Updated: Oct 12, 2020
A Month-Long Ascent into Literary Abandon
By Anita Bowser
November is National Novel Writing Month. If you think that's just an excuse to sell merchandise or raise awareness of some obscure topic, you've never been exposed to NaNoWriMo.
NaNoWriMo, which is literally the smashing together of the words national novel writing month, is an annual, month-long event in the writing community. In this case, the writing community is anyone and everyone who aspires to write a novel.
NaNo, as it is sometimes called by participants, is coordinated each November by a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that supports writers to achieve their goal of writing a 50,000-word novel. Those who accept the challenge, called WriMos, sign up through the organization's website where the process and rules are outlined and participants upload their novel.
Reaching that 50,000-word goal is considered 'winning' the challenge.
Next month, it's anticipated that hundreds of thousands around the globe will participate in the web-based challenge, which has been building in popularity since its start in 1999.
Each fall, hundreds of volunteers coordinate writing events and guidance for participants in communities like ours. The local chapter, ABCwrimos, is planning virtual activities and write-ins for NaNo 2020.
In a typical year, the group would host in-person events at libraries and coffee shops throughout Armstrong and Butler Counties. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, those events have moved to online platforms.
I sat down with Kittanning author Paula Wyant to talk about her experiences with NaNoWriMo.
AB: I know you've been doing NaNoWriMo for some time. How many times have you 'won' or completed the challenge?
PW: The website tells me I’m a 12-time NaNo participant. I’ve also done all of the Camp sessions as well, so the number is actually higher than that. I have 12 NaNo wins and I’ve won all but one of the Camp sessions.
AB: What kind of practical advice do you have for a first-time WriMo?
PW: Practical advice? Ha! NaNo isn’t practical. That’s the joy of it. It’s “thirty days and nights of literary abandon.” Or, as I put it, a month long ascent into madness.
It’s really hard to tell people how to prepare for their first NaNoWriMo. Some people are pantsers -- they write by the seat of their pants with no written outline and only a vague plan. Some are planners who prefer to have an outline and full back stories on all major and minor characters. And some are “plantsers,” which is a combination of the two.
I generally do best with an outline (the more detailed the better) but allow for flexibility too, because sometimes a subplot leads you down a rabbit hole that results in a great plot twist.
Don’t get too hung up on stuff while you’re writing. It’s okay to leave yourself notes or placeholder names. I do it with square brackets and all caps. I generally write fantasy so if I need to name a character mid-book but can’t think of anything I’ll just put [BARMAID] then when I come up with a name, I'll do a find-and-replace-all.
One practical thing I do isn’t really related to the writing process, but it helps by eliminating small tasks that get in the way of writing time. I make sure that I have enough staples and paper goods and such on hand so I don’t have to go shopping to get, say, toothpaste. I also like to have quick microwaveable meals on hand, especially for work days when I have to try to get my word count in - after I get home and before I fall into bed.
AB: What sort of impact do you think COVID will have on your favorite NaNo activities?
PW: There are no in-person events being held this year. All the write-ins are going to be online. I think those will be held via Discord. To participate, writers should join the ABCwrimos Facebook group for updates and more information. You can join it as your local region on the NaNo website as well.
AB: Is there anything else you would like to share with novice writers who are tempted to try NaNoWriMo?
PW: Have fun with it! Try not to take your story -- or yourself -- too seriously. Be crazy. You can always edit your manuscript later if you want to show it to someone else. And, you don’t have to show it to anyone if you don’t want to.
Also, there are some great resources in the forums on the NaNoWriMo site.
For additional tips and practical advice, check out these podcasts:
Writing coach and editor Savannah Gilbo treats listeners to novel writing tips in her weekly podcast. In this episode from September 15th, Savannah shares strategies and advice for tackling NaNoWriMo.
How To Win NaNo is a practical guide for those who aspire to write a novel in 30 days. Hosts Kristina Horner and Liz Leo are experienced in NaNoWriMo and enjoy helping other writers succeed in the National Novel Writing Month challenge. This is a weekly podcast on NaNoWriMo.
Anita Bowser is a writer and blogger from Butler County. She’s a volunteer at Kittanning Library and has worked as a reporter, copy editor, content writer and a library director.