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So You Want to Be an Author: National Novel Writing Month

If you really want to get your creative juices flowing, commit to NaNoWriMo for the month of November.

I can’t believe I’m saying this already, but November is almost here. And while many students are probably daydreaming about Thanksgiving break at this point in the semester, writers all over the world are preparing outlines and story ideas for NaNoWriMo.

“What the hell is NaNoWriMo?” you may ask. “It sounds like a disease.”

“NaNoWriMo” is a weird ass abbreviation for “National Novel Writing Month.” Just so you know, don’t listen to the people that say “NaNoREMo.” You don’t “wreet,” you “write.” But with that PSA out of the way, National Novel Writing Month is a challenge in which contestants strive to complete fifty thousand words of a first novel draft by November 30 at 11:59pm sharp.

Yes, you heard that right. Fifty thousand words.

So You Want to Be an Author: National Novel Writing Month
Image via NaNoWriMo

As impossible as that may seem, there is a certain genius to NaNoWriMo that makes it a great time to just write. During the other eleven months of the year, people are constantly making excuses as to why they have no time to write. But with NaNoWriMo, it’s almost like somebody is granting you explicit permission to let loose for a whole month. The thing is, free time doesn’t exist unless you make it, especially for writers. There will always be another episode of “Friends” to rewatch instead of starting a novel or short story. It’s not easy to make yourself sit down and ignore your Twitter feed for a solid hour.

But you’re probably still wondering how it’s possible to write a freakin’ novel when you’ve got classes, homework, jobs and sleeping to worry about. Believe it or not, it is possible.

Plot Pickin’

In the NaNoWriMo community, there are two kinds of writers. The first type uses the weeks leading up to November 1 to create extensive outlines, plot out their entire novel, name every character and make Pinterest boards full of inspiring images and quotes. These motivated individuals are called “Planners.”

On the other end of the spectrum are writers like me: The Pantsers. Instead of preparing for battle, Pantsers start from scratch. While this approach isn’t advised in most situations, for writing it works well. But even Pantsers have a vague idea of what they want their novel to be about. My #1 tip is to pick something that you’re actually interested in. Don’t attempt to write the next great American novel because you think you’ll make it big. Write about something you can imagine jotting down fifty thousand words about. What kinds of shows do you watch? What books do you read? Are you an expert in some strange, useless facts? Write about it.

Gather Cheerleaders

To win the NaNoWriMo challenge, one must be prepared to write at least an average of 1,667 words per day. Some days will be easier than others. Some people start out strong and lose steam while others won’t even begin writing until the middle of the month.

The best way to fight writer’s block is to have people tell you to get your ass back to work.

Yes, you can tell your family members on Facebook and they can bug you every day about when you’ll be finishing your award-winning, “New York Times” acclaimed book, or you can get your friends to join you on the journey. I suggest taking the Gandalf approach and barging into your friend’s house unannounced with a bunch of dwarves, but a text works as well.

But sometimes your friends are busy, and sometimes they just don’t want to write a novel in a month. Their loss. If this is the case, make new friends. You can ask people you know from classes if they’re participating or search by region to find other writers near you. However you decide to collect inspiring people, just know it’ll help in the long run to have some friendly competition. If you get stuck at any point, you can talk it out. Being able to see from a different perspective is often effective.

Get in the Mood

And now comes the hard part. Whether you’re a regular writer or somebody who wants to check “writing a novel” off their bucket list, getting started is difficult. One of the best ways to just do it is to create a space and atmosphere specific to the act of writing. It’s kind of like how people tell you not to study and eat spaghetti in your bed because it’s meant for sleeping or whatever. Whether it’s true or not, I’m no expert. But I do know from experience that even just sitting in a different spot in your house or in a new coffee shop can help get the creative juices flowing. Stagnation is not conducive to the imaginative process. New surroundings make the brain more focused and awake. You might overhear a great piece of dialogue or gather details for a setting.

So You Want to Be an Author: National Novel Writing Month
Image via The Sweet Setup

Changing location isn’t the only way to achieve writing inspiration though. Some writers have a specific outfit they wear only when they write, like a uniform for work. But usually the uniform consists of fuzzy socks and a cat onesie. Playlists are also helpful, especially when writing scenes that rely on emotional impact. You have an action packed fight sequence? There are tons of playlists for that. Maybe the next part is a tear-jerking character death. Well look at that, even more playlists. Make sure you don’t get caught up in the music though and totally forget about writing.

Write, Write, Write

Yes, it’s obvious that you need to write to produce a novel. But since NaNoWriMo is meant to make you write a first draft, it’s not going to be pretty. Don’t spend hours trying to edit a metaphor that doesn’t feel right. That’s what the revision stage is for. Focus on getting words onto the page. You’ll probably cut out a lot or most of your original draft, but you can’t create a story by staring at a page and thinking about what the characters are going to do. Whether you’re typing or using good ol’ pencil and paper, write whatever comes to mind. Make it coherent, but don’t restrain yourself. If you think your protagonist should make a different decision from what you had originally planned, let it play out. The new scenario might unlock some interesting doors and characters, and the plot may evolve drastically as you write.

At the end of the day, the goal of NaNoWriMo is to meet the word count, not make a perfect polished manuscript right off the bat. If you truly want to start a novel, November is the best place to start. Now go start collecting playlists.

Writer Profile

Ashley Wertz

University of Pittsburgh

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