How To Write Your Story With National Novel Writing Month
If you have a story in your head then finding a space to get it out is sometimes a bit like finding an alley to vomit in. Not glamorous, and not easy! Writing is a tough discipline to crack, so when you’re creating the first draft of a novel you’re running a marathon that in some cases might span a lifetime. (Which is, obviously, okay. Because it’s such a great marathon to even attempt.)
We all dream of creating the pristine and witty works of art seen in our local book shops but your first draft is (probably) going to be a rubbish, unpublishable mess. In fact, you should aim for little else! There is plenty of time for edits, rewrites and tweaks… but I find that the rush to get a completed novel out of your head into the world of pen, paper and pixels is the real challenge, which is why I love National Novel Writing Month.
So, What’s National Novel Writing Month? (AKA NaNoWriMo)
NaNoWriMo began in 1999 as a personal challenge between 21 participants and has since grown to hundreds of thousands of eager writers! And the Office of Letters and Light (which runs this huge event) work hard to encourage young people to take part in mini challenges. They visit schools and publish materials online that teachers can use to bring the joy of creative writing to classrooms around the world. NaNoWriMo 2014 has already raised more than $600,000 for their cause, driven entirely by the donations of participants and sales of themed merchandise.
How does this help you and your story? Over the years, the NaNoWriMo dashboard has become more and more technical; today you can link up with writers all over the world to compare progress. You can also find local writing groups to connect with, many of which have thriving communities of eager writers. You submit a word count whenever you write during the month and a bar chart tells you if you’re on track to finishing your 50,000 words within the limit. Get to 50k and you submit the word document for verification and congratulations! You’ve won NaNoWriMo!
What I love about NaNoWriMo is that it creates the perfect alleyway for me to vomit out that first draft. I don’t have time to think about the tiny details or the rubbish descriptions. I don’t have time to worry about whether that interaction was entirely natural; it’s all about the word count. It makes you see the forest instead of the trees and, once you’ve finished your story, you are in a far stronger position to deal with those issues whilst still having a completed story to work with.
Of course, this is a tough-mudder challenge – it demands an average of 1,600 words written per day in order to reach the goal. Many things are likely to be thrown by the wayside in order to keep you focused (unless you’re amazing at multi-tasking) so make sure you’ve got a lot of enthusiasm and at least a vague idea about what you’re going to be writing.
What Can You Do to Prep for Your NaNoWriMo?
- Set up your own novel writing account
- Describe the story you hope to tell
- Create a cover (I’d highly recommend PicMonkey, which is really easy to use).
- Connect with your local writing group
If you’ve got a story you’ve been thinking about for a long time then this is an excellent opportunity to throw yourself into your writing and see if you can make that illustrious goal. And even if you don’t get to the word count, you’re still likely to have a huge body of writing that you can continue to work with. I’ve only ever “won” National Novel Writing Month once (the glorious year of 2009) but in each attempt I’ve learned more about my story, its weaknesses and the strength of the characters. The twists and turns of making yourself write at such a pace is incredible. A personal favourite moment of mine was where a minor character seemed to take it upon herself to become one of the main cast. It fitted and ended up being exactly what my story needed.
Challenge yourself to get that story out of your head this November! Best part of the deal? If you manage it then you get to call yourself a “novelist” forever!