Thursday, October 06, 2005


NaNoWriMo is the cryptic (but popular, for some reason) acronym for "National Novel Writing Month." The idea is that writers will be challenged to write an entire 50,000-word novel between midnight on 1 November and midnight on 30 November. If you register at the web site and successfully complete the challenge, you get a certificate and your name listed in their "Winner's Circle." The contest has been going on for a number of years now, and the organizers are careful to keep a light-hearted and zany feel to the whole proceedings. You can check their website for yourself at They've got some cute merchandise to support the program (and charities, too), as well as their book, No Plot? No Problem!, that theoretically shows you how to write a novel in 30 days.

Now, you should understand, you can't write a finished novel in 30 days. Some people have derided the book (and the program) for saying that you can. The idea, however, is not to get a finished novel; the idea is to get that first draft done in 30 days. You can then spend the next several months re-writing and polishing the story. It's a fact of novel writing that the final version often only superficially resembles the first draft. If story arcs aren't working, or characters aren't being developed properly, you've got to re-write whole chapters, not paragraphs. For most people who are not writing full time, the real problem is getting the time and drive to write every day. Having an external deadline like NaNoWriMo can be a great kick in the pants. Nothing like a little pressure -- like having your name published in front of millions of Internet readers -- to get you motivated! And really, if you think about it, writing 2500 words a day (assuming you don't want to work on weekends) isn't impossible. Remember, you're just looking for a first draft, not a finished product. I've found that the hardest thing about writing is just getting the first draft down on paper. Once that framework is in place, the editing and re-writing is pretty easy. (It should be noted, however, that some people experience just the opposite.) Having a contest like this can get you through that all-important first draft stage. I also think that if you tell your family you're going to take on this "ironman challenge," you're much more likely to get the support from them that you need for this one month. That's not something to be sneezed at, and might just get you out of mowing the lawn for a month!


Ris said...

Heya! I've done Nano for two years running (first year bombed big time, second year I 'won') and I've learned great things each time about how I write. This year I'm taking a whole new approach and prepping during October to have a thorough outline ready for November 1st.

And yes, getting through Nano doesn't mean I have a novel ready to submit. I have a shortened version of a novel, about half the length it should be and really, very, terribly bad. But I do have a rough draft to work with. And I do get a major kick in the pants for squirreling away time to write.

The extra bonus, though, is meeting other writers, both locally and online. I found a great online group last year that has been constant source of information and inspiration (, and I've met local writers who, like me, are still learning the process. We're getting together weekly all through this month and during November to cheer each other on. It's just an awesome sense of community.


Keith Watt said...

Hi Ris!

Yes, I agree, the sense of community is a big draw. Writing is by its very nature such a solitary occupation, that I think we jump for every chance we can get to socialize with others of our "breed." :) It's hard for non-writers to truly understand what we do, no matter how supportive or well-intentioned they may be. It's always great to be around people who "get it" without having to have it explained to them!

Good luck in NaNoWriMo!