NaNoWriMo – my Top Ten Tips. Part I Introduction

Firstly, what is NaNoWriMo? It ’s an acronym for National Novel Writing Month. But it’s more international, rather than national (it was started in the USA), and what comes out of it is rarely a novel.

So that’s what it isn’t. So what is it? It’s a challenge for writers and would-be writers. And the challenge is to write 50,000 new words of a novel between midnight on the 1st of November to midnight on the 30th November. Thirty days, to you and me. The mathematicians amongst you will be able to work out it’s 1,667 words per day.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t. You might be able to write 1,667 words today, but can you write the same tomorrow, and the next day, and … (well, you get the idea)?

I’ve done it before. My first time was in 2003, and I ‘won’ (completed the challenge). In all, I’ve attempted it every year since then, except in 2008 when we were moving house. Pathetic excuse, I know. I ‘failed’ in 2006, but in 9 attempts, I’ve succeeded 8 times. Not a bad batting average.

Back in the first paragraph, I said that at the end of November, with over 50,000 words under your belt, what comes out is rarely a novel. That is so for two reasons:

1. 50,000 words does not generally a novel make. Novels, by publishing standards, consist of at least 70,000 words, or more. This ‘rule’ is more flexible these days with e-publishing. When all we had was print books, it was difficult for publishers to set a realistic price for short writing which could amortise publishing overheads and pre-publication costs. So, a ‘novel’ (70,000 words or more, remember) might cost £7.99 in today’s market. Something which was 50,000 words, or less, would still have to cost at least £6.99 (paper and ink is relatively cheap), but the perceived value is less, since it’s a thinner book. Therefore, a harder sell to the public.

Self-published ebooks have tiny overheads, and can be priced according to the perceived value. This has created a market for smaller writing, especially in genre fiction.

2. The speed at which you have to write, especially if you have a full-time job or a busy family and social life, means the writing can be of a lesser quality. Characters are less interesting. Plots have some whoppers of holes in them. Locations are monochrome and boring. It’s generally accepted that NaNo ‘novels’ need some severe editing and rewriting on them before they’re fit for publication.

So, in short, you can call it a novel if you wish, but I wouldn’t expect to see it on the shelves of my local (or not-so-local) bookseller anytime soon after the 30th November.

What are the potential pitfalls of NaNoWriMo?

Apart from developing an unhealthy taste for energy snacks and coffee, there are a number of problems that NaNo-ers can encounter along their journey.

* You run out of story. This has happened to me on a number of occasions. Despite planning, I get to 30,000 words, and I’ve said everything I wanted to say. My characters end up doing the equivalent of those little motorised puppies at Christmas fayres, when they move along the table, hit a buffer, turn round, and go the other way. My characters talk to each other, visit different places, but very little happens. If you find yourself in this situation, you can either: a) start writing something new (see tip no. 3 below); b) Evoke Chandler’s law – “When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” or c) create a new character, it doesn’t matter if they have no backstory in the right place, just continue writing.

* You fall behind (see tip no. 4). This can be demoralising, as you see your targets and graphs fall back, and you realise you need to find even more time to write than you’ve been able to find so far.

* You spend all of your time talking about writing instead of doing it. The NaNoWriMo forums are fascinating places to chat, or discuss writing, or ask and answer questions. You can quite happily spend an hour or two, easily, wandering around the forums. It’s an interesting place. But that time could have been spent writing instead. See tip 9 below.

Next time: Tips 1-3 – “Before NaNoWriMo”


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