By Maggie James
Let the madness begin...
After a two-year break, I'm delighted to be participating again in the annual NaNoWriMo competition. NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, a madcap event in which entrants pledge to complete a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. I wrote Sister, Psychopath for NaNoWriMo 2011 and Guilty Innocence for 2012.
One question I'm often asked is, 'what do you win?' The answer is nothing, apart from the satisfaction of taking part and completing a novel, or at least 50, ooo words of it. NaNoWriMo is great fun, but it can be hard going; on average, only 15% of entrants are proclaimed winners, meaning they've met the required word count. Those who succeed get a range of opportunities from the competition's sponsors, such as 50% off my favourite writing software, Scrivener, or help with formatting their novel.
The main benefit, in my opinion, is the chance to kiss goodbye to procrastination and crack on with your story. In addition, the cameraderie of joining in with thousands of other writers is incredible. The NaNoWriMo forums provide help of every kind, with boards devoted to plot issues, finding critique partners, sharing ideas, as well as regional ones where you can contact fellow novelists in your area. It's a great way to connect with other authors.
Arson, murder and fractured families...
I've blogged before and described in my book, Write Your Novel! From Getting Started to First Draft, about how I'm a planner when it comes to my books. The NaNoWriMo winning threshold is 50,000 words but I aim to write my entire novel (75,000+ words) in November if possible, and to achieve that I need to be organised. The competition starts in a couple of days, and I've completed a rough outline for each chapter, along with my character notes, research and word targets, ready to get going on Sunday.
I'm sure there's more planning I should have done, yet part of me is itching to crack on with the writing. However good my outline is, once I get going I tend to spot issues I hadn't noticed before. Sometimes these are plot glitches, other times it's a chance to take the story down a new and exciting path.
So what will I be writing about? For my 2015 NaNoWriMo entry, I'm examining pyromania - a fascination with fire, manifesting in a compulsive need to set things alight. Throw in a brutal murder of a young girl and a fractured family, and the scene's set for my fifth full-length novel!
My five tips for NaNoWriMo success
I enjoy helping other writers when I can. So what advice would I give novice NaNoWriMo participants? Well, there's no 'one size fits all' formula, but here are my five tips for NaNoWriMo success.
1. Commit to success. 85% of entrants fail to complete their NaNoWriMo novel; I believe it helps to make a firm resolve to see it through. Tell yourself you'll do this, no matter what, and reward yourself along the way. Passed the halfway 25,000-word stage? Then celebrate! Plan how you'll mark crossing the 50,000-word line, thus giving yourself something to look forward to.
2. Get organised. Set up your NaNoWriMo profile, browse the website, and take advantage of the many resources on offer. Familiarise yourself with how the competition works. Decide how you'll write - will you use Microsoft Word, an online application such as LitLift, or pen and paper? Do you need a novelist buddy to help spur you to success? Find one via the NaNoWriMo forums. Think of anything that might prevent you completing your novel, and brainstorm ways around such issues.
3. Prepare an outline, however basic. Even if you're a seat-of-the-pants writer, I urge you to write a few notes about your plot and characters and the journey on which you'll take them. It can help stave off writer's block if you keep a summary of your idea to hand, ready for when your muse deserts you.
4. Recruit support. Make sure those close to you know you're entering NaNo and that you need space in which to write. You can also turn to the NaNoWriMo forums for help. Connect with novelists in your age group, in your region, or those writing in the same genre. You're never on your own with NaNoWriMo- if your mojo is flagging and you're losing the plot - reach out and connect!
5. Pace yourself. Steady Eddies who write every day are more likely to win than those who crank out their word counts in fits and starts. It's not uncommon for entrants to flag mid-month, then face a huge catch-up task in the final week. Many become overwhelmed and give up. Don't let that be you.
How many words will you aim for each day? Are there any dates on which you can't write due to prior commitments? Why not use a calendar, either paper or digital, and schedule out the month's writing to fit around them? That way you'll have a solid plan to ensure you hit the 50,000-word mark, making it seem less daunting. You only need to write 1,667 words each day to win. I'm a slow (and terrible) typist, yet I can manage 1,667 words in about two hours.
As for finding the time, ditch watching TV during November, get up earlier or go to bed later, work through your lunch hour - if you want NaNoWriMo success badly enough, you'll find the time.
What if you don't make it to 50, 000 words?
Don't beat yourself up over it! Perhaps you've only managed 20,000 words whilst your NaNoWriMo writing buddies proudly display their winner banners on their profiles. In my opinion, you've not failed. You've still written 20,000 words towards your novel, and most likely learned a lot about yourself and the writing process. Stick with your book, and in another three months you could have a completed first draft. Besides, November rolls around annually without fail - you'll get another chance next year!
Will you be joining in the fun?
Are you entering NaNoWriMo this year? If so, leave a comment and let me know, or add me as a writing buddy via the NaNoWriMo website. My user name is savingforoz (find me by clicking the link), and my avatar is the cute kitten in the picture. I look forward to connecting with you!
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