Thursday, September 17, 2015

Five Reasons to Write a Novel This November

9:53 AM Posted by Tara 1 comment
The air is growing cooler, the leaves are changing color, and your favorite coffee shop suddenly has pumpkin spice everything.  This can only mean one thing.

It's almost time for Nanowrimo!


Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, is an annual writing project that challenges participants to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.  It is not a contest or a competition, and no prizes are awarded for length, quality, or speed; anyone who reaches the 50,000-word goal before the end of November is a winner.

The phenomenon began in 1999, when founder Chris Baty put the challenge to twenty friends; six, including Baty, crossed the finish line at the end of the month.  The experiment brought about many revelations for Baty: that you don't need a plot to start writing a novel, that removing the pressure of writing a perfect story leaves more room for the pleasure of writing an imperfect one, and that the greatest thing holding aspiring writers back from their ambitions is the lack of a deadline.

Nanowrimo has continued to grow each year, evolving from a simple challenge amongst a handful of friends to an annual international event in which hundreds of thousands of writers participate, and billions of words are written.

Why should I participate in Nanowrimo?

I won't lie to you.  Nanowrimo is hard.  There will be days when you want to give up.  When you want to rip your hair out.  When you want to curl up in a blanket and cry.  But in between those days... that's when the magic happens.  Nanowrimo isn't only about writing a novel, and a finished first draft isn't the only thing you'll end the month with.  The rewards of month-long noveling are many.

1. You will learn how to write, and you will learn how you write.

In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell studies the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field.  While I have yet to master the art myself, I do know that the best thing you can do to improve your writing is... write!  A month of furious, exuberant writing, of exploring your plot and your characters, of letting your ideas take you where they will... it will teach you more than any how-to book ever could.

How do I know this?  I've participated in Nanowrimo six times, and when I compare what I'm writing now to what I wrote on my first rollercoaster ride of month-long noveling, the improvement is obvious, and vast.  Not only has the quality of my prose grown by leaps and bounds, but I've figured out how plot structure works, how to outline a novel, and how to show rather than tell.  I no longer have to consciously work foreshadowing and theme and subplot into my novels; it just happens, because after enough practice, it's become a reflex.

But there is no one way to write a novel, and no two people will write exactly the same way.  The only way to figure out your way is trial and error.  Writing so much in so little time allows your natural instincts to take over, and they will show you what works and what doesn't.  For example, I've learned that I write best in the morning, that I can't be trusted to keep a story on track without a solid outline, that I prefer third-person perspective to first-person perspective.

Nobody can teach you these things but you, and Nanowrimo is the perfect classroom.

2. You will discover that writer's block is a myth that only self-discipline can bust.

A lot of writers claim to experience writer's block. While it's true that we can run out of steam, lose interest, and lack motivation, the only thing truly blocking us is our own choice to stop writing. 

With Nanowrimo, you can't afford to stop writing. It doesn't matter if you're tired of your story, or if you have absolutely no idea where to take it. The only thing that matters is that you make your daily word count goal. That you keep writing. And if you do, if you put the pedal to the medal and hit that block at a hundred miles an hour, you will get over it. You'll find the road again, and you'll roar down it with new ideas and energy and passion. 

The key is self-discipline. You need to be able to push yourself to keep going when you want to stop. You need to be able to make your book a priority, even if that means forsaking social opportunities, sleeping in, and eating meals that don't come frozen out of a cardboard box. You need to be able to commit to doing this crazy thing, and to do whatever it takes to keep that commitment.

And when you validate your novel at the end of November, you'll know that, with enough determination and hard work, you can accomplish something great. You'll know that the only thing holding you back is you.

3. You will discover the magical powers of a deadline.

It's easy to make excuses not to write.  "I'm waiting for inspiration," you might say.  Or, "I don't have time to write a novel."  When you take the attitude that you'll write a novel "someday," that someday will never come.  What you need is a solid timeframe in which to write your story, one long enough to get the job done but not so long that it leaves room for procrastination.  What you need is a deadline.

And that's precisely what Nanowrimo provides.  You need to write a minimum of 1,667 words each day in order to hit 50,000 words by the end of the month.  Holding to that goal for the first week builds momentum, which makes it easier to continue your habit of writing daily, which in turn makes it easier for you to write an entire novel.  And when you hit a snag that would normally tempt you to put your novel aside for awhile, your deadline will push you to keep going, to solve that problem or to repurpose it as a plot twist or to simply skip past it.  Your deadline will compel you to keep writing.

You will be surprised at how much work you can get done when you're racing against a deadline, because a deadline gives you focus, and an end to work towards.  After all, if you don't set a destination, how will you ever reach it?

4. You'll have an enormous community of support at your back.

One of the greatest things about Nanowrimo is the community.  Though writing is by and large a solitary effort, the support you'll find in sharing the experience with hundreds of thousands of other writers is priceless.  Knowing that you're a part of something greater than you or your novel, that you are not alone, that the world will celebrate with you when you hit 50,000 words... it's the greatest kind of motivation.

And if you find yourself stuck, there are thousands of other writers at the ready to help you!  Whether you need a solution to a gaping plot hole, or a name for your protagonist's favorite restaurant, or the logistics of the medieval armor your knight wears—whatever the question, you will find an answer on's bustling forums

The Nanowrimo website and blog also provide writers with valuable resources throughout October and November: pep talks, webinars, writing prompts, sponsor offers, and various writing-related articles to help keep you on track.

5. You will write a novel!

I can't promise that it'll be a good novel.  In fact, I can almost guarantee that it won't be.  But that's okay.  It's ridiculous to expect perfection right out of the gate.  And that's another lesson that Nanowrimo will teach you: you don't have to get it right the first time.  What matters is that you put the skeleton of your novel together, that you lay down a foundation.  What matters is that you get your story out of your head and onto paper.  You will need to edit that story, to fill out some scenes and trim down others, to further develop characters that seem a bit flat, to weave the loose threads of your plot into one cohesive whole.  But you can't edit a blank page.  You can't perfect what doesn't exist.

And by the end of November, your novel will exist!  Or, at the very least, 50,000 words of a novel—because sometimes that isn't enough to tell the whole story.  This may be more words than you've written in your entire life, or more words you've ever written on a single project.  Or, it may be the tenth time you've completed Nanowrimo.  Your new novel may be one amongst many you've written, and had published.

Yes, I said it: published.  A good number of authors have taken their Nanowrimo novels further than November, and have gotten those books into print.  Marissa Meyer wrote the rough draft of her debut novel, Cinder, during Nanowrimo.  Sara Gruen wrote Water for Elephants for Nanowrimo, which was published and adapted into a feature film.  Erin Morgenstern crafted The Night Circus over several years' of Nanowrimo participation.  The list goes on, and every success story is proof that what you create in thirty days of madness can absolutely evolve into a publishable manuscript.

And even if it doesn't, even if your manuscript never sees the light of day again after November 30... you still did something great.  You still wrote a novel.

Taking the plunge

So you've decided to give this crazy thing a go.  Congratulations!

First on the agenda: sign up at When the new site launches in October, you can create your 2015 novel on your profile page, and throughout November, track your word count progress. Select a home region to connect with other local participants, and even join various write-ins held in and around your city.  Browse the website's inspirational resources and the forums for ideas and guidance. Tell everyone you know that, this November, you are going to write a novel!

And watch Blognowrimo throughout October for tips and tricks on preparing to write your heart out!

1 comment:

  1. Thumbs up, Tara! I think you have articulated the benefits of NaNoWriMo very well. And then there is the cool T-Shirts and winner goodies.