I heard about nano (National Novel Writing Month) after a decade as an isolated writer. I was already a member of a writers’ forum and had for a year been a dedicated, daily writer.
But 50k words in a month? It still felt like a daunting task.
As November approaches, I’d like to share my experiences and encourage everyone on the fence to give nano a try.
Nanowrimo.org is the place to be every November. Each writer who participates in the challenge signs up with a username, creates a novel for the month, and has an opportunity to select a community based on different criteria. Whether you feel more comfortable with fellow nanos in your age range, or writing in your genre, the community aims to support writers and help them build a network that will continue to provide motivation throughout the remainder of the year. In fact the nano site allows a writer to enter their friends’ names as cabin criteria, meaning you can request to share your workspace with the friends you made in previous years.
While I don’t count nano as my main motivator, I look forward to participating as often as I can. 2011 was my first opportunity and since then, I’ve only missed one nano camp. Three months of the year, my word count is 50k and I get to meet other writers and share in their journeys. Who could complain?
If you’re debating whether to join in this year’s challenge, I wholeheartedly urge you to give it a try and create your username on the site. You’ve got nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain. As a nano veteran, I’ve learned tricks to make the journey feel less daunting from the get-go, so let me share them and hopefully tip the scale.
November can be a month that fills writers with dread, or it can be an exciting journey. The difference probably lies in how we approach the great task of preparing for the marathon. I’m not much of a planner, but this year I’m trying to head into nano with as much as I can muster between now and then. An outline is great, but even if you have no idea where to begin, a concept can be a fine start.
In the days that lead up to November 1, try and organize some time, a couple hours a day when you can find the time to write without distraction. In a world of jobs, families, social media, prime time TV and video games, it can be hard to find the time that nano demands. Some of us find it at 2am and others set up a structured schedule, forfeiting some other activity for four weeks. My only recommendation on that front would be to make it fun and not give up too much, whether that means too much of your sleep, or your only free time to unwind in the evening with your family. Writing doesn’t get easier when we stress out and chain ourselves to our laptops attempting to squeeze out more words before passing out.
Many libraries offer write-ins for nano, and if you might benefit from that kind of structure and atmosphere, I’d encourage you to check with your local community library. Nano posts a list of advertised events. For those writers in rural communities, or where libraries offer no such programs, consider planning a private write-in, or ask some online forum friends to join you in a weekend word count competition.
Anything you can do to make the writing easier and more enjoyable, will help you in the long run. And for the benefit of first-timers and veterans alike, nano sends motivational and instructional emails frequently, to help you along the trek.
Some people watch the clock strike twelve midnight on the first of November, and begin typing with a fury. Others crack open their laptop sometime on the second or third and look at their rough notes, wondering where to begin their story. Whether you open nano like a shepherd-mix with a pillow spot on the bed, or a terrier that found a toy still containing stuffing, pacing yourself is essential.
Falling behind is almost a given. Let’s face it, it’s easier to NOT write words than it is to hit a streak and not be able to stop. One major benefit of doing nano is that the goal of the challenge is word-oriented. Nano places no demands on the writer that the words be “good”.
So what does that mean? It means you get to lock your inner editor in the cupboard for a month and write with abandon. A bit more than 1600 words a day. It isn’t easy, but anyone, no matter how busy, can accomplish it in a couple dedicated hours a day. Maybe one in the morning and one in the evening.
All throughout the challenge, nano sends messages to your inbox. There, you’ll find information about locking up your inner editor, how to push past writer’s block, how to extend yourself if you fall behind, and motivation to never give up, even if the odds of crossing the finish line look bleak. If you don’t like daily or weekly messages, opt out and choose to receive only news on upcoming nano opportunities.
One thing that makes my nano really enjoyable is when I get placed in an active, friendly cabin. I’ve been in nine or so cabins now, but I remember one of them very fondly. Not only were we social and generous with encouragement, but we shared our work regularly, and I came up with one of my personal strategies, daily quotes.
I just did it for fun, posting a short line or two of my WiP to my cabin discussions, but when one of the young ladies told me how much my quotes inspired her to write, I was flattered. Others jumped on board and agreed, and by the middle of the month, most of us posted every day. It’s only one small thing, but each writer can contribute to a cabin, invent their own way to reach out and interact with your fellow nanos.
The flip side of the coin is I’ve been in some really undesirable cabins, too. By that, I mean that people don’t talk, half the people have a novel named some version of “WiP for nano” or “Fantasy Story 2014.” I try not to judge, because I’ve done it too, but when those people sit for three weeks and don’t bother to update their word count or say hello, they feel a bit more like driftwood than camping buddies. If you find your cabin less than motivating, remember, you can opt out of a cabin at any time and sign up for new placement based on new criteria. Placement happens something like every 24 hours.
Reaching the finish line is a great feeling, and in itself, it’s own reward. But to sweeten the deal, nano offers some goodies, like free or discounted ebooks from their publications, banners for your facebook or blog, or a winner certificate that you can print. Sponsors offer prizes including percentages off programs like Scrivener, free prints of your book from Lulu, and some other nice prizes for finishing and sometimes just for participating.
In addition to the winner goodies, nano offers real items like T-shirts, mugs, posters, and more, for purchase to support the event. And if you simply want to make a donation to help pay for the service nano provides its members, you can select any amount to donate, and receive some thank-you gifts. I donated to Campnanowrimo this year and supported dozens of writers’ participation. Not only did I earn my halo, I received a cute owl patch I can iron onto my canvas bag to let everyone know I care about nano and am a proud participant.
A Writer’s Pilgrimage
While nano doesn’t take you from your living room necessarily, to me, it’s a journey every time I do it. I try to prepare, set myself up to succeed, strive for my best work and my fastest pace, and almost always surpass the 50k mark. But even the time I didn’t make it, I still had fun.
So what are you waiting for? Sign up today. Join a cabin and get to know some new folks. Participate in the marathon.
My time spent in nano cabins has become just another tool in my writing arsenal. It taught me that I can write 50k words a month when I want to and there’s no reason I can’t do that more than once a year. Imagine what nano could teach you.
Make the Journey with Fellow Scribes
Looking for friends? Visit our NaNoWriMo forum, and share your nano username on our nano thread for this year.
If you’re a nano veteran, what advice could you share with first-timers?
If you still aren’t sure whether nano’s for you, let us know your concerns by leaving a comment.