National Novel Writing Month—NaNoWriMo—or, here we go again!
It happens every November. Halloween is long over, and an entirely new masquerade begins. It's a race, a sprint, a wild willy-nilly breakneck full tilt "am I really going to do this again this year" to the 50,000 word finish line. I'm talking about an event with a very funny name—NaNoWriMo, which stands for "National Novel Writing Month". Even more important, this is the 25th anniversary of the founding of NaNoWriMo, so this year is more important than ever.
NaNoWriMo was started by a local author named Chris Baty in Oakland. He wanted to become a writer, but always failed at following through with actually creating a novel. He had the talent, he had the plot (not a necessary ingredient according to him) and he had the time. What he lacked, he realized, was a deadline. So, he and about ten or eleven friends decided to get together and write every day for a month. The following year, about one hundred people participated. The year after that, over one thousand people joined. And it's been growing bigger and bigger every year. In 2020 (according to www.NaNoWriMo.org), over 552,335 writers participated worldwide. This includes nearly 100,000 students and educators in their Young Writers program. Almost 500 libraries (including here at San Jose Public Library), bookstores, and community centers opened their doors to NaNoWriMo participants through their "Come Write In" program.
How do you participate? What's the point?
The idea is to write a novel. It can be just about anything you want it to be about. Nobody but yourself has to read it. The point is to write. And I think that Mr. Baty has the, well, "write" idea. If you want to write a novel, you're going to need to find motivation from somewhere. Having a deadline is a great motivator, too. All you need to do is find the time to write 1667 words every day in November. It's doable. Trust me. I've done it over twelve times already.
But it does take persistence, perseverance, and the willingness to let everything else go for just one month so that you can write that novel you've always dreamed of. Plus there are write-ins, where the Nanowers take over coffee shops, book shops, libraries and anywhere else they can think of to sit down and join their fellow seekers in writing to their heart's content. There are parties, such as the "meet and greet", "halfway there" and the "TGIO" (Thank God It's Over) party. Not only do we meet, but we support one another and help each other to reach our writing goals.
Tricks, Traps, and How to Survive
Some people start in cold and just start writing away. Others plan months in advance, meticulously plotting their novel and characters waiting for a chance to bring their story to life. I'm personally somewhere in the middle, where I'll think about what I want to write and maybe jot down a few notes, but I rarely know where my words will take me by the end of November. Many people work in spurts while others have a slow steady pace to get them across the finish line in time.
My own personal advice is to get ahead of "word count" (i.e., 1667 words per day) early. There will inevitably be a day in which you can't find the time to sit down at your keyboard. By having a cushion, that's not going to matter. The more you get done early, the less you'll have to worry about later.
Another thing is to let family and friends know that this is YOUR time. The dishes may pile up in the sink, and if it bothers your partner, then they're the ones who have to clean them. Sit down and prepare them for what's coming ahead of time, so that they'll know what this means to you. As one participant recently told me, finishing her book was "bigger than getting her Master's degree".
Not everyone finishes with 50,000 words by the end of the month, and that's okay. At least you dove in and participated. You TRIED. And that counts for something. You didn't get 50,000 words this year? Try again next year, and remember the fun you had this year with friends and companions who were doing the same thing. And it's not like November isn't going to come around again next year!
Nobody may ever read what you've written, but there have been many novels that started through NaNoWriMo which have gone on to commercial success—"Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen, "With the Fire on High" by Elizabeth Acevedo, "Cinder" by Marissa Mayer, and more. Check out Megan Maloy's blog from November, 2019 with other great titles that began as NaNoWriMo novels.
Maybe This Year!
NaNoWriMo is back for 2023. There will never be a shortage of words, or people willing to write them. For some this is fun, for others an adventure, for others self-exploration, and yet for others it is fulfilling the dream of a lifetime. The South Bay NaNoWriMo group has always been strong with many participants, write-ins, and parties. It's a great way to make friends, enjoy a few new coffee shops and maybe even get some writing done as well.
There are a lot of reasons I keep coming back to NaNoWriMo—the creative process, the people, the fun. If there's any shortcoming to the program, it's that I've never produced anything I'd actually want anyone else to read. However, that hasn't kept me from trying again and again, year after year. Because as October ends, November begins, and I go from thinking, "maybe next year" to "maybe this year". Maybe this year I'll produce something that is worth showing to someone else, to actually doing the necessary editing, and to maybe someday getting published. Who knows? There's only one way to find out, and that's by writing 1667 words every day for a month. There's still time this month! See ya at the finish line!
Inspiration & Resources
Here are some recommended reads from SJPL staff to help inspire and support you.
Be inspired, find helpful tips, and receive guidance in these books and resources for the aspiring writer just in time for #NaNoWriMo selected by SJPL librarians.
Write Yourself Out of a Corner by Alice LaPlante, the author of The Making of a Story, offers 100 writing exercises designed to expand your imagination through creative constraints. Facing a blank page or screen can be daunting, but LaPlante's constraint-based prompts, such as using specific words like 'cloud' and 'green' or setting a scene in a crowded grocery store, can activate your brain in novel ways. As a seasoned teacher and novelist, LaPlante not only presents these unique exercises but also explains their purpose, like honing dialogue skills, creating unexpected imagery, or tapping into deep emotions. She analyzes student examples, showing how to meet these objectives. This guide is an invaluable resource for anyone seeking to spark new ideas, approach a project from a different angle, or enhance their skills in fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry. Write Yourself Out of a Corner aims to both challenge and equip writers to navigate and transcend creative boundaries.