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What is NaNoWriMo Anyway?

(A post about one of my current writing projects)

NaNoWriMo logo
I’m not sure why we’re meant to need the viking helmet

It’s that time of year when writers everywhere appear to start talking in code, blaming something that sounds like an alien for their suddenly reclusive behaviour and the bags underneath their eyes. The reason: NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month.

Now, that doesn’t mean those writers aren’t not beavering away on novels the rest of the year round. But what’s different about November is that NaNoWriMo challenges them to complete a whole novel – yes, a whole novel – within just 30 days, start to finish. Last year, over 310,000 authors took part, all over the world.

The Force Behind the Fun

The organisation behind NaNoWriMo is an international not-for-profit force. It provides a social network on which like-minded authors can share their progress, pick up technical pointers, and download funky widgets to encourage themselves to press on. One of these widgets is the cute word-counter that you’ll find at the bottom of the sidebar on the right (if you’re reading it during November 2014, anyway).

This public opportunity to flaunt your progress (or lack of it) is especially motivating.  But the threat of failure is less likely than you might think. Here’s why:

  • To “win” NaNoWriMo, as they persuasively term completing the challenge, you have only to write a first draft. In fact, you are actively encouraged to write only the first draft, straight off, without revisions. There’ll be plenty of time to revise it at your leisure after November.
  • NaNoWriMo’s definition of a novel is a manuscript of just 50,000 words – which equates to an average output of just 1,666 words a day. That’s far fewer words than in a standard commercial novel, which is typically around the 80,000 mark. Any serious writer – even one more used to writing short-form fiction, as I am – will not find that word count unfeasible. To make it even easier, each author is given a helpful graph on their NaNo profile page, to help measure individual progress against target.

My Progress So Far

Beach scene on Ithaca
The inspiration for my novel: the island of Ithaca

Despite missing the first day’s target because I spent the whole day driving back from Scotland, I am pleased to report that I’ve quickly made up the deficit. Last night, I even got ahead of the game, earning a special badge for hitting 10,000 words. You’re never too old to appreciate a badge, say I.

What’s more, I’m really enjoying the writing, making myself chuckle as I churn out the words, and watching my characters, almost all of whom happen to be writers, evolve and interact as the story progresses.

So far, so good. The hardest part will be after I’ve completed the first draft: editing and fine-tuning the copy and the plot, in hope of ultimately producing a manuscript fit to share with the world. In the age of self-publishing, the temptation for too many will be to post their stories up online, as soon as they’ve hit the magic number – and then be discouraged by the inevitable poor reviews. Some are even posting up their chapters as they go along. But this is meant to be a first draft, folks – it’s not showtime yet!

I’ll keep you posted of my progress – but for now back to my imaginary Greek island, on which my story is set. Now where did I put my sunhat? (Maybe I’ll find a use for that viking helmet yet…)

Images courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

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English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

4 thoughts on “What is NaNoWriMo Anyway?

  1. I’ve never done it: it never hits when I ‘need’ to add to the writing schedule. My own deadlines would be thrown out by it. I can see the attraction – writing buddies, the necessary ‘oomph’ to get down to work, the sharing and the prestige if you ‘win’ but it is simply not me. All best Debbie – I can see where your inspiration came from!

  2. I’ve never done it, and not intending to, I am one of those slow authors who needs to chip away gently, and I do not respond well to deadlines – each to their own, I hope it goes well for you.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Nimue – it’s certainly not a scheme that would suit everybody. As a former journalist for a monthly magazine, I’ve always been motivated by deadlines and the adrenalin rush gets me moving – but I’m sure there are going to be many long months of editing and rewriting after November is over!

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