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Tackling NaNoWriMo as a College Student

Five ways to commit to the writing challenge amid classes and approaching finals.
November 9, 2017
8 mins read

This November won’t just bring the start of the holiday season; it also marks the beginning of a movement that writers everywhere — young, old, professional, amateur — collectively take part of in the name of creativity. National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is an online-based creative writing project that challenges writers to complete fifty thousand words of a novel between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30.

Chris Baty started the challenge in 1999 among 21 of his friends in San Francisco. The movement has since grown to include more than thirty thousand writers in ninety countries, according to the organization’s website. With a strong online following, it has become an annual event which writers everywhere look forward to. However, to writers who are college students, the task of reaching 50,000 words in one month can seem nearly impossible. Between finals, cold weather and the hectic pace of extracurricular activities, the chance of finding time to write a whole novel seems pretty slim. However, this doesn’t have to be the case! Here are five strategies to help studious writers participate in NaNoWriMo between their other commitments.

1. Join the online community

First, make initial time to sign up for an account on the official National Novel Writing Month website. This allows writers to track their progress, share information about their story and interact with the site’s many resources and other members. The archived pep talks from authors such as John Green and Lemony Snicket will inspire you, while the site’s blog offers many specific, helpful tips on keeping up with the challenge.

Additionally, creating an account puts you on NaNoWriMo’s email list so that you’ll get current writer pep talks and other updates delivered straight to your inbox throughout the month. Above all, being a part of the community will keep you feeling engaged and accountable as you work on your project.

2. Pick one idea and run with it

For many first-time novel writers, mustering up the confidence to pick an idea and pursue it can be daunting. How do I know this is the best idea to pursue for a novel? Is it even a real story? Will everyone think it’s dumb? Part of NaNoWriMo’s mission is to help writers get over the fear of starting and just jump right into writing, even if the details are still a little fuzzy.

For this reason, decide on your novel concept before the month starts, and try to have handy a rough outline of the story arc. Preplanning will, hopefully, leave you with a solid outline to take into the writing process, so that you already have an idea of where your story is headed. Using an outline to guide your process should help the daily writing sessions feel more focused and truly worth the extra time you’re devoting to the challenge.

3. Prioritize and plan ahead of time

Alright, we already know that making time to write fiction every day for a month as a student seems nearly impossible. However, even abstract schedules may feel more manageable when they’re broken down on paper, and writing may seem more doable when it has a time and place on that schedule too.

To the best of your ability, write your daily schedule out for the month of November, including the assignments and projects that will take up time outside of class and meetings. Then, identify daily pockets of free time for novel writing. Even if it’s only 30 minutes between classes or an hour before bed, a little bit of writing time will go a long way. The act of scheduling writing sessions will incorporate NaNoWriMo into your student schedule. Instead of feeling as if the task is at odds with your other commitments, it will just feel like one (hopefully exciting!) part of your workflow.

4. Attend (or start) write-ins with others

Writing doesn’t always have to be a solitary activity. Creating an event out of your NaNoWriMo sessions can contribute to the sense of community and importance surrounding your project and spur you to keep going. The official organization hosts “Come Write In” events all over the country in local bookstores and libraries that encourage participants to gather and write together for scheduled periods of time.

A group session might help motivate your writing journey. (Image via Mythic Scribes)

If there aren’t any in your area, think about hosting your own. Campuses are usually easy places to find other NaNoWriMo writers along with a public library or classroom space where you can gather. Writing around others every so often will change up your perspective and make the process feel more like a community effort than a solitary (and sometimes painful) project.

5. Honor the spirit over the specifics

Let’s face it: even if a student writer plans ahead, schedules time to write, creates a killer outline and approaches the challenge with determination, it’s very possible that the 50,000-word goal won’t be met, or that many days will go without a word being written. This should not be discouraging! The spirit of NaNoWriMo is to make time for creativity, for pursuing the projects we’ve always thought about starting but have never made the time for.

In order to pursue the writing challenge while balancing a busy schedule, one must be committed to the overall mission instead of getting hung up on reaching specific goals. Inevitably, there will be bumps along the way, but as long as writers even make the attempt in the first place, they’re in good shape.

Hopefully, these tips have helped embolden timid college writers with great story ideas into tackling National Novel Writing Month with as little fear or nervousness as possible. As the Irish composer and writer Samuel Lover said: “When once the itch of literature comes over a man, nothing can cure it but the scratching of a pen. But if you have not a pen, I suppose you must scratch any way you can.” Even if all you have is a few minutes between classes, be bold this November and scratch the writing itch in whatever way and on whatever time available.

Carli Scalf, Ball State University

Writer Profile

Carli Scalf

Ball State University
English & Journalism

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