On the Way to 50K: Discover the author inside yourself during NaNoWriMo

by Elizabeth Anderson, Reporter



It’s been lurking in the shadows for nearly a year, ready to pounce on the first of November. . . NaNoWriMo.

Don’t worry, it’s not a terrible monster–this is National Novel Writing Month, called NaNoWriMo for short and sometimes NaNo for shorter. It’s an annual event, hosted every November by the online, non-profit program of the same name, that challenges writers young and old to write a 50,000 word novel in just one month. Crazy, right?

I thought so when I first heard about it two years ago, through an online creative writing community called Figment. Although most participants are adults, I was surprised to discover that the website was actually youth-friendly, with forums and helpful articles designed exclusively for teenagers.

I plunged into the project in November of 2015. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

NaNoWriMo is a very daunting task. In fact, I was only able to write about 15,000 words my first time, due to a lack of scheduling beforehand and a slow decline in my motivation to work on my project. However, NaNoWriMo helps all writers on their journeys, relaying tons of pointers from published authors who help out with the program. (These authors are “coaches,” and their words of wisdom “pep talks.”) I’ve read many of these articles since NaNo Number One.

As for plot and character development, they’ve got that covered with their Virtual Write-Ins, YouTube videos streamed live from NaNo “headquarters” where writers can participate in word sprints and ask questions. These take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and are absolutely wonderful if you’re one for working in a community setting (I am!).

“Badges” are also a nice incentive throughout the program, marking milestones.

After missing the goal last year, this year, I’ve created a schedule for myself, making sure to leave homework and break time but also making sure I spend at least an hour writing each day to stay on track with my word count. The last check to be marked is not to let my inner editor get the best of me, because I’ve learned through my experience last year that it can suck a lot of creativity out of you if you let it.

There are two essentials that every writer participating in NaNoWriMo must have–a supply of snacks and a writing space.

Snack-wise, popcorn and pretzels are both quick and easy. In fact, any bite-sized foods that can just be tossed in a bowl are perfect (for healthier readers, roasted chickpeas are another tasty option). Leftover Halloween candy is also great, as long as you don’t eat too much at once. Coffee is glue that holds all NaNo writers together (as well as basically the entire world). You’d better make sure you have a lot of it if you want to keep your brain working on the later nights.

My desk has photo inspiration pertaining to my story. Pinterest is definitely a great place to look for images, since you can search for specific characteristics (for example, if you’re looking for a character with blue eyes and brown hair, you can search just that and get tons of results). This year, since I’m working on a novel that covers multiple characters’ stories, my pictures are of what I imagine my characters to look like and things that they like to do.

Once the month is through, writers who reach the marathon goal are “Winners.” Winners have access to discounted NaNo merchandise and subscriptions to high-quality writing programs like Scrivener. They are also rewarded with opportunities to be published and/or have professional covers made for their novels after they are complete.

If you can’t make it to NaNoWriMo in November or you’re not ready for the challenge, Camp NaNoWriMo is a chance to try a less stressful version. Camp NaNo (run by the same organization) takes place in April and July, and writers are allowed to choose their own word count goals, instead of being limited or pushed to 50,000. This is a great time to take on smaller or multiple writing projects.

Whether you choose April, July, or November, take a chance and sign up for National Novel Writing Month. Hopefully this guide will provide you with at least a few survival tips as you begin your journey. Good luck!

For more information, check out the NaNoWriMo site here.