This year I decided I would give NaNoWriMo a try once again. I have a story knocking about my head and I need something to focus on right now considering life circumstances, and a couple friends are even joining me.
They are new to the event themselves and it came to my attention that NaNoWriMo is a tad overwhelming and confusing when you’re new (or have been away for a while, hello!) so I figured I’d bash together a super quick blog post (future Hannah here, 2,000+ words later: oopsie) to just outline the basic things you need to know if you’ve reached the start of NaNo and are starting to wonder things like; how does it track my word count? What if people lie? What should I be writing in? Can I write out of order? And those sorts of questions. It’s been answered elsewhere, I am more than sure, but I just want a quick reference for the confused to more easily answer their questions (hopefully) and focus on what’s important, which is, of course, the writing and the having fun!
Before I dive into the rest, what’s most important to remember about NaNoWriMo is what it’s about. From the official website:
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.
On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.
Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.
Making yourself write every day is hard, and a lot of people drop off after a week or two (if I remember right, the two-week mark is usually the toughest for some reason), and it’s okay to acknowledge that. You need to remember, however, while on paper the idea is to write a 50,000 word novel within the month of November, you don’t “lose” by not hitting that word count. As I’ve seen many people say: it’s easier to edit a few hundred words, whether good or bad, than no words at all. By writing at all, you are doing NaNoWriMo right, and that’s why I consider anybody who even attempts to take part a “winner”, because starting is one of the hardest parts of writing.
Why “National” Novel Writing Month? Isn’t It International?
This is a very good question and I don’t actually know the answer as it’s true, NaNoWriMo is an international, internet-based event. You do not have to be based in America and in fact, when you sign up on the website you can join regions to chat with your local writers. I do know that it began in the San Francisco area in 1999 with a man called Chris Baty and grew over the years via word of mouth.
If I find out, I will update this post.
Which App Should I Use To Write?
Frankly? It doesn’t matter. You should write in whatever you’re most comfortable with because learning a new program can be a frustrating experience.
A lot of writers swear by Scrivener, myself included, which is available for Mac, Windows, and iOS and comes with many tools that help you plot, plan, note, write, keep track of everything, it comes with name generators and a word count tracker, it auto-saves on the regular, it is literally custom-built for NaNoWriMo. It isn’t free, however, it does have a 30-day free trial which is the perfect amount of time to use it for NaNo and by the end of November when you’ve hit 50k words, you will receive a 50% voucher off the total price of the program. I did this several years back and never regretted it. If you don’t quite make it to 50k words, there will still be a 20% off voucher for anybody who takes part.
You can use anything, though. Google Docs and Notepad++ are both free and simple-to-use options which come with an auto-save feature, and I would suggest something with an auto-save feature if that’s an option for you as there’s nothing worse than writing a heap, forgetting to save, and losing it all due to a power cut or something equally devastating. Of course, there’s always Office or one of the many free Office programs out there (Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice are both solid options). Some even write their novels by hand and type them up, though I’d only recommend trying this if you really insist because that’s going to give you cramps for daaays and provide you with so much extra work.
Agh! Help! I Don’t Have a Plot!
Okay, first of all, breathe. You can start late, nobody will die because you’re not quite ready. Okay, maybe a character or two but that’s part of the fun. If you feel you need some advice to push you, there’s a bunch of resources on the NaNo Prep page, especially the NaNo Prep Library a little way down the page, and the NaNo Tips & Strategies forums, not to mention the “Adoption Society” for abandoned plots, characters, and beyond. Don’t be afraid to grab a little inspiration. People put it out there to be used and run with.
There is also a way you can take part in NaNoWriMo without a plot, and they call this the “seat of your pants” approach, where you run in blind and write what comes to you. This is what people mean when they refer to “pantsers”. It’s not easy, I’ve tried it and gone off the rails and quit several times, but many people enjoy it. Tessa has some great tips on her blog if you’d like to try with this approach, check them out!
How Do They Track My Word Count?
They don’t, you do. On November 1st when midnight rolls around, you will have access to this interface:
You can find this on your Dashboard or in the header menu when the event begins and after you have entered something in as a novel (don’t panic if you don’t have a title, it’s not final, so long as you have something there). You’ll notice there is a dropdown where it says “Update your total word count”. You have another option here to add to your total word count, so you can either change the total word count number or enter in however many words you wrote in a session. Some people will use programs or websites that won’t let them track an overall word count very easily, so really this is entirely up to you and what is most convenient.
Doesn’t This Allow For People To Lie?
Sure it does, but that doesn’t detract from the experience for those of us who use NaNoWriMo to drive ourselves and each other to go on this journey and do it properly. Basically, NaNo works on an honour system with the deadline working as the incentive. If people cheat, they don’t really gain anything from doing so. By winning, you basically get to say “hey I wrote a 50,000 word novel in November” which in the grand scheme of things, why lie about that?
I would suggest not to worry about what other participants are doing. Some will cheat, I’m sure, some write way more than 50,000, and fast and that can feel intimidating, but the important thing is that you do you and write what you can, and not concern yourself what everybody else is doing.
How Do I Keep Myself Going When It Gets Hard?
Most of us will struggle with motivation throughout November, and it’s okay to take a step back. They say that if you write around 1,667 words per day, you will reach the goal of 50,000 by the end of the month but you can absolutely write more or less on any given day, it is not set in stone. You may like to write a few thousand words when you’re feeling super driven and inspired to do so, this will give you a nice boost on the days when you’re a little busier or feeling demotivated. Also, please read my favourite of NaNo’s author Pep Talks by Neil Gaiman. He always knows what to say to keep me going and maybe he can help you too.
A lot of participants will also take part in word sprints. These are very simply timed writing challenges that can last for any given amount of time. The idea is to write solidly for that time and see how much you can write, and they can be super fun to do with others. I really love the act of sharing how much you wrote and cheering everybody on, however much or little they wrote in that time. It’s a great part of the NaNoWriMo community and can really help you to push yourself to do nothing but write. In fact, I think this is how I managed to shelve my inner editor. No time to beat yourself up and change things around when you’re on a short timer! I noticed that the official site added a word sprint timer for personal sprints and group sprints which I can’t wait to test out. There is also a Twitter account which runs regular word sprints if you want to join with others.
You could also enact a reward system. I’ve come across this a lot in bullet journal spreads, every 10,000 words perhaps say you’ll go get yourself a coffee in your favourite shop, if you reach 50,000 words, maybe you’ll treat yourself to something that you weren’t sure you should be buying, perhaps you’ll buy yourself Scrivener with the voucher you’ll get at the end. You could enlist others to help you with this, it’s entirely your choice.
Also? Writer’s block is bollocks. If you feel blocked, it’s time to change track. You absolutely can deviate from where your story was supposed to go or felt like it was going. Pop over to the forums to borrow a new plot element (I’m personally a big fan of the Resources & Writing Support section), pull a tarot card to throw a new obstacle in their path, shove your protagonist in a tree and throw rocks at them and see how they react, just change things up in general and find the excitement again, because if you feel blocked, it’s very possible you need to change the direction. Or you could skip to a different chapter or start a short story. We’re not judging! Just keep writing.
Does It Have To Be A Complete Novel?
As per the rules, you should be aiming for a 50,000 word novel in November, but it is flexible. Why? Well over time, the people behind the event have found 50,000 words to be both challenging but also achievable. It is pretty short for a novel, but consider this your first draft. And no, you don’t need to reach “the end.” If you hit 50,000 words and still have story to write, that’s great! From the horse’s mouth:
We define a novel as “a lengthy work of fiction.” Beyond that, we let you decide whether what you’re writing falls under the heading of “novel.” In short: If you believe you’re writing a novel, we believe you’re writing a novel, too.
Do I Have To Write In Order?
Nope. Write whatever you want in whatever order you want. You might feel a little disjointed doing it this way, but we all have our own methods so you should do whatever works best for you. I personally plan to start with my story’s dream sequences and final conflict and will go back and fill the rest in with a better idea of where my characters are heading.
Do I Have To Stick To The Same Project?
I think you’re “supposed” to, but no, absolutely not. If 3 days in you’re not feeling your werewolf romance and want to jump over to an intelligent glance at the civilisation of ant colonies, do that. As long as you’re writing, you’re doing NaNoWriMo.
Why All The Bloody Emails?
Yeah, these are annoying. I’m just going to direct you to the official FAQs now. Because this is something I want to sort out, too.
To unsubscribe from all NaNoWriMo emails, including emails from your local region:
- On nanowrimo.org, go to the My NaNoWriMo menu, then click “Account Settings“.
- Scroll down to “Which updates would you like to get via e-mail?”
- Uncheck all options in this section.
- Scroll to the bottom of the page, then click “Save”.
Changing the types of emails you get:
To customize your email settings:
At the end of the day, NaNoWriMo exists to bring together a community of writers to write the novels they have within them and cheer each other on. It is designed to motivate us to get writing. Anything written is a win. If anybody tries to tell you that you’re doing it wrong, so long as it’s not hurting anybody else (which I actually cannot think of a single way that would be possible for this event), ignore them and do you. Write a bunch of short stories. Take a break. Continue a previous manuscript. Write by hand. Whatever brings you joy this November.
Most of all: Don’t worry! Enjoy the ride and have fun writing with friends. If you have any questions that I haven’t answered here, please do drop them in the comments and I’ll make sure to update my post.