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On NaNoWriMo: How to Get the Most Out of National Novel Writing Month

Hmm…I seem to have started something of a panic among those of you who already know NaNoWriMo. Take a deep breath. You’ve got a month and a half still before you’re even supposed to start.

I started discussing it now for those who haven’t done it before, though. It can take some convincing, especially if you want to get the most out of it. And I’ve got another two or three weeks of material on the topic, so I gave myself plenty of lead time.

If you already know what you’re doing, though, you can probably chill out. A little bit of healthy panic never hurt anybody, but you’re at least three weeks away from Out Of Time.

Set Your Goals

For those of you who are new to the idea, though, it’s time to start thinking about it. Yesterday I laid out some of the basics behind the idea, but if you’re actually going to follow through on it, you need to know more than what it is. You need to know what you’re actually going to do.

Start by figuring out where you are. How much have you written? I’m not talking about your current work-in-progress (Chris Baty strongly advises against bringing a WIP into NaNoWriMo, although I’ve broken that rule more than once). No…how much have you written ever? Have you ever finished a book? How long was it?

It doesn’t matter what the answer is. The official 50,000-word target is intended for people who’ve never written a word, and it’s perfect.

If you’ve been doing creative writing for a while, though, you might already have half a million words scattered across a handful of works. That’s precisely how Courtney and I entered our first NaNoWriMos.

If that’s where you are, finishing a book in 30 days will be thrilling, but finishing 50,000 words won’t feel like much of an accomplishment. If you’ve got more than two books written, I recommend figuring out what your average book length is, knocking 20% off that, and calling it your target for November.

No matter what…make sure it feels big. Your goal should be a challenge, it should force you to reach, every day. And, more than that, it should force you to settle. “Good enough” is the whole theme of NaNoWriMo. If you can hit your target with clean, polished prose, you’re doing it wrong.

Choose Your Premise

And as long as I’m telling you what to do, let me add this: come up with an elevator pitch for your book. I don’t care if you’re the kind of writer who does detailed outlines, or the kind who only enjoys a story while it’s still surprising you — if you’re going to do NaNoWriMo, you need to be able to talk about your book.

Now, you’ll have plenty to say about your experience. It’s big and grueling, so there’s lots to discuss. And you’ll have plenty to say about the directions your narrative takes, the funny things your characters do, but you’re also going to need to be able to discuss the book. Because here, more than anywhere else, we’re dedicating ourselves as writers to the production of a single thing.

So figure out what that thing is. If you’re an outliner, then you can make it your synopsis. If you’re a pantser, make it your premise. What’s the book’s gimmick? What’s the setup? What’s so fascinating about the main character, or the setting, or even the narrator? What most clearly defines the reader’s experience with your book?

Figure it out. It doesn’t have to be final, it doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be clear. And short! Make it 1-3 sentences, so you can memorize it and repeat it often. Come up with a tagline for your book, and you’ll be able to cling to that when November’s writing waters get choppy.

Tell Your Friends (Creative Writing Exercise)

The lovely Kelley, writing at a coffee shopThe main reason you need a tagline, though, is because you’re going to have to talk about your book. A lot. The “Na” in NaNoWriMo makes it a social endeavor, and every NaNoWriMo winner I’ve ever spoken with has agreed that the social support/pressure of working alongside all the other participants is one of the best aspects of the program.

It doesn’t do any good to try NaNoWriMo in secret. It’s too tough for you to stick it out. Just like any huge change of lifestyle, NaNoWriMo requires an explicit commitment. Don’t hesitate, don’t spend any time worrying about it — if you’re putting in the time to read this blog at all, I can tell you with confidence this is something you want to do. This is something you should do.

So before you have time to talk yourself out of it, tell your friends. Tell your family. Tweet it or update your status on Facebook, right now. “I’m going to write a novel in November.”

Go ahead. Do it right now. I mean it.

And just like that, you’re committed. Now, take a deep breath, let it go, and then start thinking about the stuff I said above. Figure out your personal goal, come up with a premise, and then go write a blog post explaining just what it is you’ve committed to. Your friends and family are going to want to know.

Feel free to blame me. I don’t mind. In fact, come December, I’ll be taking credit for all your incredible accomplishments anyway, so you really might as well.

One Response to “On NaNoWriMo: How to Get the Most Out of National Novel Writing Month”

  1. Courtney Cantrell says:

    Have I mentioned that I’m already getting super-excited about this? And have I mentioned that in all my years of NaNoWriMo (six years, to be exact), I have never been this excited about it. Having so many writerly friends and remembering how we all supported each other last year — it makes me want November 1st to be here *now*. Truly, as I have discovered: the “Na” is one of the best parts of NaNoWriMo.

    BRING IT ON!!!