When people think of writing a novel, they picture long, solitary evenings spent at their desks in near-total darkness, their faces lit up from below by the screen of their laptops, cupping a steaming mug of tea as they consider the elegance of the last passage they’ve written. They picture writing as the joyous release of all the creativity that has spent years pent up inside them.
They hold on to that picture right up to the point where they decide they want to write a novel, to the last second before they sit down to actually write it. And then they’re hit by the reality of the empty page and mocked by the blinking cursor.
Because… How do you tell a good story? How do you engage your readers? How do you let them experience a vicarious ride through this world of your imagination? And more importantly: how do you finish what you started?
Here enters the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short). It’s a chance to find out if you have it in you, to test your mettle, to face your inner demons, to see if you have what it takes to be a writer. Which is largely time, grit, character of the bloodyminded sort, and an ample supply of coffee or whisky or both.
How Does it Work?
The goal is simple. Write a novel in a month. Writers—persons of literary interest and masochistic tendencies—from around the world start on November the 1st. The deadline is the end of the month. That’s thirty days to finish a manuscript at least 50,000 words long.
You sign up for the challenge here:
Once it starts, you’ll be able to upload your daily progress to the website and see how you’re faring compared to others.
As far as I know, each year, only about 1.5% of all participants make it past the finish line. Why so few? Because writing a novel is pretty goddamn hard.
Why Should You Give It a Try?
It doesn’t take much of a genius to figure out that 50,000 words divided by the thirty days of the lovely, totally non-depressing month of November, equals 1667 words a day. That’s a lot of writing to get done in a short time.
I can understand why you may see it as a constraint, but it is, in fact, your golden ticket to writing freedom. The hard time limit liberates you from all the usual suspects of unfinished novels: procrastination, perfectionism, worrying about what people may say, playing with language, intricate worldbuilding, writing backstory, waiting for inspiration… You could spend a lifetime on those without a novel to show for it.
NaNoWriMo makes you face up to your writerly problems and just finish the damn thing.
Scientists Left Puzzled by these Seven Amazing Benefits of NaNoWriMo
When people set out to write novels, they dream about great many things. Fame and fortune come up quite often, so does talent, having fans (not to be confused with having fun), selling the rights to a movie, and then living the rest of your life off royalties from all the merch. Because of those lofty aspirations, people forget that the thing they set out to do was writing a book. There are many better—or easier ways of getting rich and famous than writing novels.
But if it is a novel you want, a novel I shall help you to write.
First of all, let’s be honest with ourselves. Going at 1,667 words a day, the thing that you’ll create won’t be Pulitzer material. Most likely, it will be shit. But that’s great! Wonderful, in fact, since this predetermined failure gives you even more liberty and artistic license.
As November the 1st approaches, try to lower your expectations to the minimum. Ground level. Let them be the breadcrumbs on the carpet of your ambition. Even before you begin, give yourself a solid F. Your book is going to suck. However…
As you write it, you will have a chance to flex your creative muscle, practice dedication and paying attention, learn how to overcome writing obstacles, build a writing habit, and, I’m sure, experience the sensation of flow. And, if you stick till the bitter end, you’ll have a book with your name on it. And a month of living a wretched life is not a bad price to pay for that.
It probably won’t sell, or find an agent, or become the next Martian. But it will be yours. Something that wouldn’t exist were it not for you.
The unrestricted joy of writing badly, the satisfaction of finishing something hard, the privilege of paying attention, the creation of something new and unique. Those feelings are priceless.
NaNoWriMo won’t make you rich and famous, but it will make you a writer.
Also, you should remember that a professional writer is merely someone who had so much practice writing badly that people started paying him for it.
November, Here We Come
If you’re in for the challenge, stay tuned! I’ll be publishing writing tips and techniques all November here on my blog and my Patreon page, cheering you on your way to 50,000 words before November the 30th.
If you happen to live in Berlin, there’s also this weekly meetup group I’m running on Saturdays. For the next month, it will serve as a book clinic for all hopeful novelists.
Oh! One last thing, I’m currently setting up a discord server for my Patrons. I would much rather set up a pub with free drinks, but I thought it best to start small. I’ll be there most of the time if you want to hang out or ask questions.
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