Preparing for "National Novel Writing Month"
- The Official National Novel Writing Month Website
In case you have any questions and/or you want to get involved in the contest here is the official website for NaNoWriMo.
Challenging Your Creative Spirit
As a writer you want to create something that you can share with others. The aspect of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is to get people throwing words onto paper rather than sitting in a room staring at the ceiling for the next original idea. Yes, it does help to have a story to actually write, but it does not have to be perfect. You can make whatever revisions you want, but you must get 50,000 words down.
This challenge is a lot easier than it sounds. I attempted this when I first heard about NaNoWriMo back in 2008. I wrote out six chapters for a story and have not yet ever got back to it. I have since developed it into an idea for a movie. That was kind of the thing; I wrote it picturing a movie. I think that is a good way to help develop your work. Even if you are not writing a script I think picturing your scenes in motion help them pop on the screen . . . the computer one of course. I would not recommend doing 50,000 words, in 30 days, with solely a pen and paper. Not saying that is a bad thing, or against the rules of the competition. It’s just a cramp on your wrist and fingers.
Creative Challenges Throughout the Year
Since writing this article (a little over five years ago) I have since discovered other writing challenges besides the "official" one in November. Every month appears to be "National Novel Writing Month" except for October and December. All of the NaNoWriMo challenges require a minimum of 50,000 words. April and July are "Camp NaNoWriMo" months but have the same 50,000 word requirement.
As I said above I personally recommend you treat "Novel Writing" as "Write Whatever" months. If it adds up to 50,000 words it's apart of the challenge in my opinion. Still, if novel writing isn't your thing you might be pleased to know you have other creative options.
- January: Has a "Blue Drawing Challenge" which requires you make a drawing every day to fight back the effects of "the winter blues".
- February: If you're into song writing you can attempt to write 14 songs for an album. I respect creative freedom but please don't make it sound like someone screaming into a trashcan with bullhorn, rhythm is helpful . . . The haiku challenge. Requires 28 haikus. Be made in this month
- March: Editing your novel is just as important as writing it all out. For that March is "Novel Editing Month" though you might want to do that anytime if you're itching to get it published.
- April: For artists you have "Astro April" in which you make a space themed drawing or painting each day. For writers there is the "write a poem a day" challenge. Which to me seems like. An excuse for more haikus. They are really that easy. April is also one of the "Camp NaNoWriMo" months in which you can write whatever you want.
- May: May is another "Sketch a Day" challenge month, but it's also the "Story-A-Day" challenge in which you have to write a short story every day in May. Yikes . . . New plan, let's just make this "National Short Story Writing Month".
- June: A novel writing month, but also host to several sketch challenges. One of which is "Grow June" where you draw a picture of a plant each day. For all you photographers out there you have "Solo Photo Book Month" in which you take at least 35 pictures and put them into a photo album. (Note: This challenge can bleed over into July if you start late.)
- July: Is a novel writing month, but also a Camp "whatever-the-hell-you-feel-like" month. Feeling conflicted? Grab a camera and start (or finish) the "Solo Photo Book Challenge". More importantly enjoy a mojito on a beach somewhere.
- August: Not only a writing month, but "National Noir Writing Month." A challenge where for 50,000 words you test your chops against the likes of Mickey Spillane and James Elroy. Probably a good time to mention a good tip; don't fall in love with any of your characters. Life can be a cold bitch in the noir genre.
- September: As usual a novel writing month HOWEVER you want an extra challenge? Try the "Three-Day Novel Writing Contest" in which you try to complete a novel during Labor Day weekend. I can almost taste the Red Bull just thinking of it. Though stick to sugar free, there's more room for caffeine that way . . .
- October: There's a bunch of Halloween themed drawing challenges and a "Gothic Novel Writing Challenge" in which you get to set your own word goal.
- November: The "official NaNoWriMo" month, but if you're into free roam games this is also "Mapvember" in which you draw 30 fictional maps.
- December: National Novel Finishing Month; essentially the only time of year where you get an extension on your "write a novel in a month" challenge. A true Christmas gift.
Finishing What is Started
When I was 18 I started writing a novel called "Charm City" that I was not really looking to get published. I was just trying to entertain some friends and people I knew. I use to post "chapters" of it on a site called HitmanForum (no the game series with the bald dude, Agent 47, not an actual site for contract killers.) The site has since been purged, and rebooted, so none of it is still posted there. Luckily I saved "Charm City" on my computer somewhere . . . I think.
Regardless the concept started off as a “what would I do if a zombie apocalypse occurred” scenario, which turned into an episodic novel where every chapter ended with some cliffhanger. The TV series Lost was popular at the time, so I tried to make it like one of those shows that asks a bunch of questions and then answers them at some point later. Except in my case, they were answered almost immediately in the chapter after the next. I got about 24 chapters into it before I lost interest in writing it. The whole zombie thing is so overdone these days and I have since grown up from it.
Like always I seem to have the ending set up, but trouble filling in the blanks. This has always been my writing handicap. We all have one don't we? That tick or doubt that keeps us from finishing a creative project? It's like a wall. I suppose that is why the show-the-ending-first-then-explain-how-the-story-got-there plot device is used so much.
When I first heard about NaNoWriMo I instantly started writing “Professional Risk” six days into it and had to play catch-up. It was kind of a modern western about a gunslinger. I wrote six chapters before the week was over, but once again I got away from it after a while because of other distractions. Even though I knew where the story was going I just never got around to finishing it. I am not the only one that has this problem. I have since turned this novel into a movie idea (I mentioned this earlier) and have developed that more and more into something coherent for film…
After I graduated college, and had more time, I started writing “In the Shadow of Justice” a novel about a vigilante in Baltimore City. The novel I basically keep coming back to every November IF I remember to participate. You do not really have to worry about succumbing to plot devices and cheap tricks to get your story finished with NaNoWriMo and I do not believe in the need to be original. If you stick yourself strictly to trying to be original; not only will you develop a brain tumor, but you will also get yourself stuck on one impasse. I know, I have been there.
Combating Writer's Block
There is always a wall, that we hit at some point, even when we are inspired to write. A lot of things can factor into writer’s block; massive amounts of school work, working extra hours to keep the rent steady, or maybe you just don’t feel like writing about your chosen subject matter anymore. This is not the best advice from someone who has three unfinished novels under their belt, but I would say go back and read what you have. You might smack yourself for spotting clichés you did not realize WERE clichéd at the time. You might notice your main character never had a goal that was understandable to the reader. And, most importantly, you might improve what you already have.
Times change, but you don't have to let that get you down! Don't be afraid of what people will think or react. You will never please everybody, and these days someone will always get offended if you so much as breath the wrong direction. "My character is written as a male, I don't want to offend the LGTBBQ community". "My character is a detective who gets into a shootout at the end, I don't want to seem like a conservative". "The main character mentions she took a shower, I don't want to piss off #Metoo." The most honest piece of advice to give is to get the fuck over the "trendy" problems of "today" and just write however. No one can "cancel" you, or what you do.
Making Your Own Plan
According to the official NaNoWriMo website you can pretty much do whatever you want, but will not be able to take part in the actual contest. Write five 10,000 word short stories, write a movie or video game screenplay, make an unusually long Hub that you can't make jump links for because of coding updates, your imagination is the limit. Not focusing completely on just a novel can help get the challenge done easily.
Another very important tip is description. Where I usually seem to get myself flubbed up is with description. There’s nothing wrong with it, but you should not try to describe every little detail. It’s like drinking water, you don’t want to flood your kidneys, but water is good for you. Like water, just let the story flow out and then add in description as you go. If you try to be too descriptive, right away, you will just overload the reader’s psyche. Of course it depends on what kind of novel you are writing and how big your universe is. It also helps to take a break from your novel if you feel like you have hit the wall. I took a break from “Charm City” to make a short story with a western theme… which ended up turning into “Professional Risk”.
Which Reminds Me
Make sure if you move on to another quick project that you COME BACK to your novel at some point. It’s easy to slip away to another project, it’s sometimes harder to return. Also don’t try to creatively multi task, you could end up overlapping themes and story points.
The environment in which you write in has a lot to do with how much you can churn out. For example I wrote this Hub on a piece of loose leaf, while wasting my youth away on a loooong Thursday night, working in a boring art museum. LOTS of room and silence for writing. I would rather be sitting in a park, or anywhere quiet and outside, but you work with what you can. Let’s say that you are a parent or have younger siblings. A good pair of earphones is a good investment. If it can drown out a forty-caliber handgun at shooting range, it can make screaming brats a whisper.
You Still Have Time To Prepare
National Novel Writing Month starts whenever you feel like participating. There is nothing against the rules in terms of thinking. Make an outline, read it, think some more, and then make notes. You always have time to do research, or scout locations that will inspire you. However once the first of the writing month comes around, get writing!
© 2014 Eric Seidel