Three Things I Learned from NaNoWriMo

November has been dubbed National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) by Chris Baty, a writer from San Francisco. For 11 years, he’s sponsored an event for writers, challenging them to write a novel (50,000 words) during the month of November. Thousands of writers have taken him up on the challenge and participated through the NaNoWriMo website.

I’ve been a part of the challenges for several years and I’ve learned some things in the process that I’d like to share with you.

Challenge Yourself

Use NaNo as an opportunity to challenge yourself. You don’t have to adhere to the “50,000 words on a new novel” rule. It’s more of a guideline, than a rule. The point of NaNo is to challenge yourself–stretch beyond what you think you’re capable of.

  • If you already have a story started, write 50,000 more words on it in 30 days.
  • If you’re writing short stories, instead of novels, write 50,000 cumulative words on a variety of stories in 30 days.
  • If your novel is done, edit 50 pages a day on it.
  • If you’re submitting, send out 5 queries a day for 30 days.

Think of what you could accomplish under normal circumstances and then double your output for a month. You don’t have to keep it up forever, just for a month. See what kind of a kickstart that gives to your writing.

First Draft Freedom

NaNo requires fast writing. For many writers, 50,000 words in 30 days is really fast. You don’t have time to edit, to fuss with point of view, to layer your characters. You just write and get it down on paper.

As a writer who gets stuck in perfectionism, NaNo is a refreshing change for me. I can’t fuss over the first chapter for six months, getting the words just right. Instead, I have to throw something on to the page and keep going.

Now, mind you, I’m not deliberately throwing garbage on to the page and calling it my novel. No, I’m writing the story the best I can without self-editing during the process. Forward motion is my goal. I’ve come across several writers who feel that writing the first draft is necessary for you to figure out what story you’re actually telling. Then in the second draft (and subsequent ones), you shape the story to that vision. Since I know the story will change (possibly radically), then getting my first draft perfect isn’t necessary. It’s kind of useless, even, since I’m going to change it. So write fast and get to the end of your first draft so you know your story.

Help, My Plot Has Fallen and It Can’t Get Up!

One of my favorite “tools” I learned from NaNo is the plot ninjas.

Let’s pretend that you’re writing along on your novel and you start to realize that your characters have been sitting in a kitchen, sipping tea and chatting for the last 30 pages. Drinking tea in a kitchen is the kiss of death for a novel. Where’s the tension? Where’s the conflict? You need to get those characters moving and reacting to something.

Suddenly there’s a knock at the back door. Your main character answers the door and discovers ninjas who immediately start attacking him!

Now there’s tension and conflict in your story. Nobody stands passively by while ninjas are attacking.

Ninjas may not fit your genre, but you can adapt the plot ninja idea to other types of stories.

  • If you’re writing a mystery, someone totally unexpected is murdered.
  • In a romance, another man (or woman) shows up and claims to be married to your main character.
  • In a scifi story, aliens attack or a nanite plague breaks out.
  • In a crossover novel, the secret spouse of your main character’s love interest is murdered by aliens wielding nanites.

The only criteria for using plot ninjas in your story is that the ninja event be something unexpected and startling. Something that your characters must react to. Then they’re no longer in the kitchen drinking tea.

I’ve learned other things from participating in NaNo, but these are three biggies–enjoy the challenge, write freely in my first draft, and use plot ninjas to shake things up when my story has stalled.

What things have you learned from NaNoWriMo?

I’ll be participating in NaNo again this year. If you’d like to follow my progress, add me as a Writing Buddy.

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