To be honest with you, I have no idea how many people known about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It seems pretty hit or miss with the group of people I know whether or not they’ve ever heard of it. And a lot of them have only heard about it because I’ve been involved in it so many times.
So just to give you a brief summary of the event, every November, this organization hosts a one-month writing project that encourages writers to get a draft of a work (it says novel, but a lot of people do other projects like memoirs or other non-fiction works) written in a month.
They also host a version that happens during the summer months called Camp NaNoWriMo, which I’m currently participating in.
If you think that sounds easy, a) you’re not a writer and b) you’ve never tried it. And that’s not to sound harsh, at all. It’s kind of a crazy project! If you’re sitting there thinking 50,000 words doesn’t sound like a lot (as I used to), let me put it in perspective. Give or take a thousand variables concerning length of line, words per line, blank space, design of page, size of page, etc., 50,000 words will be around 200 pages. The best average I saw was that 750 typed words will equal approximately 3 pages in print. So, 200 pages in 30 days?!
Because I’m sure you’re curious, that breaks down to 1,613 words to be written a day. Every day. 7 days a week. This is a grueling pace, to be honest with you. Some authors take YEARS to get a draft of a novel finished. There’s a lot of other work that goes into writing besides, well, the writing. There’s usually outlining, brainstorming, character sketching, not the mention the numerous plot snags that inevitably occur during the actual writing process.
As you might know, I love lists. And so I’ve concocted two lists, one of the Challenges this project produces, and another of the Rewards.
1. Time crunch. It is very, very easy to fall behind on word count. Skipping a day or not meeting your daily quota will set you back immediately, and sometimes it’s really difficult to catch up again.
2. Writing when you don’t feel like it. Writers are, first and foremost, artists. It’s really difficult to force yourself to write when you don’t feel inspired or in the mood. But with this project, you absolutely have to if you want to finish. However, you’re in good company. Guess who else has to write when they don’t feel like it? Every author you adore.
3. Little time for brainstorming and adjusting plot. With this pace of writing, you have to just go for it, or at least I do. With other projects, you might be able to take a few days or a week to try and sort out plot holes and problems, or brainstorm where the story and characters are going next. Not so with Camp (and if you’re able to do this, I applaud you).
4.Stopping yourself from rewriting. I don’t know if this is a challenge for everyone, but it certainly is for me. I understand that the purpose of the project is just to get a finished draft. But there are days when I write and I say instantly, “This is really crappy writing. I need to fix it.” There’s no time now, but those pages kind of haunt me until I can go back and fix them.
1. Proving to yourself that you can do it. You finished it! You did it! You wrote a NOVEL. You have just empowered yourself beyond words. It’s the easiest thing in the world to say, “I’m a writer,” and never actually write anything. But now you have! You’ve done it once, you can do it again and again.
2. Finished product!! If you managed to stick it out the whole time, you have a draft of a book that you can keep working on. And then, when someone tries to snub their nose at you saying you want to be a novelist at the next family reunion, you can talk to them all about your finished book.
3. Becoming educated about who you are as a writer. Through this process, I think we really find out what our strengths and weaknesses are as writers. Maybe you’re excellent at advancing the plot, but your characters are developed poorly. Or maybe the world you built is so breathtakingly real, readers get transported there — but your plot is lacking. Whatever you struggled with the most during the drafting process — boom. There you go. Weakness. And you can take that knowledge and keep working on it and honing your skills in that area.
4. Getting into a routine. There are few things more difficult, I think, than writing every day. But you’ve just done it for 30 days! Now, I’m not suggesting keeping up that pace. Or if you are going to write 7 days a week, maybe cut back the word count a bit. When I’m not doing NaNoWriMo, I try and write 5 days a week, 750 words minimum. Now that you’ve gotten into a writing routine, you can tweak it to better serve you as a writer. Find what works for you!
Hopefully the people reading this are either currently participating in NaNoWriMo, have done it, or want to do it in the future. It truly is such a rewarding project. Those benefits I listed FAR outweigh the challenges of finishing it. Even if at the end all you have is what you consider an awful first draft, it’s still a complete draft! And as I’ve always said, every first draft is crap.