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  • Kara Newcastle

Writing Wednesday: Nanowrimo: What Is It, How Does It Work, And How Do I Do It?

Writing Wednesday: Nanwrimo: What Is It, How Does It Work, And How Do I Do It?

It’s baaaack!

nanowrimo shield

That’s right, time for the eighteenth annual National Novel Writing Contest—or, as it’s affectionately known/detestably known, “Nanowrimo.” (Pronunciation varies, but most people say “nan-oh-WRY-mo.” Others say, “Aw, DAMMIT.”)

For those of you who aren’t aware, Nanowrimo occurs every November, challenging writers of all abilities, genres and status to complete a 50,000-word book by November 30th. There is no prize, aside from a certificate, a little badge you can display on your social media accounts, and the satisfaction of knowing that you actually wrote a novel.

You might be wondering what the point is if there are no prizes (although occasionally self-publishing sites like have special events where you can publish a copy of your book for free), but you’re missing the point: in thirty days, you wrote a novel. You WROTE a novel. A NOVEL. Get it? A thing with a plot, a beginning, a middle, an end, characters and dialogue, the whole schmear. You would have buckled down for an entire month and created a work of fiction. That’s the prize, my friend. Most people can barely spare five minutes to punch out a text, and you wrote a freaking book.

Now, you might be thinking two things: 1) 50,000 words doesn’t sound long enough to be a novel, and 2) 50,000 words sounds like a lot of words. Well, you’re right in both instances. 50,000 is roughly about 125 pages, give or take a few. That technically makes it a novella, which is kind of a skinny version of a novel (200-400 pages.) So, yes, it’s a lot of words, but it’s not as overwhelming as a real novel could be. Your word processor will keep count for you (usually at the bottom left-hand of the screen) and Nanowrimo will count up all the words in your manuscript when you submit it, but I’ve noticed that it tends to run on the low side for some reason, so you’ll probably want to be safely over 50,000 words in order to “win.” (Adding your name, the chapter and title of the book at the top of every new chapter can help, if you get at all frustrated.)

Oh, and FYI, typing something like “that” and copying and pasting it over 50,000 times doesn’t count as a book. You have to write an actual story.

If the idea of writing a book makes you nervous, don’t worry! Nobody will see the book if you don’t want to share it—it’s just a robot that counts the words. All your characters, plots, etc. are protected from theft. You don’t have to worry about the quality of your writing or whether it’s original or amazing or whatever, so just have to write. You could write a fan fiction if you wanted to. You could start off writing a dystopian-future YA novel and have it turn into a study of the nuances of the relationship of a mother and daughter clown/trapeze artist duo in a traveling 19th century circus. It doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t have to be amazing. It could be riddled with grammatical mistakes and spelling errors, but that’s fine because you wrote it.

Now I bet you’re thinking, “Yeah, but when am I going to find the time to write?” I hear you—it’s not easy. You may have work or school or kids, but this is why it’s called a challenge. You have to find a way to make time to write, especially if you want this to be a springboard into a writing career or are using it to jumpstart you out of a rut or writer’s block. If you really want to do it, if you really want to write this story and get that badge and certificate, you’ll weasel out some time to write whenever you can: get up earlier, go to bed later, write on the train, write in your carpool, dictate lines into your phone while exercising, write when the baby is napping, write on your lunch break, write in the bath, write during Screen Scramblers before the movie, write at dinner, write while you’re waiting for your show to come on, dictate to your phone or computer while housecleaning or walking the dog. Designate a time of the day or a day of the week when you can get the most writing done. Write a little every day, or as much as you can come up with (Stephen King aims for ten pages a day, for example.)

With that being said, I know you’re now thinking, “Yeah but the spouse/the kid/my mom/my friend/my pet ferret/somebody is going to interrupt my work.” Yes, that’s a problem. Trust me, I’ve been there—my mom treats me like her own personal IT consultant, and various other people just seem to KNOW when I’m trying to write (it feels like they’re thinking, “Huh. Kara’s been quiet for a few hours … she’s probably working on the sequel to her book, but I’m gonna go bother her anyways. Just ‘cuz.”) If you really want to commit yourself to Nanowrimo—or any writing project, for that matter—you’re going to have to lay down the law with some people and absolutely drive it home that this is important to you and they need to respect it. You might have to lock your door and turn off your phone and put up signs warning people to go away—I’ve gone as far as to look up realistic-looking fake bear traps to set outside my door (I’m serious) because people just weren’t getting the point. If they still continue to bother and distract you, consider either noise-canceling headphones or taking your laptop or tablet and going to the library or a cafe or other place to get your work done. Nanowrimo actually has various writer workshops in cafes all over the country—maybe going to one will help!

Now, before I leave for the day, I just want to impart one more piece of wisdom: SAVE EVERYTHING YOU WRITE. Your writing program has a feature that can auto-save every so many minutes that you choose (you might have to hunt around a little to find it), but make sure you’re backing the story up to a disc or the Cloud or external hard drive too. Last year my refurbished AiOS turned into a PoS and completely died on me during Nanowrimo. I had suspected that it was about to kick off so luckily I backed everything up two days before, and I would have been really pissed if I had lost all that work.

If you’re interested, you can sign up at National Novel Writing Contest ( Participation is voluntary, and you’ll find a variety of links and discussions to help you start and keep writing.

Good luck!


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