Get your pens and notebooks out, the coffee maker turned on, and your phone locked away because National Novel Writing Month is in full swing!
For those of you who don’t know, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a world-wide event where participants write a 50,000 word novel in the span of 30 days. It sounds crazy, I know, but it’s possible. Last year, more than 400,000 writers participated, coming from all walks of life. In fact, it’s likely that you have read a NaNoWriMo novel. Books like Water for Elephants, The Night Circus, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth all came from novels completed during NaNoWriMo. You can view the full list of published authors here.
Interested in participating? Not sure if what you want to write counts as a novel? The word “novel” is defined by NaNoWriMo as “a lengthy work of fiction,” but beyond that, it’s up to you if what you’re writing counts as a “novel.” NaNoWriMo doesn’t ask many questions. They’ve even set aside a portion of their forms to the NaNoRebels, for writers of nonfiction works (memoirs, biographies, essays, travel guides, etc.), scripts, graphic novels, anything under the sun. Short story collections are a gray area but generally accepted as “a lengthy work of fiction.” Create what speaks to you!
As someone who has completed NaNoWriMo once, here are some quick tips and tricks to get you through November:
- It’s easier said than done, but just write. It doesn’t matter what you write. NaNoWriMo isn’t about beautiful, flawless prose on your first try. It’s about getting words on the page.
- On a similar note, it’s also about getting into the rhythm of writing every day. Set aside an hour or even 30 minutes as dedicated writing time. For that hour or however long, let your fingers fly over the keyboard or across the page. NaNoWriMo recommends 1,667 words per day, which comes out to about five typed pages.
- Quantity over quality. Write that on a sticky note and stick it to your forehead. The goal of NaNoWriMo isn’t to write the next Great Gatsby. It’s to write a 50,000 word novel. When I wrote mine four years ago, it was so bad! I edited it afterwards, but it has never been published and probably never will be, and that’s totally okay. I still call myself a novelist.
- Let the novel take you where it goes. One thing with writing that I’ve noticed is that you start in one place, and the characters, plot, and scene take you in a totally different direction than you were anticipating. Lean into that.
- Take a few minutes early on to outline the novel. It doesn’t have to be in depth, but knowing where you start, where you (think you will) end up, and how you’re going to get between those two points is half the battle. Use it as a guideline—not a hard and fast rule.
- Have a NaNoWriMo buddy! Having someone keep you accountable for your progress is immensely helpful because you have someone to encourage you, to offer help and sympathy.
- Incentives, incentives, incentives. When you meet a word count goal for the day, reward yourself! Watch an episode of your favorite TV show, eat a piece of your favorite candy, or bask in the glory of having accomplished writing a few more pages of your novel.
- Get rid of the backspace key. Okay, this advice shouldn’t be taken literally, but do not delete a single word. Remember Tip #3.
- READ AS MUCH AS YOU WRITE. Ask any acclaimed author, and they’ll tell you to never stop reading. Read all kinds of books, too—not just the kind you want to write.
The UGA Press has published several books on the craft of writing, so if you’re interested in learning more about the process or are just plain confused about where to start, here are a few to get you started:
A Stranger’s Journey: Race, Identity, and Narrative Craft in Writing by David Mura
David Mura mixes memoir and craft to explore two central questions: How is writing an exploration of who one is and one’s place in the world, and how does one tell a story? Mura examines how the myriad identities in our changing contemporary canon have led to new challenges regarding both craft and pedagogy, and he provides clear, insightful narrative tools that any writer may use, taking in techniques from fiction, screenplays, playwriting, and myth. Through this process, Mura candidly explores the newly evolved aesthetic principles of memoir and how questions of identity occupy a central place in contemporary memoir.
Ru Freeman, author of On Sal Mal Lane, calls it, “a book that is essential reading for anyone who considers the writer’s art a serious, and sacred, opportunity to transform the world.”
Novel Ideas: Contemporary Authors Share the Creative Process by Barbara Shoup and Margaret-Love Denman
Shoup and Denman combine interviews with authors and exercises to provide novelists (both amateur and accomplished) with hands-on strategies for beginning, working through, and revising a novel. Robert Hellenga, author of The Italian Lover, says it is, “the real thing: the editors offer an excellent crash course on how to write a novel, and the contemporary novelists they interview offer advice, insight, consolation, inspiration, and (above all) stories about stories. I can’t imagine a writer who wouldn’t find this book useful, or a reader who wouldn’t find it stimulating and provocative.”
Estranging the Familiar: Toward a Revitalized Critical Writing by G. Douglas Atkins
Those interested in writing essays will find Atkins’s book particularly interesting as it examines scholarly and critical writing through a new approach: one that utilizes a personal approach to be readable, vital, and potentially attractive to a large readership. He looks at various experiments in critical writing from Plato to the present, notably feminist interest in the personal and autobiographical, he contends that these attempts, although undeniably important, fall short of the desired goal when they emphasize the merely expressive and neglect the artful quality good writing can bring to personal criticism. He also experiments a little himself, attempting to bridge the gap between theory and popular criticism, between an academic and a general audience.
Need more? Here is the full list of the books we have on craft.
Good luck with your novel writing, and Happy NaNo!