Monday, 1 September 2014

[Writer's Blog] To NaNo Or Not To NaNo

It is that time of the year again when I contemplate whether or not to embark on the madness train that is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). There are plenty of reasons not to mainly because of the pressure writers put themselves under (myself included) to reach that all important 50,000 word target. Last year I only reached 13,000 but with what I felt were good reasons, mainly a lack of planning on my part. It was however an incredible experience, the shared camaraderie between fellow participants (wrimos), the joy of the sit ins, and the adrenaline rush of working to meet those daily targets. However the biggest thrill has to be seeing that work in progress languishing in the dungeon of one's  mind start to take shape on the screen or page. So what is NaNoWriMo and why on earth would anybody take part?

Image courtesy of
National Novel Writing Month.
National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to refer to the more commonly referenced acronym,  is a challenge for writers both amateur and professional to write all or part of a novel within one month. It is essentially a non-profit run operation with help from corporate sponsorship from leading project management tool Scriviner and Kobo to name a few, as well as relying on donations. The challenge starts on midnight of 1st November and the Wrimos have to produce at least 50,000 words. This does seem like an arduous task but with proper time management as well support it is not only achievable but a lot of fun. By engaging with the local and international community of Wrimos through the official site or on social media, you make new friends, find inspiration and achieve new heights of writing accomplishments you never thought possible. The downside of course is a poor diet, an incursion on one's social life and activities, and the struggle of balancing this with vital commitments mainly family, work and relationships. Here are a few misconceptions debunked that will help me and others looking to take part but concerned about that all important work/life/NaNo balance.


In order to be crowned a NaNoWriMo winner you do have to reach that all important landmark by 23:59 on 30th November. The good news is that unlike a race or the Highlander movies there doesn't have to be only one. Anybody who participates and reaches the target by the end of the month will be crowned a winner, and there are a number of sponsor offers for those who participate and reach the target. There is however no limit to how much you can write. Whilst the target is 50,000 Wrimos have written as much as 70,000 words and others have exceeded the 100,000 threshold. Write as much as you can.


Let's face it, 50,000 does not a novel make more a novella. There is this misconception that you have to write a novel (or novella) of no more or less than 50,000 words with a beginning, middle and end. This is couldn't be further from the truth as many wrimos write 50,000 of a work in progress that has been underway for months maybe even a year or two. NaNoWriMo can act as a focusing tool for writers needing that extra push whether it's to counter a case of writer's block or a pip to the post to finish the story. The words produced during the NaNoWriMo time frame can make up the beginning, middle or end of the novel, there are no rules or restrictions, and once again 50,000 is the target not the maximum. 


Writing 50,000 words in one month, even if you are the fastest typist on the world and consume Red Bull like water, no one can produce a story fit for publication. Even if this were possible, this is not necessarily the goal. In fact there will be little time to edit what you have written so far into a perfect publishable novel. The idea is that you produce a coherent piece of fiction, but it does not have to be perfect. The wrimo, at this stage doesn't have to worry about inconsistencies, plot holes, or even shaky characters and stunted dialogue. The goal is to produce something although there has to be some standard of legibility and sense. Typing the words "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" 5,000 times doesn't count nor does writing a load of gibberish. There has to be a story, with some conflict, characters and dialogue but it does not have to be perfect. 


NaNoWriMo is for anyone who wants to write. Whether you are looking to work on that dream novel and become the next Ben Kane, or George R R Martin, or you simply fancy indulging in a bit of fan fiction. Anyone can be a wrimo and although it does require a certain level of dedication as there is a target to reach, NaNoWriMo is whatever you want it to be; a tool to publishing stardom or just a way of living the writing dream and engaging with a global community of other wrimos to broaden horizons and have some fun doing so. 


How one approaches NaNoWriMo is down to the individual wrimo. If you feel truly gifted then you might be able to, come midnight on 1st November, sit at your laptop and pour all the words out from your head. There is nothing wrong however with a bit of advance planning such as an outline of the story, list of characters and their attributes, notes on setting, and so on. The wrimo can plan as much as is needed before the event starts.

So whether you are an aspirant novelist, a professional or a lay scribe longing to get that one good novel out of them, NaNoWriMo offers the potential to make writing happen. It is fun, engaging, intense and requires some planning and dedication. As for yours truly the jury is still not only on whether I want to spend a whole month in a caffeine and sugar induced haze made more heady with little sleep, but which story idea I will bring to life.

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