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Saturday, August 7, 2010

What Is NaNoWriMo?

November is National Novel Writing Month, but in the writing world, it is simply known as NaNoWriMo or "Thirty days and nights of literary abandon!". The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000-word novel (or part of a novel) in thirty days, starting on November 1 and ending on November 30. The purpose is to surrender yourself to literary abandon and find out what your brain can come up with if you release the reins and cut it loose?

Why would you want to do this? Allowing yourself to write your first draft without stopping to analyze and correct your material is a very powerful writing technique, and the lesson you learn from it can open your mind to grander, more imaginative stories. And the biggest bonus and motivator is, at the end of thirty days, you’re 50,000 words closer to a completed first draft.

Anne Lamott is the author of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, an excellent book on writing. This book contains the best chapter on writing a first draft I have ever read. Lamott recommends you allow yourself to write a terrible first draft. I have to warn you that her language can be a bit colorful, but her messages are poignant and worth the read.

Excerpt from Lamott’s book:

“For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.

“The first draft is the child's draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, 'Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,' you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means.”

Lamott shares that she was always afraid to leave her house after writing a first draft. She feared she’d be killed in a terrible accident. Then someone would find her first draft and think she’d committed suicide because she’d lost her ability to write. Of course, she’d always come back and clean it all up in subsequent drafts. But her point was to get it all out as fast and effortlessly as possible, then go back and make it all work. NaNoWriMo is about getting it all out as fast and effortlessly as possible - in December, you can go back and make it all work.

Last year, over 120,000 NaNoWriMo participants wrote 2.5 billion words during the month of November. When you register (participation is free), you will set up an account on the Web site. This account allows you to access writer forums and connect with other NaNoWriMo participants you may know. Through these connections you can keep up with your friends’ word counts or have some friendly competition. Regions also compete against other regions for the highest group word counts.

If you have a blog or Web address, you can also download NaNoWriMo participant tags and word-count widgets. You will also be assigned to a regional NaNoWriMo coordinator in your area (for us locals, our coordinator is in Nashville). The coordinator sends out e-mails to inspire and motivate us and manages facilitators who schedule write-ins so we can meet with other participants and write (most of last year’s meetings were in the Franklin area – the library, coffee shops – if we have enough NaNoWriMo participants from our area, I can be a facilitator and we will meet in Spring Hill).

If you plan to participate, now is the time to start thinking about what you plan to write. You are not allowed to start your novel until Nov. 1, but you can start preplanning now (plotting, characterization, outlines), because on Nov. 1, you want to be ready to hit chapter one running.

Go to the NaNoWriMo Web site at Click on the “About” tab and the “FAQs” tab to get a good understanding of what it’s all about, then spend some time exploring. You do not win anything except the success of your own hard work and the accomplishment of having 50,000 words on paper. However, learning to yield yourself to the creative processes of your mind and dedicating yourself daily to the craft of writing will be invaluable tools as you journey on the road to publication.

Tip: In order to complete 50,000 words in thirty days, you will have to write 1,667 words per day.

I did not finish last year, so I am extra determined to complete my 50,000 words this year. Is anyone else up for the challenge… a little friendly LWC novel-writing competition maybe?

Post by: LWC Director Karen Aldridge. Visit her personal blog at My Writing Loft.

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