NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) begins November 1. Are you excited? Are you ready?
Amanda posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I’ve decided to do NaNoWriMo next month! Any advice?
Randy sez: First, let’s make sure everyone’s on the same page.
NaNoWriMo is an annual event in which tens of thousands of writers try to write a novel in a month. It costs nothing to enter, and the main value is that by the end of the month, you should have at least 50,000 words written on your novel. That’s hard, but doable, and it’s worth doing. So it makes a great goal.
You can learn all about NaNoWriMo on the official NaNoWriMo website.
Now to Amanda’s question—what advice can I offer to writers planning to enter? I’ve never entered NaNoWriMo myself, but I think it’s a great idea, and a number of my author friends enter it every year because it’s a great motivator to get some words written.
So here are my thoughts on NaNoWriMo:
- Know why you’re entering. What do you hope to get out of this exercise?
- Work out your schedule now.
- If you’re a planner, then plan your story in advance.
- Know what you’ll do after NaNoWriMo is over.
Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
What Will You Get Out of NaNoWriMo?
One of my guiding principles in life is this: “Never do anything without a reason.”
What’s your reason for wanting to enter NaNoWriMo? I can think of a number of good reasons a writer might enter. Here are a few of many possible answers:
- “I think it’ll be fun.”
- “It’s a challenge. I want to see if I can write a novel.”
- “I’ve been meaning to write a novel for a long time and I need some accountability. This will motivate me to keep putting words on the page.”
- “I was about to write a novel anyway, and entering NaNoWriMo will keep me disciplined through the holidays.”
- “All of the above.”
So what’s your reason? Write it down on a piece of paper and tape it to your monitor or the wall or wherever you’ll see it every day. It’ll help you keep on track after the glow of the first few days wears off. Try to come up with a good strong reason why you’re entering. The stronger the reason, the more likely you are to succeed.
Planning Your Schedule
If the goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days, then you need to average 1667 words per day.
If you know you can write 1000 words per hour, then that works out to an hour and forty minutes every day for 30 days.
So the first step is to schedule that time. It’s not going to schedule itself. Look at your calendar and figure out when you’re going to put in the time.
You might decide to take weekends off. If you do that, there are only 22 weekdays in the month, which means you’ll need to average 2272 words per day, so you’ll need a bit more time each day.
You might also decide to take off Thanksgiving and the day after. That leaves 20 working days, which bumps up your required daily word count to 2500 words.
My guess is that there’ll be 2 days in the month where something utterly unexpected will come up and cut into your schedule. So if you want to be safe, you might want to plan for only 18 working days, which means you now need 2778 words per day.
Don’t be daunted by these numbers. Those are doable word counts. But it’s going to take some serious commitment to write them. You’ll need to be tough. You’ll need to stay on course.
You can do it, but you need to really want to do it.
I’ve written 90,000 words in a month, once. It wasn’t easy. It was brutal, in fact. I worked every single day of the month. But it was fun and I wrote some good words.
You can do this.
Optional: Planning Your Story
Some writers like to plan their stories in advance. Maybe they’re outliners, like the late great Robert Ludlum. Maybe they’re Snowflakers. Maybe they use the Story Equation. Maybe they use some other system.
If that’s the way your brain is wired, then October is a fine month to plan out your story, so you’ll be ready to roar on November 1, when NaNoWriMo officially opens.
And if your brain isn’t wired for planning, that’s okay too. If you’re a seat-of-the-pants writer, you can spend your remaining time before NaNoWriMo clearing your plate of things that might distract you.
After NaNoWriMo, Then What?
I think it’s important to know what you plan to do after NaNoWriMo is over. On December 1, you can expect to have 50,000 words written. Maybe more. That may be all or most of a novel.
Then what are you going to do with it? Put it on a shelf? I hope not! I hope you’ll try to get it published. I hope you’ll actually get it published.
You don’t have to know exactly how you’ll get your novel published now. That can wait until you have something to be published.
But it won’t hurt now to be thinking past NaNoWriMo. Because writing a novel is a real achievement, something to be proud of. And writing a novel that people read and enjoy and talk about is an even bigger achievement.
As you probably know, there are two main ways that authors use these days to get published.
- Sell the rights to your novel to a publishing company. (This is called “traditional publishing” and it’s been used for well over a hundred years by authors.)
- Act as your own publisher and put your book up for sale independently on Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, B&N, and any other online retailers. (This is called “self-publishing” or “indie-authoring” and it’s exploded in popularity in the last decade.)
Either of these approaches will work. They each have pluses and minuses. You get to decide which approach is best for you. My view is that it’s wonderful to have more than one option. If you subscribe to my Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, you’ve seen my 5-day series of email on how to get published, which now covers both options in more detail.
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Thank you, Randy!
Doing the math is useful. I experimented the last two days, writing with my goal at 2,500 words because I do want to try to have those weekends and the holiday open for family. I wasn’t sure I could do it, but I met my goal both days! I think I will take your advice and up my goal to 2,778.
It is hard to turn of the editing/critiquing/perfectionistic side of my brain as I write, but it sure speeds up the process when I do! I’m excited at the idea of having a rough (very rough) draft actually finished by the end of next month!
Yay! Thanks for writing this article. I’m excited for NaNo this year! Gearing up for it since last month!