This was originally posted to Associated Content. If you are so inclined, you may view that version here.
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it is a worldwide annual event that takes place in November. The goal is to write a novel consisting of at least 50,000 words (175 pages) in just thirty days. NaNoWriMo was founded in 1999 by Chris Baty and has gained a large following of participants each and every year.
50,000 in only thirty days?
At first glance that goal looks very lofty and unattainable. I can assure you that it's not as bad as it might look and it is most certainly attainable. Assuming that you write each and every day in the month of November without missing a day, and aiming to finish precisely on the 31st of November, you'll need just 1,667 words a day. That's not too terribly bad, now is it? However, if you miss a day or don't manage to write the full 1,667 words a day, you will need to make up for time and to write more to catch up.
A novel of 50,000 words is a shorter novel, and more likely a novella, but it's still a novel, and a fantastic thing to accomplish in just 30 days. Novels like Of Mice And Men and No Plot! No Problem! are approximately 50,000 words. Try not to let the word count intimidate you. Take it 100 words at a time, or even 1,000 words at a time. It'll seem less lofty if you do this, and each 1,000 is 1/50th closer to your ultimate goal.
So, what can you do before November?
Well, you can't write anything before November, but what you can do is plan, plot, and do character sketches and profiles. If your novel needs world building or legends to be made up about the world or characters, you can work on this prior to November. If your novel requires research, you can also do this before November.
What if you are using a novel in progress for NaNo?
While this is discouraged, in the interest of you having the fuel to get through to the finish line, it's not forbidden. If you decide to use something that is in progress, you will have to assure that you write a full 50,000 words during November in addition to what is already written when you start NaNo.
Why do something so insane as writing so much in a month?
This is a question I was asked a few times by those who were not participating themselves. I can see how some would not understand this at first. Here's the best part of NaNo. While there's a group of people all driving for the same goal and slowly edging ever closer to the goal. There's a great, friendly support system in the forums where you can commiserate with those who are in the midst of NaNo blues. You can celebrate when you make your goals, when you get past a rough spot or just to chat with others who are enjoying the frenzied writing event. You can also ask specific questions about your setting that only people that live in that area would know. Do you need to know where the bad side of your town or city is? Ask on the forums, you never know who might be out there willing and able to help.
There are forums for those who are sailing through NaNo, those who are having difficulties, and those broken down by the genre you are writing. There's even a thread of dares which are very humorous to read through. You can adopt a dare or two, or even adopt a plot if you don't have one. You just need to be careful about spending too much time in the forums and neglecting your word counts.
The forums are just one perk of the event. There are also get-togethers held in certain areas. Yours might have one. If you chose to attend you'd write with other NaNo participants in your area and have a bit of a writing party, so to speak. I found that there were none of these held near me, nor was it terribly practical for me to attend one. I have heard of those who've gone and had an absolute blast while there, so it's all a mater of location and taste if you attend one or not.
The whole NaNo experience is one like you've never had before. The feeling you get after getting so much accomplished in a month is exhilarating. Even if you don't make the goal, you should go for it just to have this experience. You might even surprise yourself and make it. That little progress bar is quite the motivator when it comes to adding to your word count.
What if my novel doesn't make any sense?
Some NaNo participants pride themselves on writing silly stories that don't make any sense at all. Some make a full novel strictly out of dares only for this reason. Others put more thought into it, they plot and organize things so that they will have a novel that does make sense at the end of the month. It all depends on what you like to write, and what you might want to do with the novel afterward.
Don't let anyone tell you yours has to make sense, nor that NaNo isn't for a serious writer. I've seen everyone from the serious writer with a full plot fully researched and ready to go on November first to the fly by the seat of your pants dare novel writers with no plot at all participating. NaNo is what you want to make it. Serious or goofing off for fun. It's your choice.
Okay, so I wrote my 50,000 word novel, now what?
Once you finished your novel by the 30th of November, you will need to upload the novel and verify that you did indeed get the 50,000 words. Once you upload it you will be taken to a page that verifies you are a winner and you'll get a certificate you can download and print as well as some winner's graphics. The forums are open year round, but they are fairly quiet until around September or October when new signups are opened in anticipation of the beginning of NaNo.
Sometimes print on demand and vanity publisher LuLu offers winners a free copy of their novel. They must verify that you did indeed win and the novel will be shipped free of cost to you. Many participants have this spiral bound and use it as an editing copy.
What if my novel isn't finished by November 30th?
If your novel isn't finished and is under the 50,000 word goal, don't fret. You got some writing done, and most likely had a great deal of fun doing it. There's always next year to try again. There's many people that have had to try multiple years to be able to reach that goal. Be proud of what you did do, and see what you might change to make it easier to reach the goal next year.
If you did reach or surpass the 50,000 word goal, you can continue to write until the novel is finished. If you have a fairly clear schedule for December, you can even join up at NaNoFiMo (National Novel Finishing Month.) Otherwise, finish it as you and your schedule see fit.
Life After NaNo
Some former participants continue to lug away to finish and edit their novels through the remainder of the year. Some have yet to accomplish this by the time that the next NaNo rolls around. That's okay, you can always finish that after. Remember, NaNo rolls around but once a year.
Some participants have gotten agents from their NaNo novels, some even gotten published. Some have had many a laugh over writing them and for their friends and family to read over. There's so many options you have available to you once you are finished. Only you know which is right for you and your novel.
Can I do NaNo during another month besides November?
You can set up your own NaNo, or use one of the sites and events that are scheduled throughout the year. There are several other NaNo type sites out there that function through the remainder of the year. These are there for those who want to do NaNo again, or those who were unable to participate in NaNo. These are smaller sites, but they do serve their function fairly well. Below you will find a listing of the different NaNo related sites. None of these are affiliated with NaNoWriMo, but rather are typically run by former NaNo participants.
JaNoWriMo (January National Novel Writing Month) There's also a Live Journal community for JaNoWiMo located here.
FebNoWriMo (February National Novel Writing Month) I believe this is found at the NaNoPubYe site.
NaNoEdMo (National Editing Month) Goal: 50 hours of editing.
Script Frenzy - The sister site of NaNoWriMo devoted to writing a 20,000 word screenplay in a month.
JulNoWriMo (July National Novel Writing Month)
Nanoirwrimo - Noir (or any sub genre of mysteries) National Novel Writing Month Goal: Write 50,000 words during August only.
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) Goal: Write 50,000 words during November only.
NaNoFiMo (National Novel Finishing Month) Goal: Write 20,000 words and finish your NaNo novels.
NaNoPubYe (National Novel Publishing Year) Goal: Write, Edit, and pitch your novel to a publisher.
Book-In-A-Week. Goal: Write as much as you can in a week.
So, you think you want to join NaNo this year, but don't know what to do
On the site there's a slot where you can have NaNo remind you when signups are opened. Just plug in your email in the box and sit back until November. You also can choose to plot, research or do some work on the novel you'll be writing in November. Alternately you can join in on any of the events that are listed above.
You can also buy, or check out a copy of No Plot! No Problem! By Chris Baty. Chris talks about the first ever NaNo and his experiences with it since. He participates in every NaNo. You can find his NaNo profile here. This book is a humorous lighthearted guide to all things NaNo with tips for finding time to NaNo to a week-by-week guide of the ups and downs to expect along the way and how to keep the fires burning and those words flowing. I highly recommend it as NaNo reading. He also has a No Plot! No Problem! Writing kit that includes the book and a number of goodies for the NaNoWriMo participant.
Peek at the NaNo site. You can't join, but you can still read the how to files and get familiar with what NaNo is all about. Once you join up there will be forums available to get clarification on things that are confusing or just plain unclear to you. This is a good introduction page to NaNoWriMo.
Whatever you choose to do, may you have many joys and successes with your NaNo experience.