Autumn leaves gather in drifts. Painted trees whisper mysteries. Storms blow in, tingeing the air with winter’s first breath. Deep nights inspire deeper thought. It makes sense that November should be writers should be National Novel Writing Month, a time when writers conspire to create fiction. Nanowrimo, as the contest is fondly dubbed, is a yearly contest in which participants challenge themselves to write 50,000 words of an original novel before the clock strikes midnight on November 30th.
Is Nanowrimo a Good Idea?
Writing a novel in a month is an ambitious goal for most writers, and this is what gives Nanowrimo its appeal. There’s nothing quite so bracing as the pursuit of a lofty goal while racing against the clock and ignoring your inner editor (and possibly bedtime).
I’m among those who believe Nanowrimo can help a writer develop the discipline to complete a manuscript, as it did me. I wrote the first drafts of DawnSinger and Wayfarer, the first two books in my epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven, during Nanowrimo and can attest that this contest helped me learn to apply, as Mary Heaton Vorse once advised C. S. Lewis, the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.
Don’t expect your first draft to be perfect.
Each year when National Novel Writing Month draws to an end, I fancy I can hear a collective groan from acquisitions editors, in anticipation of the deluge to come. Amazon’s publishing software has to be maxed out at that time, too.
My advice? Give it some time before you submit.
It’s a good idea to set your manuscript aside, then come back to it later with fresh eyes. It takes the distance of time to notice flaws. A first draft does not a novel make, which is why both my Nano novels also saw revisions guided by gifted editors.
It’s possible to “win” Nanowrimo without having finished your manuscript. Fifty thousand words is a bit shy for a full-length novel, depending on its genre, which is why I actually completed both books after the contest ended. It took another year of self-editing DawnSinger to untangle the snarl I’d made of the plot writing by the seat of the pants. Editing was a lot faster with Wayfarer, partly due to it being put under contract with deadlines but also because I’d managed to plot my novel in advance this time. I’m not against pantsing, but having to stop and figure out the plot takes time you don’t have in National Novel Writing Month.
Foster your creativity and save revision for later.
If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve probably heard the advice to turn your inner editor off and just have fun with your first draft. There’s value to the idea, so I don’t want to dismiss it entirely, but it never works for me. Editing as I write comes naturally (so sue me). I don’t seem to be at war with myself, so choosing whether to listen to my inner artist or my inner editor just isn’t a huge issue for me. On the other hand, a month isn’t much time to write a novel, and you do have to keep new words coming, so obsessing over words already on the page becomes a lot less attractive.
There’s a certain freedom in not expecting your first draft to be perfect. You can play a little, try things out, and revise later. Creativity thrives under such conditions, if allowed. However, be prepared for some hefty edits when you come back to your Nano novel.
When to Revise
My gauge for when to edit a passage is a simple one. If a problem affects the plot and can potentially cause me to spend hours writing words I’ll later cut, I fix it. If I see something that only takes a moment to correct and is guaranteed to weigh on my mind if I don’t, I make the change. Anything else has to wait.
If I’m afraid I’ll miss a trouble spot during revisions or want to remember to research something, I bold the passage. This system saw me through my first Nanowrimo, and I’ve used it ever since.
Hydrate your body and nourish your mind.
I learned during my first Nanowrimo experience not to constantly drink tea, my go-to drink when writing. Besides causing wakefulness when I should have been sleeping, too much tea upset my stomach. A tall glass of water is a better choice.
Brain foods like small amounts of chocolate, whole grains, blueberries, pumpkin seeds, nuts, and sage can pull you through when your attention starts to flag.
Walk around periodically.
One reason Nanowrimo is so effective is that our family members often step up to support us where they otherwise might not. This can mean being allowed to sit at your computer for way longer than is healthy. Getting up and walking around every so often helps the body, mind, and spirit. Don’t neglect this. If you can’t remember, I suggest using a physical or online timer to remind you.
If you don’t win Nanowrimo
Winning Nanowrimo feels wonderful, and the sponsor offers for winners are nice. That’s part of what makes it so disheartening when you discover you miscalculated your available time or life intrudes, and you have to choose what you need to do over what you want to do.
My advice is to take writing 50,000 words of a novel in a single month with a grain of salt. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you don’t. If you make your full word count quota, that’s great, but if not, you’ll still come out ahead.
The good news is that there are plenty of wrimos in other months. Junowrimo, one of the best, issues a similar challenge to writers in June.
What are your thoughts on Nanowrimo?