I have participated in NaNoWriMo three times and won twice. And by win I mean, I completed the 50,000 words. I have written about this experience. My first year. A survival guide. And the next steps. This is such a unique project and experience, I want to write about it once more.
What Is NaNoWriMo?
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Upon signing up, you agree to write a 50,000 novel in solely the 30 days of November. You can start writing from midnight November 1st and have until 11:59p November 30th to complete. To win, you must write an average of 1,667 words a day.
On November 30th, you upload your story on the website for the sole purpose of verifying the word count. This so you can be declared an official winner. No one will be reading your story or have access to it.
Other than self-pride, winner’s are also eligible to purchase an official winner t-shirt. Plus some discounts on software like Scrivener and other writing-related products.
Where Do I Sign Up?
To officially participate, you need to register on the NaNoWriMo website. From there, you go to my account. Here you can enter the title of your 2014 novel. During the challenge, each day you will enter your word count total and the website keeps track.
Also on the website are forums, which are a fantastic resource. Use their forums to commiserate with other Wrimo’s, participate in online write-in’s, and meet up with locals. It’s this last bit that I’ve found the most useful.
You will be thinking of nothing else but your novel so it’s nice to be with like-minded folks.
What Are The Rules?
The rules for NaNoWriMo are pretty loose. The main parts are you need to write 50,000 words of a fiction novel between November 1 & November 30th of the same year.
However, there have known to be NaNo rebels. This includes writing a non-fiction or autobiographical piece. It also includes working on an already started project. Of course, no one but you will know the difference. No one at the Letters offices are actually reading your story.
How Many Pages Is 50,000 Words?
This is a trick question because it depends on page size, font type, and many other factors. Here are some word counts for books you may know:
- Animal Farm: ~30K Words
- Farenheit 451: ~46K Words
- The Great Gatsby: ~47K Words
- Slaughterhouse Five: ~49K Words
- The Catcher In The Rye: ~73K Words
Technically speaking, anything longer than 40K words is a novel. Less than that is a novella. However, you would not send a 50,000 word novel out to an agent or publisher. You’d need at least three times that because so much gets cuts out in editing.
NaNoWriMo is primarily for the motivation and kick start some need to get writing. It in no way fully prepares you for publishing.
What Do I Write On?
As far as actual device, that is up to you. You even can use pencil & paper. Just remember you will need to upload a document to verify your word count at the end. Otherwise, you’re free to choose the device that works best for you. Laptop, desktop, tablet, phone. It doesn’t matter as long as it gets the job done.
Software doesn’t make too much of a difference either. Although it would be useful if your writing program of choice did have a full screen mode. I have found that to be incredibly useful, regardless of actual program. Also useful for NaNo is if the program alerts you when you’ve met your daily word goal. This will keep you on track each day.
The first two years I used Focus Writer. It is a very simple text editor that essentially only runs in full screen mode. It is free and is open source. So anyone can use it. But it is only a text editor. And moving around in your story can get tedious. However, I did win my first year using it.
After I won, I took advantage of a discount for Scrivener. Scrivener is what I used to write, and complete, my third NaNo novel. This is a serious writing program. I absolutely love it. And I even blog using it. In fact, I am working in it as I type this.
It is pretty essential to fiction writing though. As it provides note cards where you can outline chapters & sections. You can add character and setting notes that are easy to reference later. There is a full screen mode. And everything is kept extremely organized.
While all of the bells and whistles may seem like they would be distracting. Really, it makes the writing process more efficient. It’s only $40 and I highly recommend it.
December is for Editing
One of the most useful tips for me is, “November is for writing, December is for editing.” Try to stifle the urge to edit as you go. That is for later. Right now it is just about getting words down on paper. Pulling ideas out of your head. Developing characters. Working out a plot.
You don’t even need to finish your story to win. It just needs to be at least 50,000 words long. Don’t focus too much on the nuances of your story. Just enjoy creating it. You can tear it apart soon enough.
The Only Social Activity in November
It’s likely the only social activity you’ll be a part of in November is with other Wrimo’s. Many cities have great ambassadors who set up write-in’s, socials, and other activities to provide motivation and support.
The NYC Forums are fantastic. There is a special twitter account, google calendar, and mailing list. Last year we pitted the boroughs against each other in a word off. The group has one write-in a week per borough. A friday night social as a much needed break. And parties at the beginning & end of the month. It’s a really nice sense of community.
Suggested Reading to Get Started
There have been a few well-known published novels that began as NaNoWriMo stories. Including Water for Elephants and The Night Circus. You can read them for motivation.
There are also some fantastic writing references that can be read before starting your writing. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg, and On Writing by Stephen King. I personally recommend those as a writing reference, but also as plain good reading material.