Starting November 1st writers across the globe will be hunkering down at their laptops, desktops, paper, what-have-you, and crafting a brand-new story for National Novel Writing Month. We get thirty days to write 50,000 words. A writing frenzy that will require loads of caffeine, inspiration, and perseverance.
In 2011, I participated for the first time, stumbling accidentally upon NaNoWriMo five days into November. I had never heard of it until I was messing around in the blogging world and reading posts by writers already deeply immersed in their NaNoWriMo novels. I was immediately intrigued. That very day I began writing off of two words that had been bouncing around my head for a while.
NaNoWriMo has no constraints, no structure, no rules (other than writing 50,000 words in thirty days). Typically a pantser’s dream, NaNoWriMo encourages writing on the fly, the importance of quantity over quality.
This is a month of story creation that emerges organically and sails off in an unchartered direction. Stories that evolve with such freedom become their own masquerade party. Characters slip out of the woodwork. They behave unexpectedly. Setting changes abruptly. Secrets that weren’t part of the plot on page 11 are suddenly unveiled by page 64. The plot veers into a different direction without warning. The author likely has no idea how things will turn out once the clock strikes twelve.
Of course, organic writing is only one way to get through NaNoWriMo. There are some writers who actually prepare for this event, where they know how things are going to end first. They follow a structured path. It can still be a twisty, dark path with bumps and storm damage along the way, but where the finish line is clear and definite. Where they know how to proceed from one moment to the next.
For the first five years of my NaNo experience, I wrote without a plan (“pantsing”). Writing freely meant that I wrote from the gut. Anything could happen, and it would be okay. I had given myself permission to simply put words down on paper/screen, no judgment. There were moments where I felt the story was hurtling into orbit. If I had a prayer of getting it back to some sense of order I better do some rewriting. Then I remembered the objective was to get down words. Any words. 50,000 words. In under 30 days.
I stopped worrying. And I just wrote.
It is a freeing experience, to write without censoring yourself. Without worrying if your scenes transition well. Without worrying if the dialogue is snappy or witty. And, gasp! without fussing over punctuation or grammar.
In fact, such organic writing helped me overcome one of my biggest storytelling flaws–I protect my characters too much. I let them dance dirty for a while, but I tend to pull them off the stage when they start behaving dangerously. I practically had to shut my eyes to their erratic, shameful behavior because, well, I needed 50,000 words. NaNoWriMo helped me write daring stories with characters that say and do the kinds of things I wish I could say and do.
After my fifth NaNo experience, I was struck with a sobering thought. None of those five NaNo novels went anywhere beyond the 50,000 words. I may have tinkered a bit with them a couple of months following, but if I was to be honest with myself, I abandoned them because they were way too messy, they lacked focus, and they were self-indulgent.
As a writer who truly wanted to improve and strengthen her skills, I realized I had outgrown NaNo’s usefulness in the sense of “getting words down.” By novel #5 it was clear I had overcome the anxiety of starting. I could even finish, technically speaking, if we’re talking about that single objective of writing 50,000 words in thirty days.
I was ready to do more. I wanted to actually construct a novel, a full novel, with a beginning, middle, and end.
That is when I began to come up with NaNoWriMo prep, strategies to help me clarify and strengthen my story idea before November 1. This way, the next thirty days is all about writing 50,000 words that will follow a story arc that actually has stakes a reader will care about.
This year will be the third time that I use NaNoWriMo as more than getting my butt into the chair and churning out 50,000 words. I have story notes going, part of my Discovery stage, for book two of my contemporary fantasy series. Over the next three weeks I will be putting my pre-NaNo strategies in place so I can be ready to write a story with a strong foundation that won’t look like a horror show on December 1.
If you are interested to learn more about my strategies so you can try out NaNoWriMo without the fear of writing a tangled disaster, come join my Facebook hive at #TeamWriter. I will be holding some live videos and supplying downloadable material that you can use to help you get ready for the most productive and enjoyable NaNoWriMo yet.
Have a writerly day!