National Novel Writing Month — Who Should Try and Why

by | Oct 30, 2015

By Karen Wyle (@WordsmithWyle)

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo or know anyone else who is? I think you’ll enjoy today’s article by Karen Wyle.


 
October brings with it not only autumn foliage and crisp weather, but the knowledge that November lurks just over the horizon. Some find this a bleak and ominous thought; but for those of us planning to take part in National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo or Nano, November is an inviting and exciting prospect.

For those who haven’t heard of it, National Novel Writing Month is an activity sponsored every year by the nonprofit Office of Letters and Light. Nano gets novelists and potential novelists moving on a rough first draft. The goal of its participants: finish such a draft, at least 50,000 words long and as uneven in quality as it needs to be, between November 1st and November 30th. Those who follow the Nano “rules” (and there’s a whole tribe of Nano “rebels,” genially tolerated by the OLL, who don’t) may plan in various ways, outlining or jotting down notes for scenes and characters, but don’t write even one word of the actual draft before Halloween is over.

Who Should Take Part?

There’s no one “right” process for a writer, and Nano isn’t for everyone. But it’s ideal for those who want to write fiction, and perhaps have always wanted to do so, but who have allowed themselves to be stopped either before they start or early in the process by various obstacles.

Some would-be writers find themselves editing, second-guessing, and editing some more every time they put words to paper or screen. Nothing seems good enough, and they fall further and further behind any schedule they may have contemplated, eventually giving up altogether. There are two wonderful and intertwined features of Nano that can help people break out of such patterns:

  • First, there’s the oft-repeated permission to write what many authors call (cleaning up the language somewhat) a lousy first draft. Nano is the ultimate example of “don’t get it right — get it written.” Once you’ve shown yourself that you can produce the seed of what will be a novel, you can nurture and tend it later.
  • Second, there’s the pace. With an average daily output of 1,667 words per day, you don’t have time to self-edit. You just have to bull on through. And the many forums available on the Nano website include several offering more and less off-beat plot twists one can throw in to get past any dry spells or writer’s block.

One of the delightful benefits of writing at a headlong clip, without extensive planning or self-editing, is that surprises may come bubbling up. I discovered as much with my very first Nano novel (Twin-Bred). A detail I thought I’d thrown in as mere set decoration turned out to be ideal for revealing a major plot development — one I hadn’t even known was coming when I began.

Story Ideas

You may protest: I don’t have any story ideas! What would I write about? Well, there are possibilities in everyone’s background, waiting to be mined.

  • Some of us are parents, and all of us have been children. We were only children or we have siblings. We have extended families, complete with their eccentric or delightful or intimidating characters; or we lack such families, and have tried to build our substitutes for them along the way.
  • We have, or used to have, spouses or lovers; or we’ve seen the course of true love failing to run smooth for our friends or relatives.
  • And then there are the dramatic possibilities arising from our jobs or professions: the conflicts, the customers, the crises. (There are, for example, so many terrific stories arising from legal disputes that I’ve written a book about them, Closest to the Fire: A Writer’s Guide to Law and Lawyers).

More Than Just Writing

Nano isn’t just an online activity, but an online community, with motivational tools, moral support, and very often local “real life” write-ins and other events organized by municipal liaisons. And it’s a welcoming community, tailor-made for the nervous introvert (though utterly open to the exuberant extrovert as well). As my local municipal liaison puts it in her announcements of upcoming gatherings: ” Are you an introvert that feels awkward talking to people? So are we! Let’s all be awkward together!”

Final Thoughts

As I said at the beginning, Nano isn’t right for everyone. For example, it might not work well for someone like my husband, who spends weeks revising passages in his head before writing them down and then polishes them relentlessly. He cares more about ensuring a passage is perfect than about whether it actually sees the light of day. But for those who are frustrated or discouraged by their own tendencies to self-sabotage, Nano can be the answer to a prayer, and a path to fulfilling a lifelong ambition.

Karen Wylie headshot x125Karen A. Wyle is an appellate attorney with more than thirty years’ experience. A cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, she worked for law firms and the California Court of Appeal before establishing her solo practice in Bloomington, Indiana. She has filed amicus briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court and seven state supreme courts. Her reference work Closest to the Fire: A Writer’s Guide to Law and Lawyers was launched earlier this month. The book’s web page, including a link to the extensive Table of Contents as well as “Online Extras” such as deleted passages and the Index to the paperback edition, may be found at https://www.cttf.karenawyle.net. Karen has also written and published five novels. One-quarter of her novel Division is set in a near-future courtroom.

 
Photo: bigstockphoto.com. Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

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7 Comments

  1. Amanda

    Day two, 3000 words and it’s only 3:00 pm, hurray. I agree that for self-saboteurs like us NaNo is a remedial balm (or a gun at our backs), at any rate, it seems to be working wonderfully. It certainly gives us permission to be horrible, to be anything at all, as long as we write.

    Reply
  2. pd workman

    I love Nano! Got my first 1600 words written at midnight last night, and raring to go! I estimate that my novel this month will be 125,000 words, so my goal is about 5,000 words per day.

    Reply
    • Karen A. Wyle

      That’s one hot pace to keep up! I think my top word count for one day was around 3K. Happy writing!

      Reply
  3. Mary Harrell

    I enjoyed reading your very clear and inviting article. NanoWriMo here I come. Thank you!

    Reply
  4. Karl Drinkwater

    Thanks Karen, I’m looking forward to my first year of participation. Learning to just get words down and not self-edit at the same time will be a real skill to pick up! Hopefully it will be a perfect fit for my current project. I’ve ordered the celebratory drinks for 1st December already! https://karldrinkwater.blogspot.com/2015/10/nanowrimo.html

    Reply
    • Karen A. Wyle

      Karl — mazel tov! (Translation: congratulations and best of luck on your new endeavor!)

      Reply

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