Some of us don’t like to color inside the lines, and November isn’t the time to start. At its core, National Novel Writing Month, or “NaNoWriMo,” is about writing fast enough to drown out the sound of the inner critic in the frantic clacking of fingernails on a keyboard. 50,000 words in 30 days, or 1667 words a day – every day in November – is just challenging enough to accomplish that goal.
It’s important to lay the groundwork for NaNoWriMo, but more importantly, it gives us something to do while waiting anxiously for the sound of the starter gun at midnight on Halloween. It would be cheating to pen a single word of our tale at 11:59PM, so have another leftover Trick-or-Treat candy, and watch the second hand sweep the clock-face…
Meanwhile, happy October! As a 15-year veteran of NaNoWriMo, with absolutely nothing publishable to show for it, I encourage everyone to give it a try. Because, as I’ve said, it’s not all about “writing a novel,” though there is that. To the naysayers who scoff at the idea, calling it a waste of time for “serious writers,” I like to point out that Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants began its life during NaNoWriMo. Here are eight more popular books started During National Novel Writing Month. Just as importantly, the Young Writers Program (YWP) has helped to turn young people into more confident, and more enthusiastic, writers. Whether any of them write a novel matters less than that leap of confidence. With that, I give you my first two tips:
It’s your time to “waste” as you see fit. Each of us gets one life to live, and life is too short to waste it being nothing but a touchstone or a support system for someone else’s life. Take care of others; only narcissists and sociopaths don’t care about their loved ones and friends. But take care of your own needs and wants, as well. They have no less merit. Your creative soul needs nurture, too.
Never listen to the naysayers. They’re only there to feed your inner critic. November is the time to send that little nag packing. Perhaps their inner critics are feeling lonely; yours can couch-surf at their place. This leads me to my third tip:
Give your inner critic, your fears, your courage, your creative urges a voice. Personify them on the page. Punish and reward them as they deserve. I did just that in my as-yet-unfinished novel, Eradicating Edna. Now I know where little old blue-haired ladies come from. I know that I have two Muses: a gorgeous vixen named “Fred” whose hair spontaneously combusts, and an ill-tempered fuzzball that lives under the bed and sounds just like Paul Lynde.
It’s interesting to me, after 15 years of “doing NaNoWriMo,” to watch newcomers’ approach to the event. Just as there are “plotters” and “pantsers” among writers, there are rule-followers and rebels among NaNoWriMo’s participants. “Does it have to be fiction?” one asks. “Must we write exactly 1667 words a day?” asks another. “Is there a posting schedule we have to stick to?” You’ve heard the expression, “Cheaters never prosper”? Nowhere is it more true than NaNoWriMo, but it’s only “cheating” if you’ve cheated yourself out of the whole experience, like the smart aleck who wrote, “One, two, three, four, five…fifty-thousand” and declared himself the first “winner” of the year. There are no tangible prizes, so you’re not really competing against other participants – we can all “win” NaNoWriMo together. While I don’t get to redefine the NaNoWriMo mission or “rules,” such as they are, even the program itself defines a novel as “a lengthy work of fiction” and goes on to say, “Beyond that, we let you decide whether what you’re writing falls under the heading of ‘novel.’ In short: If you believe you’re writing a novel, we believe you’re writing a novel, too.” Shakespeare wrote plays in iambic pentameter; if you want to write an epistolary novel of creative non-fiction, expressed as a cycle of villanelles and sonnets, I’m not going to discourage you from trying. If it’s your first time participating, I suggest that you throw yourself into the true and original spirit of the thing and try to write “50,000 words of a novel” during November. But you do you – no one’s going to put you on display in the public stocks or chuck rotten tomatoes at your head for making your NaNoWriMo experience serve your needs. And no one’s going to die if you fail to write 50,000 words. Remember that.
I’m also taking part in the Write Tribe Problogger October 2017 Blogging Challenge #writebravely #writetribeproblogger
The “prompt” for today’s post was “pattern.” From that first, disastrous “Reading Readiness Test” to devilishly difficult number sequences to unintelligible diagrams of a crochet seahorse, patterns often prove problematic for me. Paradoxically, I love the patterns of letters and sounds and syntax that make up our language. I have learned to follow patterns that let me create three dimensional objects and clothing from a strand of yarn. And while I prefer not to follow blogging prompts – and often find writing prompts, in general, too confining to stimulate real creativity – I’m going to give you a free “pattern” you can use and adapt for your own NaNoWriMo manuscript. It will save you time, later, to format your novel in a way that is acceptable to publishers. Here’s your first NaNoWriMo warm-up exercise: Stop thinking, “I’m not going to write anything publishable!” Think positive thoughts! You probably won’t, and that is OKAY. But this will save you time later – you know, if your thing turns out to be adequate and worth editing come December.
If you have Microsoft Word, this template (simple-template2.zip) is one that you can start with and adapt to your own needs. If it free to you for personal, non-commercial use. If you don’t know how to use a Word template, see my post about Using Styles, Not Direct Formatting, in Microsoft Word – that should get you started.