s not though, right? 🙂

  3. Sounds like a very sensible course of action to me! Having failed miserably the year I tried to do it from a completely clean slate I wouldn’t try again without a good idea of where I was going. Horses for courses though – whatever works for you!

  4. Hi Sally
    This is the first year I have even considered it, but it’s also the first ‘free’ month that’s presented itself for a while, so really, what’s my excuse?
    Like Caitlin I’m not starting from scratch. I actually have 40,000 already but need to rethink redraft, go farther and get get deeper into the story. Probably won’t have a wordcount target but maybe a target of how much time a day to spend doing it (and hopefully not just staring out of the window or faffing about!) Maybe that’s not ‘classic’ Nanowrimo, but knowing you, Shirley, Caitlin and a chunk of the writing world is suffering with me can only help! Ali B

    1. Trying to hit a word count helped on my successful year – but then, I am a terrible procrastinator. A good tool is Cold Turkey, a free programme that locks you out of timewasting websites. You choose the sites, you choose the amount of time, and off you go. If you try to get clever and cheat the system once it’s running, it locks you out for a month!

  5. Eeek! After my last comment on Cold Turkey I feel I should add an emergency note of caution! I’ve used the program successfully before but after installing it on Windows 7 this morning and setting the desired time I got an error message saying it needed reinstallation…. then it wouldn’t switch off. One failed System Restore, and a Windows Startup Repair Restore later I’m back on course, but that’s a good couple of frantic hours wasted I could have spent noodling on Facebook erm working hard on my WIP, nice and calm … don’t say I’ve got to go back to relying on willpower alone … 🙁

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