November 3, 2020
NaNoWriMo is here!
by Alyea Canada
It’s November! The last month of the best season (fall)! I’m sure we all have complicated feelings about November this year and many of us are still at home with a lot of time on our hands, so National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo as it is affectionately known) could be just the distraction you need. Now in it’s twenty-first year, NaNoWriMo is a pretty simple concept, you have thirty days to write fifty thousand words. Whether or not you want to call what you produce a novel is really up to you (no snark intended), but if nothing else you have produced a first draft or managed to get a good start on your novel.
Over on the Guardian book blog, novelist David Barnett talked to some other writers who have participated in NaNoWriMo and has some tips for writers looking to take on the task. Every year there is a lot of sniffing at the challenge, so it was nice to see some writers really engage positively with it. The overarching message was to think of this as an exercise rather than a mission. Barnett likened the month to running a 5k every weekend, he isn’t training for the Olympics, but does see improvements in himself and his practice. So have fun with it! You are under no obligation to show those 50,000 words to anyone and there is certainly no reason to expect them to be genius. Writing is hard and books are constantly edited and rewritten over and again before reaching a bookshelf.
Along those lines, if you are like me and are motivated by a good deadline, thirty days is a solid one. Barnett quoted Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus: “I always liked it for quickly getting words down for rough drafts without overthinking everything. It’s what got me writing seriously in the first place, because I used to write a few pages and hate them so I’d stop. Having peer pressure and a deadline worked wonders.” Everyone knows the hardest thing about writing is starting, and now you basically have access to a massive support group of other writers struggling with you.
Barnett gave some other tips for writers looking to participate, including figuring out if you want to write a story linearly or write different sections and stitch them together later; not being beholden to an outline; and, of course, don’t give up. The writing pace of NaNoWriMo is grueling, 1,667 words a day, but you can write more or less depending on how you are feeling. So while NaNoWriMo can be a welcome distraction to the current hellscape, it is also important to remember that we are living through a hellscape and all still have quaranbrain, and it is okay if you don’t reach your goal. Writing is a practice, and hopefully you can see this as an opportunity to start incorporating the process into your life. Good luck!
Alyea Canada is an editor at Melville House.