If writing is in your blood and you are up for a literary challenge, why not give the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or even just NaNo for short) a go?
Every November, people across six continents (last year over 400,000 people in almost 650 regions) attempt to write a 50,000 word first draft of a story during the month of November. Not all of us get there, some of us write many more words than the 50,000 words required, but there are some commonalities to those of us who NaNo.
consume (far too) many coffees and sweets,
use and abuse our laptop, notepad, ipad and/or desktop keyboards (for those who’d rather speak their novel, they abuse their audio writing program of choice),
meet up in coffee shops, libraries, malls, houses, parks, public transports, community centers, online etc for write ins with others in our region,
participate in word wars, word crawls, procrastination activities, dares, character/plot/setting adoption agencies, novelling support agencies and shout outs to celebrate our highs and seek solace for our lows during November,
Pep talk from published authors,
encounter plot bunnies and plot ninjas (who may be riding dinosaurs),
Tell our inner critic/editor to go on holiday during November, so we can get the words down, and
Forget how to use backspace and delete for the month.
Any undertaking like this requires rules, and at its simplest, the rules are: write 50,000 words of a story during the month of November and put the words into a validator to see if you reach 50,000 words or not. If you do, you are a “winner” and get various goodies. If you don’t, you haven’t officially “won”, however you have gotten more words than you had before, and maybe, just maybe somewhere in the writing there is a gem of an idea (or several gems of ideas) that you can use. And if the computer dies, the file gets corrupted, your house gets flooded or a massive block of cheese falls on the head of your best friend’s nephew’s favourite cat, you can evaluate what makes you a winner.
A few of the terms above may need some further explanation … so here goes
A time limit is given (5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes … some do it for an hour) and in that time, everyone types as many words into their NaNo as possible. When the time is up, everyone says how many words they typed and the victor gets celebrated by everyone, and various others give their excuses as to why they only wrote 10 words (my cat jumped into my lap was a well used one).
A long time ago in a galaxy far far away … is a famous one from the movies, and this is basically what it is. Take your favourite book/song/anime/tv show/movie/band/musical/etc and chances are someone has taken the time to write up a series of tasks for people to write about related to that theme … so, something like the introduction to Star Trek might go
Space … the final frontier - write 200 words about the constellations seen by your characters
These are the voyages - they are on an ocean voyage, write 5 diary entries about their experiences, either 1 by 5 different characters, or 5 by the one character
Of the starship Enterprise - describe the ship they are on - minimum of 500 words
Its 5 year mission - you’ve been doing a fair bit of typing, rest your typing hand, and rest for 5 minutes
To explore strange new worlds - write 600 words on their destination
To seek out new life - write 300 words describing the plants and animals of their destination
And new civilizations - write 500 words on the people they find there
To boldly go - take a minute to muse the use of split infinitives in literature and/or tv and use them in your writing.
Where no one has gone before - write 1,000 words on a taboo involving your characters, the consequences of them going to a certain place or doing a certain thing and why they have to go to that place and do that thing
So, in short while a word war is a fast snappy task, the word crawl can take longer, but if you choose one that is of interest to you, you may find it useful in your quest for 50,000 words.
These are a set time during the month of November when the members of a region are invited to meet together in a set location to type their stories with each other and share their highs and lows and to provide encouragement and support to and celebrate with each other. For some regions, this is done in a physical location like a coffee shop or library or park, or someone’s home, or a community center (or even public transport), while in other places, this is done online in IRC or Discord (yes, NaNo still runs IRC channels). Some regions even do both. Geographically diverse regions (eg my home region of Australia: Elsewhere) makes it difficult for people to meet up face to face, so in our case, an online (virtual) write in makes sense. Others are based on a city or region of a city, and so face to face write ins are possible and favoured. A word of warning, if, like me, you can find large groups of people overpowering, you may struggle with the physical write ins. Word Wars, stickers, laughter, silliness, food, drink are the order of the day for Write Ins - really just like the STF Discord server :D.
You are writing a scene between the romantic leads doing romantic things and suddenly you decide that a baby in a basket appears at the foot of their bed. Congratulations! You’ve just found a plot bunny. Plot Bunnies are the things that pop up out of nowhere in the middle of your story and are something that has nothing to do with your writing, and you have to decide whether the new shiny thing is something you want to pursue or if it needs to be culled. Be careful with your plot bunnies, because when there is one, there is often two, three, four, five, ten, twenty, fifty … Used carefully, they can give you extra words … used with abandon, without consideration, and they can breed quickly … like bunnies … or tribbles.
The story is grinding to a halt. The purple prose is getting on your nerves, you are sick of writing the names of your characters, you don’t care about the quest, it is all rather boring … but you are behind in your word count … never fear! Plot Ninjas are here to help! In the early years of NaNoWriMo, the participants ran into this problem, and they were told to “attack the main characters with ninjas” (or ninja equivalents for their theme). They did so … and it worked - the words flowed and things are right with the word. But sometimes the ninjas are not enough … and in that case they need to ride into battle … on the back of dinosaurs. Ninjas are awesome … and are even more awesome when they are riding dinosaurs.
The NaNoWriMo team approach published authors who may have previously been participants in Nano to write Pep Talks to the participants, to encourage us when things are difficult, to tell us to keep going, to assure us if we don’t reach the 50,000 words the world won’t end and so forth. They also talk about their own experiences with writing.
If you want to give it a go, go to www.nanowrimo.org and sign up for an account. The forums have lots of useful hints, as well as some great ways to procrastinate when trying to write your 50,000 words. There are forums on the different genres, for age groups, for adopting plots/characters/setting, for giving and accepting dares, for shout outs, for novelists in distress, and of course the regions.
My own dirty hints for getting to 50,000 words (or 1,667 words a day)
Jump around your novel - if part of it is getting boring, jump to another part of it, particularly a battle/conflict/high emotion scene and write that instead.
At the end of the day, run a find and replace on your writing for abbreviations if you writing for the day includes 15 they’re, and you change each to they are, that’s an extra 15 words.
If you can’t remember the name of the capital city of the empire, don’t be afraid to write something along the lines of “The Capital City of the Glorious Empire that the characters are traveling to whose name I can not recall at the moment but will check it up at a later time post November” (that is 33 words)
Place names and characters should have at least two words and each time the place/character is named, use the full name.
If doing conversation don’t use he said she said, it is Sir James the Trustworthy, knight of the Empire spoke slowly saying “Blah blah blah blah.” His companion, Majester Sanistra O’Grady of the Order of Magi replied “Blah blah Blah blah,” as she did something. More words are the result.
Consider having a character who stutters talking with a character who is hard of hearing and another who speaks grandiosely with much hand movements and so forth. They can really get the word count moving for you.
Don’t leave your validation of your word count to 5 minutes before midnight on November 30 … do it earlier in the evening so you have an idea of how close or far you are to the 50,000 words. More time gives you the chance to get there.
Write Harderer and Have Fun … and remember, beatings will continue until your word count improves.
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