National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenges writers to write a novel during November. Begun in the USA in 1999, it is now an international event
NaNoWriMo is a month-long challenge, when aspiring and established fiction-writers take to their computers in an attempt to write a 50 000 word novel in just thirty days. The idea is to write a first draft, rather than to complete the project.
Can you write a novel that quickly? Do you think it’s possible?
Around 3 500 writers in Western Australia seem to think it is. That’s how many have already signed up for the challenge this year, encouraged by many local government libraries.
There seems to be plenty of support on line. There’s a dedicated website (NaNoWriMo). Pins keep popping up on Pinterest with ideas about how to plan for NaNoWriMo. People are talking about the challenge on Facebook. Blogs are proliferating with suggestions about what to do to get ready for the big challenge.
The project includes online registration. It provides writers with opportunities to exchange ideas and writing with others.
It is good fun to write a novel that , even though when I first heard about it a few years ago, it felt quite lonely to participate. There was no provision for people who lived outside North America to join in the fun. I got the idea from a book in the library, and went for it alone.
My memoir, Other People’s Country, had just been published, and John and I had recently married. We had just returned from a camping trip to the outback of WA to see the wildflowers. I had no other writing projects underway.
To complete the challenge, a writer must write an average of 1 670 words a day. To be on the safe side, it’s probably a good idea to write more whenever you can. The extra few hundred words here and there add a buffer for the days when it is impossible to write. All writers have those.
I wasn’t as prepared as I understand many people will be this year. The idea then seemed to be to begin from nothing. So, on the first of November, I went to my study at nine in the morning with no idea of where I’d start.
I’d worked out that I’d need to get down around two thousand words every day for the whole month to meet the target. With no idea what I was doing, I sat at the computer, hands poised over the keyboard.
‘This whole idea is crazy,’ I thought.
But soon a character came into my mind. Then another character arrived, and a setting.
‘What are these people doing?’ I wondered. Then, ‘Oh, my goodness, I’ll have to type fast if I’m going to keep up with these two! Now what? They’re taking over.’
The words tumbled from my fingers on the keyboard onto the screen in front of me.
My husband kept well away. I didn’t think about him or wonder what he was doing. I didn’t care what he did or where he went while I wrote. I’d be happy just as long as he took my challenge seriously and let me get on with it.
Triumphant, I went downstairs at lunchtime.
‘What are you doing down here?’ John asked.
‘I did it! Two thousand words!’ I said. ‘My day’s quota. And I’ve got a couple of characters I like. They live in the country near Dwellingup.’
Sitting at my desk, determined to avoid distraction, I managed to write 2000 words a day, mostly within two hours. By the end of my NaNoWriMo month, I had written the first draft of a novel – 56 000 words. The only way I think I could have done that was to write down ideas as they came, not think them up.
Best wishes to everyone who is attempting the challenge this year.
I’d join you, but I’m off to Ubud tomorrow. November will be well and truly begun by the time I get back. I’d love to read your comments about NaNoWriMo, especially if you plan to write your novel before Christmas.