My Weekend NaNoWriMo Presentation

Written by Richard Pulfer.  Originally posted on Blue Yonder.

Over the weekend, I gave a presentation on NaNoWriMo to the InPrint Writer’s Organization. If you didn’t make it, I hope you got a lot done on your novel, because that’s the only valid excuse for missing this speech. But if you did, here’s my speech.)

So what is NaNoWriMo? Where did it come from? And why on earth would someone spend a month trying to write a novel? The first National Novel Writing Month started in July 1999 as an experiment by freelance writer Chris Baty and 20 of his friends. It was later changed to November since people were more likely to be indoors, and by 2010 there were over 200,000 participants. The premise of National Novel Writing Month is simple – write 50,000 words (roughly novel, if not novella-length) – in one month.

NaNoWriMo covers just about any form of fiction you can manage, from traditional genres to epic poems to fan fiction and meta fiction. As the website says, “if you believe you’re writing a novel, we believe you’re writing a novel too.” The only stipulation is you have to start from more or less scratch. You can’t start work on that 49,999 word novel you put in your drawer not so long ago. You have to start from the beginning, though you are aloud to brainstorm and outline in advance.

While there’s no prizes officially, there are plenty of incentives. CreateSpace, the self-publishing arm of Amazon, offers two free paperback copies of your novel. And they’re not the only ones to get in on the action. Several other writing-related service, ranging from Lulu.com to Scrivner, have partnered with NaNoWriMo to offer discounts and freebies for participants. Some even over additional discounts for those that finish as an additional incentive!

One question: with 200,000 participants, have any of these books actually been published? The only is yes, actually. Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Roinbette Kowal was a NaNoWriMo book. So was Being Henry David by Cal Armistead and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Can I get a show of hands how many people have actually attempted NaNoWriMo? Think about what you’ve learned from the process, whether you succeeded or not. This is actually my third year doing NaNoWriMo. I’ve done it twice before – once with a historical horror, followed by a Christian fantasy. Now I’m writing a straight-up wacky urban fantasy.

The first lesson I’ve learned about National Novel Writing Month is that NaNoWriMo is not a cult. If you don’t hit 50,000 words by November 30th, you will not be visited by men in scary masks and robes, nor will you be sacrificed to the god of Writer’s Block. 50,000 is a very solid, achievable goal . . . but at the end of the day, it’s just a goal, and as a writer, you may have other goals that might be more important to you.

For example, there is one writer who finished her novel . . . but only clocked in at 40,000 words, which by the strictest reading of NaNoWriMo, is a failure. Her name was Sara Something. I don’t remember. Because she was a failure. But she took what she had, she retooled it, and she had it published it. I forget the title. I didn’t really pay much attention . . . because it was a failure . . . it was something about “Water” and “Elephants”.

So all kidding aside, as you can see, the best goals for NaNoWriMo are personal ones. Trying to write 50,000 words in one month is a great goal, but what comes next? As writers, we have to keep challenging ourselves, keep growing. Maybe you’ve never written a novel in first person. Or you’ve never written a mystery. Or you’ve never written a non-linear narrative. My NaNoWriMo project is the first one I’ve written 100% without an outline. There are many different goals aside from 50,000 words, and most importantly, none of them are simply “pass-fail”. NaNoWriMo is all about setting aside time to become a better writer, but we owe it to ourselves to make sure we use that time to figure out what makes our individual writing processes tick. Like you’ve heard time and time again, the journey is more important the end or the start.

I think it’s good to keep your NaNoWriMo project in mind with your overall writing goals. There are plenty of resources on the NaNoWriMo website to help you to keep moving. There’s even an official “NanoEdMo”, or “National Novel Editing Month”, in March. I know I’m planning to try to adapt whatever I write in NaNoWriMo in comic book form, because I’m planning the transition from novel to comic form will help the editing process . . . but then again when does anything ever go according to plan?

So for everyone who has done NaNoWriMo in the past, what are some tips for reaching your goals – whatever they may be – this year? And whether you were successful or not, what are some lessons you learned from the process?

Nanowrimo.org is a great resource for writing prompt . . . but unfortunately most all of them involve using the Word Count tool on your computer. Since I don’t want us sitting around trying to count how many words we’ve written, I pulled some easy writing exercises for all of us to do to get the creative juices stirring. If we have time, we can share what we’ve written as well.

  1. Start writing a scene of any genre (write for five minutes) Then put a dragon in it.
  2. Think of your favorite food. Now think of the most opinionated person you know. Write a short scene from the perspective of the person ranting about the food. (We didn’t actually get to this one).
  3. Your protagonist and antagonist are stuck in a book store at the same isle. It’s awkward. A book falls from the shelf to their feet. Which book is it? What happens next?

(That’s it for this rant. Check out a new Blue Yonder next week.)

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