I usually shy away from bandwagons and hype but back in 2009 when I first heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) I was intrigued. The idea was to write 50,000 words in one month – that’s 1667 words per day. At that point I had four kids under ten – the eldest turned nine in the NaNoWriMo month of November and the youngest turned two in the same month, my husband had a demanding job and there were never enough hours in the day. But, disappearing under the mountain of motherhood, I also knew how much I wanted to be a writer. In the August of 2009 I’d received the fantastic news of being shortlisted for the Hennessy awards. I’d concentrated on short stories because of time pressures and getting the shortlist let me know that someone else valued my work. When I had this idea for Susan, a mother who has to save to universe (wonder where I got that idea?) and an endearing space traveller Fairly Dave, I scribbled down a few paragraphs and hoped that NaNoWriMo would help me push forward and write the whole book. And, to cut a long story short, it did! The camaraderie of other NaNoWriMoers, a clear challenge that allowed me to rally help and support and a consistent writing practice were the elements that helped me write 50,000 words of the comedy novel that went on to become Housewife with a Half-Life.
NaNoWriMo worked for me that year and I’ve gone back in subsequent years to complete or add to further books. But it’s a big commitment so if you’re wondering whether to take the plunge, here are a few pointers to help you decide if it’s for you.
NaNoWriMo IS for you if
- You want to establish a consistent writing practice
Whether or not you stick to the quota, NaNoWriMo’s aggregate wordcount recorder and graph are a great visual incentive to show you how a body of words builds up over the month. It also allows you to choose a main time of day when you can carve out an hour or two to write.
- You REALLY (and maybe only secretly up to now, want to be a writer.)
NaNoWriMo is ideal if you want to forge an identity as a writer both for yourself and for friends and family. People like to get behind a cause and, like a Marathon or charity fundraiser, NaNoWriMo has clear parameters that allow others to get behind you and cheer you on. Announce that you’ve set yourself a challenge of 50,000 words in the month of November and ask others to support you – whether it’s by helping out with chores or dinners, kid drop offs, shopping runs or just asking you how you’re getting on and acknowledging your efforts as a writer.
- You’re prepared to be flexible and tenacious
If you have any chance of achieving the 1667 a day word count you must be prepared to write anywhere, anytime (as well as the specified hour above) to add to your daily words. Notebook or Netbook on the Dart or train, notes written at your desk at lunchtime, scribbles while the dinner is cooking – everything adds up. Places I wrote during NaNoWriMo also included in the car during my daughter’s GAA practice, at the dentist’s surgery (not while in the chair!) and at the swimming pool during the kids lessons.
- You’ve already begun a project or you’re writing short stories
Yes, it is National Novel Writing Month and technically you are meant to start a new project from scratch but there is nothing to stop you being a NaNoRebel. So many people use NaNoWriMo purely for the fantastic camaraderie and impetus it provides to push forward on a current project. Who cares if what you are writing isn’t technically a novel? NaNoWriMo is for you, a legitimate writer who needs an injection of energy and verve into the daily grind of writing.
- Fear, procrastination, research obsession or anything else is holding you back from starting.
There are great reasons for putting off starting writing a novel. Perhaps you haven’t structured it right or you don’t really know ‘what it’s about’. But sometimes it’s only through doing that you’ll discover new threads and connections in your book, new characters who arrive unannounced. There are so many books out there. What makes them unique is YOU, your particular experiences (the mulch of your life), your values, your views, your hates and ideals, your passions and your idiosyncratic mode of expression. If there is a novel that is has been building inside you for years but you just don’t know where to start, NaNoWriMo is perfect to get you going.
NaNoWriMo is NOT for you
- If you aren’t prepared to break the rules and push the boundaries
The ideal is 1667 words per day but sometimes you’ll do less, (or more,hopefully). Some people end up on weekend catchups of 7000 words in day for example.You might have a plan for your novel, in fact you might be extremely well prepared and as in the Snowflake method you might have a scene by scene breakdown of your book in mind. But you don’t have to stick to the plan, tangents and seat of the pants writing is not only permitted, it’s necessary. Once you start writing freely, your imagination, old memories and new connections will throw up material you never dreamed of originally.
- If you think that NaNoWriMo is not for real writers
Perhaps you already have a daily writing routine and you ‘don’t see why’ (I’ve seen this said) people need to jump on the bandwagon of writing a novel in one month. Surely dross can only come of it (another comment I’ve heard). But many full time novelists use NaNoWriMo to push their projects along. NaNoWriMo novels you may have heard of are Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants (now also a movie), Wool by Hugh Howey and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (who wrote it over two NaNoWriMos but we love NaNoRebels!) For more published novels see here.
If you think NaNoWriMo is for you…
Sign up to NaNoWriMo here and your (free) account will allow you to track writing progress over the month, add writing buddies who are also participating, and even find out details of real world write-ins and other local events to help you keep writing. Good Luck!
My NaNoWriMo projects:
Housewife with a Half-Life – domestic comedy with a sci-fi flavour on Amazon etc.
The Exhibit of Held Breaths – a strange and charismatic exhibit takes apart the life of its reluctant curator and the people of 1980s Irish town. (Literary novel under submission.)
Eat! – a girl with pica, a man who mourns the landscape and a potential cannibal in the manic world of boomtime Ireland (Literary novel still ongoing!)