Laurel L. Russwurm's Free Culture Blog

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NaNoWriMo is …

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NaNoWriMo Crest: November

I was writing an email to my friend Cindy when it occurred to me it might valuable to share, so here goes.  I will be participating in NaNoWriMo again in 2010.

Last year I wrote the first 50,000 words of the first draft of my novel, “Inconstant Moon” as a NaNoWriMo project.

NaNoWriMo means “National Novel Writing Month”,
and the month is November.

NaNoWriMo began as a small group of people who wanted to try their hands at writing a novel, but it quickly exploded into an International Internet novel writing extravaganza.   Now it is a very large group of people all over the world who want to try their hand at writing a novel.   (Love that Internet!)

. . . whatever you want it to be

You don’t have to devote every waking moment of the month of November to writing a 50,000 word manuscript (unless you expect to get their winner goodies).  You don’t even have to write 50,000 words.   You can use as much or as little of the official NaNoWriMo to suit your needs.

I was telling my friend Cindy that even if she doesn’t think she has any hope of completing it this year, participating is valuable even if you don’t use it as intended.

Because NaNoWriMo is flexible.

The NaNoWriMo children’s program doesn’t expect kids to write 50,000 words.   Kids are encouraged to pick a word count that’s more appropriate for their age and experience.

And there’s no reason why anyone else can’t do the same.   You can participate in NaNo any way you want.   You don’t have to go to a live Write-In or participate on a forum.   You don’t need to tweet about it or anything else.   Maybe all you want is the word counter to help spur your writing on.

Some writers are verbose, some write fewer words.  I always found Theodore Sturgeon to be one of the more accomplished science fiction writers, yet his stories were very short, his volumes slim, but so beautifully constructed and richly written.   NaNoWriMo probably wouldn’t have been for him unless he decided he didn’t have to make the 50,000 words.

Adults have different things ongoing.   People have family obligations, work obligations.   Sickness and other unforseeable things rise up and smite us when we least expect it.   I know a teacher who longs to participate but her schedule doesn’t allow.   [Yes I’m talkin’ to you Elin!]

Maybe pick 10,000 words.   Maybe don’t even set a wordcount at all.   Just do it.

If you’re going to fail, fail gloriously.”

—Gord Davis, high school drama teacher

It’s easy to be too cautious.   If you’re a student of Yoda, you might come to the conclusion that its better not to try at all if there is little or no chance for success.   But if you don’t try, you certainly won’t do.

Back in the day, Mr. Davis wasn’t counseling us to expect failure, he was encouraging us to give it our all.   To aim for the stars.   And I think he was right.   A spectacular failure is much better than a mediocre success.   Perhaps I’m weird, but I have always learned best from my most spectacular failures, and least from my successes.

Even if there is no reasonable chance of success for any reason, you can still participate in NaNoWriMo.

If you have pressing engagements like small children or a multi-week trip to another continent, tailor your NaNoWriMo expectations to fit.   Life isn’t one-size-fits-all, and NaNaNoWriMo doesn’t have to be either.

If all you want to do is see if you can write a novel, that works too.

Writing is by its very nature one of the lonliest arts, which is probably why there are probably more writers than anything else holding live chats on Twitter.   Participating in naNoWriMo can give you access to both a virtual and real world writing community if you’re interested.   Or not.   You don’t have to post a word on a forum or attend a single write-in.   Even so, you can visit the NaNoWriMo site and cruise around and use the resources.   Even if you don’t want to connect with the community, the pep talks alone can make visiting the NaNo site worth while.  I’ll suggest the same thing they do though, if you get something out of it, put something back.

NaNaoWriMo can be whatever you need it to be.   My only regret is that I didn’t sign up for NaNoWriMo sooner, in one of those years that I just “didn’t have the time.”   Don’t make the same mistake I did.   Get out there and have fun with it.

One last quote, one that got me through college:

It isn’t a learning experience if you can’t make a mistake.*”

— David Gerrold, author of “The Trouble With Tribbles” and “Martian Child”

Even though I have a background as a professional writer, NaNoWriMo offers me the one thing an Independent Self Publishing author can have a really hard time getting anywhere else at all:

a deadline.



Stuff I’ve learned about NaNoWriMo

[note: if you’re a veteran WriMo you might want to give this bit a miss😀 ]

NaNoWriMo website

photo of the book

If you decide to be an official NaNoWriMo participant register on the NaNoWriMo website.   You’ll find a wealth of helpful information on the NaNo site.   You can make yourself a profile and participate on the forums, which allows you to connect with other writers.   You can find forum groups for whatever genre you wish to write, or just get tips and what not from old hands.   NaNoWriMo offers an ever growing quantity of novel writing resources.   NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty has written a book people can buy called “No Plot, No Problem.”   There are guides to novel writing for young writers (that can be used just as easily for older writers.)

Through the website you can probably also find a geographically local NaNoWriMo group.   These form up in many locations around the world in time for NaNoWriMo.   Experienced (and brave) NaNoWriMo participants volunteer to be the local ML (or municipal liaison) for the municipal location.   The ML is your NaNo guide and organizer.   Our ML wore a neon orange hat, so we could always find her in any venue.   In addition to writing 50,000 NaNo words of their own, these volunteers organize real world NaNoWRiMo events.

I don’t know if it’s the same everywhere, but our group also had three non-writing events.   The first was a kick-off party for everyone to get acquainted, in the middle there was a half-way party, and after the dust settles a wrap-up party at the end.   The ML also organizes weekly physical “Write-Ins” so area Wrimos can come together to write their novels in the same place.

This year our kickoff party (no writing allowed) is happening on the afternoon of the 31st, so dressing up is an option.   How cool is that?

before november

You can do as little or as much preparation as you like before November.   You can decide what you’re going to write.   You can make an outline, create characters, make up the back story, decide what grisly crime you want to try out, or what planet you’ll be visiting, invent your universe, do research, and then assemble the music you want to write to.   You can even create the cover art you want for your novel.

The only thing you can’t do is write a word of your novel until “the flag drops” on November 1st.

during NaNoWriMo

November 1sts begins whenever it does in your time zone.   Even if it’s November 1st somewhere else in the world, if it’s still October 31st where you are, you have to wait for it. Like the second or third heat in the Indy 500.

The main NaNoWriMo goal is to write a 50,000 word novel.

Triangular Orange Sign: Caution: Novelists at Work

That is about right for a small novel, a good starter size.   Your novel does not have to be finished at 50,000 words.   The 50,000 words is simply the arbitrary NaNo objective.   It’s a reasonable amount for the dedicated NaNo to write over the 30 day period.   People have managed this over the years whilst getting their university degree, holding down full time employment, or raising kids.   Looking at it one day at a time, if you write 1,667 words each day, you’ll have succeeded in meeting the challenge.

You can decide to write a Tom Clancy sized novels, but even so, you still only have to write 50,000 words in the month of November to be a NaNoWriMo “winner”.   Your novel: does not have to be coherent.   It doesn’t have to be complete.   It doesn’t have to be publishable or even make sense at the end.   There is no room for writers block.   The goal is simply to see if you can write 50,000 fictional words.

The best way to do it would be to make sure you write something every day.  One of my favorite tools available on the NaNoWriMo website was the wordcounter.   After you’re done writing for the day you log onto the site and log your word count.  Most any program you chose to write your novel in will happily provide you with that information.

But of course there is no rule that says you have to write it on a computer.   You can use a typewriter or even do it longhand.  (I’m not quite sure what you would do about word counts in this case, but your ML will probably b able to tell you.   Or know where to go to find out.

You can write in the privacy of your own home, but if you decide to connect up with your local group, there will be NaNoWriMo Write-Ins.   It sounds absolutely crazed, and I don’t know what it looks like on the outside, but as a writer I found it exceedingly helpful to sit in a room full of strangers who are all following their dream.   I was amazed how productive the Write-Ins were.

NaNoWriMo writers at work

NaNoWriMo 2009 Write-In (me-in-the-middle)

These gatherings take place wherever your ML can find a space big enough to accommodate the group.   So a write-in can happen anywhere from a coffee bar to a public library, just so long as the WriMos can plug in their computers and ignore each other while they quietly work on their individual novels.   Pretty much you need places to sit, places to plug in your laptops (and perhaps power bars) and if you’re really lucky you’ll have some kind of WiFi connection so people can log their wordcounts.

Often the ML will announce a “word war” so the writers in the group who thrive under pressure compete to see who can write the most words over a five minute period.   Even if you don’t ‘win’ you win, because you have that many more words logged in your manuscript.   But mostly people sit in the same room and write.   Chatting and socializing take place before and after, and if the write-in is being held at a commercial food venue, it is generally expected that everyone will purchase at least a beverage from the commercial establishment in lieu of rent.   Apparently some libraries are very hospitable as well.   Our group is fairly new, so we’re just looking into that for this year.

P091101010

NaNoWriMo Novelists at Work

To my way of thinking the chief benefit of both the writing forums and the physical get-togethers is the shared experience and the moral support.   It helps just knowing other people are writing novels too.   Because the main thrust is achieving your wordcount, there is discussion and comparison of tips and angst.

Towards the end there will be a “Night of Writing Dangerously” where an overnight venue is arranged and WriMos gather together for a Write-In all-nighter.   If you’re really far behind this is often a means to catch up, but the human element is certainly important here too.   Because writing is solitary work.

Last year there was also an IRC Chatroom, so Write-ins could happen online either according to schedule, or on an impromptu basis.   That’s the thing with Write-Ins; throughout the month, quite often people will post a notice that they are going to be writing in a corner of this or that coffee shop at such and such a time, which results in unofficial Write-Ins.

showing the graph statistics

NaNoWriMo has an account on Twitter, where the organizers occasionally post interesting stats, like how many words all the WriMos in the world have written to date.   Or the URL to the NaNoWriMo music video someone who dropped out made instead and posted to YouTube.   For Identi.ca users there is alos a NaNoWriMo group where participants can also log their status, wordcount, trials and tribulations.   This was only a small group, but a few of us kept it going long after NaNo as we struggled with editing our novels.

There are also pep talk emails that are sent out to those who want them.

It all helps.

after NaNoWriMo

When you hit your 50,000 words you upload your manuscript for validation.   I suggest doing this as soon as you hit the number, because that way you immediately become a winner.   Computer programs always work better when everyone isn’t trying to do the same thing at the same time.   If you’re like me and end up writing a 100,000 word novel, even after you hit 50,000 words and are officially a “winner”, you can keep up the momentum and continue writing and posting your wordcount to the end of the month.

logo says: CreateSpace put creativity to work

If you “win” you are entitled to various winner’s goodies.   The one that I wanted was a printed CreateSpace proof copy of your novel.

Some wrimos just have their November product bound so they can add it to their bookshelves.   Others edit it and get copies for family and friends (makes good Christmas gifts for family.)   Still others (like me) venture into self publishing.   (Caution: if you choose this route, I strongly urge that you look into professional editing services, either from CreateSpace or an Independent. )

Even if you aren’t going to edit it, even if you don’t ever want to read it again, if you’ve written your 50,000 words, as a “winner” you can have your book printed by CreateSpace as a souvenir of a month well spent.

You can transfer your free proof to someone else, or use it to publish a different book… your recipes say?   Your memoirs?   Just so you know (I didn’t) this is a time limited offer. Last year you had 6 months to collect.   I just got it done in the nick of time.   I’m not done yet but CreateSpace is truly awesome so far.

validation: No human will read your Novel

As I understand it the validation is performed by software; so no human actually reads your novel.   Nor is it posted on the NaNoWriMo website for all the world to see.   It is just a wordcount, really.

Although I managed to run my wordcount almost to 60,000 words, I was not finished my novel.   So after NaNoWriMo was officially over, a few people who were not finished continued holding “Non-NaNo Write-Ins” for months afterward.   And our local WriMos began planning Non-NaNo write ins before the NaNoWriMo website was given it’s annual clean-up at the end of September before starting fresh for the 2010 edition on October 1st.

NaNoWriMo is free.   Anyone in the world can participate at zero cost.   They hope for donations, and if you get anything out of the experience, it’s good to support them with a donation or by purchasing a NaNoWriMo merchandise.   If people didn’t do this, NaNoWriMo couldn’t do what it does, which is awesome.

on my desk

I hope to get out for at least one of the Non-Nano Write-Ins as I intend to have my outline and hopefully most of the prep done before NaNo starts this year.

This would have been a certainty if I wasn’t working hard to get last year’s
NaNoWriMo novel, Inconstant Moon,
self published first. Including, but by no means limited to:

  • Final polish & proof…
  • building a blog…
  • writing promo material….
  • author photos…
  • trying to get video editing problems resolved so I can do a book trailer…

[And that’s not mentioning important copyright issues… like ACTA …keeping an eye on and fighting against the dread Canadian DMCA, Bill C32, which is about to enter seconf reading in The House of Commons… or blogging to help Free Byron, Canadian G20 political prisoner being punitively held without bail…]

reading the proof copy


errata: I quoted David Gerrold above from memory; and it seems memory can be imperfect. The actual quote (found in David Gerrold’s book, “The Trouble With Tribbles” was actually this:

It’s not a learning experience, unless you can make mistakes.”

— David Gerrold, “The Trouble With Tribbles”

5 Responses

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  1. […] I’ve blogged about my NaNo participation previously, here, here so you can read that if you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is… […]

  2. Any idea who came up with the crest for NaNoWriMo? I especially liked how they used a cup of coffee – in my mind, all writers are coffee addicts.

    Larry Russwurm

    October 25, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    • I know I certainly am a coffee addict.

      But really, some of the NaNo writers I know are emphatically non coffee drinkers. These days writers can drink whatever we want… it doesn’t have to be whiskey or Jack Daniels anymore (unless the writer is Joe Konrath)

      It’s th idea of coffee… doing what you’ve got to do to meet your goal.

      Laurel L. Russwurm

      October 25, 2010 at 10:29 pm

  3. […] Laurel L. Russwurm: NaNoWriMo is … NaNoWriMo began as a small group of people who wanted to try their hands at writing a novel, but it quickly exploded into an International Internet novel writing extravaganza. Now it is a very large group of people all over the world who want to try their hand at writing a novel. (Love that Internet!) […]

  4. Thank you for this post! I’ve been considered doing NaNoWriMo for a couple of years and you’ve pushed me over the edge. I’m excited to see what I can do!

    Terri

    October 22, 2010 at 3:33 pm


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