NaNoWriMo: The Right Rite of Passage for Writers

by Joel Friedlander on October 13, 2011 · 32 comments

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by George Angus (@GeorgeAngus)

It’s quite a thrill for me to introduce you to George Angus, proprietor of Tumblemoose, his terrific blog for writers. He’s also got a pretty comprehensive Bookstore for Writers on his site. I’m sure I’ll be showing you a George Angus novel here before long. In the meantime, as a veteran of the madness known as National Novel Writing Month George agreed to explain exactly what all the fuss is about. Here’s his story:


There comes a time in every struggling novelist’s life when everything gets put aside and the writer within is allowed to flourish. That time is every November, during National Novel Writing Month—lovingly referred to as NaNoWriMo. “Allowed” to flourish is probably not the most accurate description, though. I think that forced to flourish is more fitting. There is no time for “allowed.”

The idea behind NaNoWriMo is simple, really. Start and finish a 50,000 word novel in 30 days or less. Gulp and yikes. A book in 30 days? That’s not something we’re allowed to do, is it? I mean, doesn’t the rule book forbid this kind of madness? You would think so, but once you get past the initial “this is madness” reaction it becomes clear that this business of writing a novel in 30 days is a very good thing.

If you are new to this concept, there is an important undercurrent that you need to realize: NaNoWriMo is all about quantity. From the outset, the folks at Nano acknowledge the fact that the most important component of this exercise is word count. Not plot points, not character development, not plot holes. It’s all a numbers game, baby. To that end, the NaNoWriMo web site is chock full of tools and graphs to help you and to encourage you along the way.

The Quantity Concept

I have a big problem when I write. I know a lot of my fellow scribes suffer with the same affliction. I edit as I go. I have to. It’s in my genes or something. Or maybe it’s OCD. I don’t know. Red squiggle lines under my text are my mortal enemy. As well, I need to have every sentence perfectly formed before I’ll allow my fingers to type the words onto the screen. This turns out to big a big time suck in terms of production, and herein lies the problem. If, as a writer, you have not completed your first major work and you are struggling to do so, I’ll bet it’s due (at least in part) to a perceived lack of progress. Understandable. Who wants to sit in front of a computer for three hours and end up with a single paragraph to show for their efforts?

NaNoWriMo by George AngusHere is where Nano really helps. If you are to complete your 50,000 novel in 30 days, you cannot operate in your normal, comfortable zone. You have to write about 2000 words a day, every day if you are going to be successful. The catch? Your novel is going to be awful. There, I said it. It will have plot holes you could drive a truck through. There will be forgotten characters, ziggy-zaggy plot lines and more than a few dead ends. Guess what? It’s all okay because we don’t care about that stuff right now. All we care about is having a 50,000 word manuscript at the end of 30 days that you can call your own. That’s all.

Editing and revising are for later. And make no mistake, there will be plenty of that. There will also be plenty of time for that. Just not in November. Or December, for that matter. You just spent a month mixing all your ingredients in a bowl and now you need time for them to settle. So, no looking at the danged thing for at least a month, okay? After that, go buy a supply of red pens and feel free to dig right in.

Support

One of the coolest things about NaNoWriMo is the incredible support system. In addition to online tools that make it easy to track your progress, there are forums, local support groups and banners, to name a few.

The very best support system though, is the one you create. This is done by letting everyone in your world know that you’ve lost your mind and will be writing an entire book during the month of November. Your writing buddies will understand and give you your peace. Your friends will also be helpful by planning wild dinner parties and hosting movie nights where they’re buying. Well, that’s how it seems anyway.

Informing the world also has the added benefit of making it a lot more difficult for you to chicken-out or slack off. If you tell a hundred people that you’re doing this, that’s a hundred folks you have to face hat in hand if you opt for bowls of Cheetos in front of the ol’ wide-screen.

My Experience

Indulge me for a moment while I relate my NaNoWriMo experience from last year.

All I had was a title and a list of potential characters. I committed to getting up at 5am each day and doing my writing before my real day got going. It was tough, but I never faltered. The first three days were troublesome indeed and then something very interesting happened. The story walked in, booted me out of the chair and took over. I didn’t have to struggle with where the story was going because the story showed up and went wherever the heck it wanted. Characters did and said incredible things, scenes developed and pushed their way through. In short, I got the heck out of the way and let things happen. I didn’t try and edit. I didn’t ponder scenes. I let go.

And I finished 4 days early.

Do It

I’ll leave you with this: Every writer should do NaNoWriMo at least once. If you are not making progress on your work in progress then you have to give it a shot. I think it could change your entire perspective on writing.

It’s easy enough to get started. Go to www.nanowrimo.org and sign up. It’s free and easy.

If You Go

Please drop a line and let us know how things went. Feedback, perspective, insight are great but you can also just cuss me out if ya want.

George Angus in his own words:
George AngusGeorge is kind of ridiculous guy who enjoys writing and writing about writing. When he’s not fending off the cold Alaska winters, he’s most likely hanging with his favorite person in the world, his 8 year old daughter. His website is www.tumblemoose.com

Ed. Note: For more NaNoWriMo resources, check out the Nano University.

Keyboard photo by Striatic

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    { 25 comments… read them below or add one }

    Essie January 11, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    Before November I found this article and it convinced me I should give NaNoWriMo a try and I am so glad I did. I rediscovered my love for writing and learned how to push through the tough parts that would have other wise held me back. Not only did I reach the 50k goal but I finished five days early. I was so proud of myself. And now I’m less then 8k away from completing my “Draft Zero”. I know this is just the first step of what I expect to be many, many steps to becoming a real writer but it has given me the confidence boost I needed.

    So I guess I just wanted to say thanks for writing your honest views on NaNo. There are many sites that only bash it when really it’s a great experience, especially for those of us who self edit.

    Reply

    George Angus January 12, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Essie,

    I write a lot of posts, for my blog and as a guest on other folk’s blogs. Whenever I put forth an article, I always hope that folks will read it and I like it even more when people leave a comment. With that said, the very, very best thing I can ever have happen is to receive a comment like yours. To know that perhaps my words inspired someone to do something – Well it just doesn’t get any better than that.

    So, you finished Nano? And, 5 days early? You should be so proud of yourself. It is indeed one heck of an achievement. Sound to me like you are indeed a “real writer.”

    Keep on keepin’ on, Essie.

    George

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander January 12, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Yep, “it doesn’t get any better than that.”

    Thanks for being part of the community here, George, and everyone else who participates in this discussion.

    Reply

    Mary October 30, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    I’m about to do Nano for the 9th time. It has been an amazing tool and I’ve gained so much more from it than just stories in various stages of completion or revision.

    Writing may not be a group activity, but the benefits of meeting with and exchanging ideas with fellow writers is priceless. Some of my closest friends are people I met through Nano. We share that creative spark. We bounce ideas off each other, work through plot tangles together and inspire each other to keep creating worlds. That, to me, is worth more than the actual writing that is done during these meetings.

    As for Chris Baty’s book, it is funny and a bit ridiculous. But so is Nano, if you over-think the whole thing. He did well capturing the spirit of community, silliness and fun and pervades the event if you throw yourself into it.

    I was mired in perfectionism for a long time. Somehow, I’d developed this insane idea that the words had to be perfect the first time. It froze me to the spot. Aside from correspondence at work, I wrote nothing for nearly a year. I was miserable.

    Then I found Nanowrimo, particularly the forums (one absurd thread tipped the balance for me). Lo and behold, there were all these other people out there just like me. Struggling with the same issues, wanting the same things, scared, self-conscious and feeling isolated. Woohoo! I wasn’t alone. In 2003, I launched myself into the experience with gusto and I haven’t looked back.

    November is Nano to me now. It is Nutella, late nights, plot bunnies and good writer friends. It is so very worth it.

    /soapbox

    Reply

    George Angus October 20, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Good on ya, Pat. I hope everything goes well and you knock out your 50k in record time. We’re all pulling for you.

    George

    Reply

    Pat Bean October 20, 2011 at 7:41 am

    OK. You are the first one to know. I am going to participate this year in nanowrimo. I’ve signed up in past years and that’s exactly how far it went. This year will be different — and I will announce it soon on my blog to the world. Thanks for the encouragement

    Reply

    betty ming liu October 18, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    joel, thank you for this post! it inspired me to JUMP IN. yes, i’m gonna do nanowrimo this year. it helped that you ran your post now. gives me time to plan for november. btw, i blogged about your post. and now at least two or three of my readers are going to participate too. you’re the best, joel!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 18, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Hey Betty good for you! I think that’s awesome. Thanks for linking to me, I appreciate it. I hope you’ll blog about your November journey, that would be fun.

    Reply

    Hazel Anaka October 16, 2011 at 9:18 am

    For some of us writing with a group or in a coffee shop is not an option. Can you imagine me showing up with a laptop at one of the two Chinese restaurants in the nearby village of 465 people? Ain’t gonna happen!

    I’m using my time operating a combine (to bring in the last of the canola crop) as thinking, planning time.

    Nano will be a solo experience & I’m pumped.

    Reply

    George Angus October 16, 2011 at 9:33 am

    Hazel,

    For me, it was a solo experience as well. My only connection to other nano-ers was during the day, once my word count had been reached. Once I was done with the writing, I felt okay about hitting the social aspect of the project.

    I’ll be pulling for ya!

    George

    Reply

    George Angus October 13, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    Hi Vidya,

    It’s neat to be so excited about something isn’t it? I get inspired just reading how much you are looking forward to it!

    I hope you have a great time.

    George

    Reply

    Vidya Sury October 13, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    George, thanks for that tip. I’d like to read Chris Baty’s book. I would not like to group-write, either. I feel that the magic gets somewhat diluted. I’d rather be with (or without) my own music and my thoughts.

    Ever since I read about the NaNoWriMo yesterday, I just can’t seem to think about anything else, am so excited. And it is very interesting to read all the comments.

    Oh well, I’ve now got a little note pad strung around my neck with a pencil attached, so that I can jot down any idea gems :-D.

    Reply

    George Angus October 13, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    James,

    Yep that’s a valid point. I can’t write as a group. I didn’t take advantage of that segment of the support system, although I know there are a lot of folks who crave that kind of interaction.

    One of the things that did help me a great deal was the book by the Nano founder, Chris Baty. It’s called “No Plot, No Problem” and it gave me great insight into the whole exercise – which describes NaNoWriMo perfectly. A writing exercise.

    Thanks for coming by and commenting.

    George

    Reply

    James October 14, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    I read Baty’s book. The snarky, mocking, hipsterish tone of it put me off almost immediately. For those looking to buy it, let me sum up the book:

    “You can write, you should write, start writing now, fast.”

    The other 100-odd pages are jokey nonsense. Friends at the return desk at Powell’s said it was one of the most returned and sold back books they’d seen.

    Reply

    George Angus October 14, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    James, Yikes! Sorry the book didn’t meet your expectations. I actually checked it out from the local library and because it worked for me I ended up buying a copy.

    If folks are interested, maybe a checkout from the library isn’t a bad idea. But don’t wait until October 31 to do it. ;-)

    Cheers,

    George

    Reply

    Vidya Sury October 14, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Eager to read the book yesterday, I browsed online and besides the friendly Google Books preview I found that Chris Baty’s book is available as a free download :-) to read in a browser or to save on the computer’s hard disk. At Epubbud dot com. I did.

    Reply

    James October 13, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    I tried it…once. After figuring out how to turn off the (26 items in ten days) barrage of inane emails and invites to “meet up and write at a coffee shop in a group”, I unjoined and kept writing. In quiet, without interruption or group activities or chattering daily on a forum.

    I already know there are thousands of writers out there writing alongisde me. There’s also a reason that you rarely hear of anything coming of a nanowrimo project (I didn’t say never, I said rarely). I think that people who crave Facebook-like stimulation flock to nanowrimo, but if you’re serious about writing, my advice is–just sit down and write. Writing isn’t group activity, it’s not a social activity, and it’s definitely not a “meet a large group at a loud coffee shop with a laptop” activity for me.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 13, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    James, i completely agree that you have to find the conditions that are right for you, and for many people that is, as you say, sitting quietly by yourself and just writing.

    On the other hand, different strokes for different folks. I do most of my writing these days at Starbucks during the morning rush. I find the distraction level just enough to force me to focus on what I’m writing, and it’s the most productive part of my day.

    And the 2 years I spent in a freewriting group where we did indeed write and read to each other together was one of the best writing experiences of my life.

    So I think it’s a matter of knowing what will do it for you, and then going for that. Getting the work done is the bottom line for me, whatever it takes.

    Reply

    George Angus October 13, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Right on, Hazel. Nano can certainly be a kick start to get the ol’ writing juices flowing. Titles? Characters? Story lines? Bah! They’ll show up.

    Have a great time with it this year.

    George

    Reply

    Hazel Anaka October 13, 2011 at 10:07 am

    I wrote about NaNoWriMo in my own blog in August (http://hazelanaka.ca/hazelswordpress/index.php/archives/49) when the countdown clock was at 72 days and 9 hours and it felt like I had forever to commit.

    Your post makes me believe I have nothing to lose by going for it and a helluva lot to gain. I’m only 10,000 words into my second book and because it’s a departure (read: challenge) from the first, I’m getting bogged down. In fact, I’ve abandoned it for a non-fiction project.

    Tackling a brand new ‘something’ could be the kick start I need to get back on track. I’m not sure what the count-down clock says today but now I just need a title, some characters, an idea, a…….

    Reply

    George Angus October 13, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Hi Ashley, you edit-as-you-go kindred soul! Kick some Nano butt and let us know how it goes.

    George

    Reply

    Ashley Prince October 13, 2011 at 9:50 am

    I cannot tell you what a relief it is to find someone else who edits as they go. My mom and I both do this. For NaNoWriMo last year, she turned off the spelling and grammar check on Word and it helped us both significantly.

    I unfortunately did not make the 50,000 words last year. But this year will be different. I will do it. And this year, I’m writing the genre that I want to write.

    Great post!

    Reply

    George Angus October 13, 2011 at 8:52 am

    Joel, thanks so much for having me. I consider it an honor.

    Vidya, I’m glad you’re going to give it a whirl. It was a writing life experience I’ll never forget.

    Serena, good on ya! I know all of your efforts will be worth it.

    George

    Reply

    Serena Casey October 13, 2011 at 7:06 am

    This will be my first year doing NaNo. Turning off that inner editor is going to be a challenge; I’ve never written like that before. But I think it’s a great idea, so I’m going to give it a shot.

    Great article!

    Reply

    Vidya Sury October 13, 2011 at 4:20 am

    This is an amazing concept and I am signing up for it. I am also going to maintain a journal of the experience.

    I always enjoy reading your email updates and usually feel guilty about my long-term plan to write a book. Grrr. Procrastination! This is the first time am actually taking action. And I owe that moment to you.Thanks Joel.

    Reply

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