NaNoWriMo Is for Everyone

by Stephanie Scott

Like we tend to do on the Sweethearts blog, we post a little bit about writing and a little bit about books. November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, which fits perfectly into reader and writer crossover. Nano (for even shorter) isn’t only for seasoned writers — it’s for anyone. In fact, Nano is a great opportunity to test out writing that long-simmering idea or to take a half-baked concept and see what happens.

Have you ever had a lingering story idea but didn’t know what to do with it or how to start? Though this year’s Nano has already started, if you’ve shied away from this writing challenge, it’s worth taking a look at how it can help any level writer — from total beginner to published author.

How to know if you’re ready for NaNoWriMo

The baseline goal for Nano is to write 50,000 words in thirty days. I took my first stab at writing a manuscript for a NaNoWriMo in 2010, and I was so new at fiction writing, I had no idea whether 50,000 words was a lot. It sounded like a lot, but I also thought it was weird that writers actually counted words.

All of which means, you can really be at any level to try this out. The writing community on the Nano website forums have a dozen plus categories on how to develop stories, fiction genre expertise, and even subforums by age category. You have an idea for a story? You can do Nano!

If you have a few manuscripts under your belt, Nano can be a great time to finish a partially-thought-out concept or push yourself to complete a deadline.

Wait — it’s really 50,000 words?

Sometimes getting started is the hardest part. Once you get those words churning, your characters tend to want to do things you never planned. The words really start flowing … until they’re not. Talk to any writer, and you’ll hear about manuscripts with two chapters and that’s it. Maybe even ten or fifteen chapters, upwards of thirty thousand words, and then the story falls apart. It’s OK — part of the joy (and for others, stress) of Nano is the discovery of worlds and characters. The forums have plenty of support for when you run out of steam. The idea is to keep going, to see what happens and edit later.

I wrote for thirty days and all I have is this messy draft

One: Celebrate! If you make the full 50k and register your word count on the NaNoWriMo website, you’ll get digital goodies and full permission to gloat to friends and family. If you fall short, celebrate anyway! Crafting something from nothing is an accomplishment. Spending time on creative pursuits isn’t always valued in our culture. Do it anyway. So many people dream of writing a book if only they had the time, or claim they’ll write that novel when they retire. Attempting to write a novel means you’ve tried, and many people never even get to the trying stage.

Two: Stop. Do not send a Nano draft to a literary agent or publishing house on December 1. Do not send any other day that month. First drafts, no matter how brilliant, are not ready for prime time. Fast first drafts in particular need special care and handling. When you re-read a quickly drafted novel, you will find gems. You’ll also find some legit questionable content you don’t recall writing.

How do I fix this?

The real work of writing comes with editing, revising, polishing. There’s no one right answer for how many drafts a manuscript needs, but one thing is essential — if you want to eventually publish, you need to have someone else critically read your work.

Or maybe I don’t fix this?

But! Maybe you don’t need to fix your Nano draft. Maybe you only want to see if you can do it, or you have a zany idea you just want to get out for yourself. The fast pace of Nano can be solely about your creativity. Writing without the intent to publish can be freeing, both for beginners learning to write and experienced authors used to writing on a deadline. Where will your imagination take you when you write for yourself?

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Have you ever done it? Would you consider it? Tell us in the comments!

2 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo Is for Everyone

  1. Since I travel for Thanksgiving – Nano doesn’t work for me. I applaud all the people who can work around that, but I’ve never been able to keep up with my writing while traveling. And put a word count in front of me and demand I do it…and my mind goes blank. I did try it one year – fooling around with a sequel of a book that at that point hadn’t sold. There was one character who kept taking over every scene I put him in – the heroine of the story was NOT supposed to end up with this guy, but it felt like they should be together when I was writing. I only wrote about 20K – but in that 20K Grayson Barrett was born – and ended up being the male protagonist in my debut novel. So I wholeheartedly agree with you Steph – just write, you never know what you’re going come up with, even if you don’t make 50K!!

  2. I love NaNo! I think I’ve finished three times and attempted three other times, not counting this year. My typical daily goal is 1000 words so it’s more challenging than usual, but I LOVE that I have a draft at the end of it. Like you say, starting is the hardest part, and you can’t make it better if it doesn’t exist.

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