Monday, October 17, 2011

Fiction writers, it's time! Gearing up for NaNoWriMo

Q: Can you name a well-known book (also made into a feature film) that got its start as a NaNoWriMo project?

I'll tell you the answer in a minute, but first, a little background for those who aren't familiar with this fabulous "jump-start" program for fiction writers.

Now in its thirteenth year, NaNoWriMo (which stands for National Novel Writing Month) encourages and inspires writers to complete an entire novel during the month of November. From November 1 through 30, writers can be found scribbling furiously. November is chosen because it tends to be one of the quieter months, with dreary weather to keep you indoors and not a lot going on except Thanksgiving which--if you work it right--might give you a four-day weekend of writing time, interrupted only for a call to a turkey feast that someone else has prepared. At the end of the month, if you can submit a manuscript of at least 50,000 words to NaNoWriMo, you are declared a winner.(Word count is verified, but the manuscript is neither read nor evaluated--it might be pure drivel, but the point as to get something down on paper that you can now work with).

What you end up with: a first draft and the self-satisfaction that you can beat procrastination and writers block and get a LOT of writing done with a little discipline, dedication, desire, and a deadline.

So why am I telling you this now, when November 1 is still a good two weeks away? So that you can prepare! While it's "out of bounds" to begin writing your novel before November 1, there are things you can do NOW to hit the ground running on that day.

Decide if you really want to participate. NaNoWriMo comes every year, so if you know up front that it will add too much stress to your life, hold off until next year. Or choose a different month to do it. While the "official" month is November, and there's something energizing, about doing it at the same time as writers all over the world, if you want to declare, say, January your personal novel-writing month, go for it.

That said, if you still want to proceed:

Think about your novel. Decide on a genre or general direction for your story. Brainstorm character names and backstories. Research settings and time periods. Plan, plan, plan . . . just don't do any actual writing of the manuscript.

Clear your schedule. Look at your November calendar and note all the pockets of time you have to write. Make writing appointments with yourself now, so that you aren't thrown off track by all the spontaneous invitations and distractions that are bound to come your way.

Do any of you have advice or anecdotes about NaNoWriMo that you'd like to share?

And now here's the answer to the question: According to NaNoWriMo, the most well-known published novel (so far) that got its start as a NaNoWriMo project is Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, which was a New York Times bestseller and was made into a feature film.


Mary Jane Honegger said...

Thanks for the reminder and the helpful tips about gearing up for NaNoWriMo, Jennifer. I want to join that short (very) list of writers who wrote a bestselling novel in one month! Have you ever done it? MJ

Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

I did it once and ended up with 50K words of mostly drivel but some good stuff that launched the book I'm now finishing, some years later. Another year I tried it and didn't finish, but it was still good discipline to try, since I tend to be an obsess-over-every-comma kind of poky writer. Having to scribble quickly underscores that writing and editing are entirely separate skill sets.

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

Me too, MJ ! I want to join that short list of writers who wrote a bestselling novel in one month ! Actually, I could be happy without the 'bestseller' status, just completing a novel in a month would work for me :)

I had never heard of NaNoWriMO prior to reading your post, Jenny. Thank you !