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You look at the clock, wincing as the numbers light up your face. The minutes are ticking away. But you have to finish this. You have minutes. It’s almost midnight. Just a couple hundred more words to your goal. You can do this. Taking a swig of your cup of coffee you run your fingers over your face, trying to keep yourself awake. These are the last moments of National Novel Writing Month. The end of this race against yourself.
National Novel Writing Month is a month of quantity over quality. (That’s what editing is for, right?) It’s been going for 15 years. Since July of 1999, that being when it was, though unofficially, “founded.” That year there were only 21 participants. Of course, in 2011, there were 256,618 crazy people who tried to get 50,000 words in a month. Those 50,000 words equal roughly 175 pages depending on font size and font itself and a whole lot of other technicalities that I probably don’t need to describe. And, no, you didn’t read that wrong. I did say 50,000 and 175. And, yes, it is possible. It’s only 1,667 words a day. Of course, if you do completely and utterly doubt yourself, and provided you haven’t graduated high school yet, you can use the companion to the adult NaNoWriMo site, the Young Writer’s Program, more commonly known as the YWP. With the YWP you can set your own goal, whether you want to try to write 5,000 or 500,000. Just don’t make it too easy.
Now, I say all this, and you’re thinking, “People do this? They actually do this?” Well, yeah. How do you think they’ve gone from 21 to over 250,000? They come back for the 30 days of hectic writing, going off on tangents, and killing off characters so they can get closer to that magic number of 50k. But it’s not just the writing, to quote Heather Dudley, Lead Forums Moderator, “Because I adore the community, and it keeps me motivated to write even when I'm not really feeling up to it. And at this point, I've been doing it [NaNoWriMo]for 12 years, so why stop now?” GH, a participant for a couple of years says, “I keep doing NaNoWriMo because it's fun, and it seriously tones me as a writer.” And there’s so many more reasons that I could list, people I could quote, but let’s move on.
Now, what if you’re the only one to not get these 50k words? You’ll be made out to look like a fraud. Firstly, they don’t treat people like that, Exhibit A, from Rob Diaz, YWP Forums Moderator: “I think the most fun and enjoyable thing about NaNoWriMo is the freedom to be creative without grades, judgment or restrictions.” And secondly, I’ll just allow you to look at this quote from the NaNoWriMo site real quick. “In 2011, we had 256,618 participants and 36,843 of them crossed the 50K finish line.” That’s approximately 14%. Trust me; you won’t be alone if you don’t make it. The point of NaNoWriMo isn’t to finish a novel in a month; it’s just to generate word count that you can come back to and finish after the event is over. And really, winning isn’t the point. It’s making friends on the site and developing your writing skills.
Friends, how do you do that? Isn’t this an individual thing? You are writing the novel on your own, but that doesn’t mean you can’t receive moral support. There’s this little thing called forums. There’s different categories, among them are Recess (they just don’t want to call it procrastination, because we all do that), a Name Bank (for those tricky characters that just don’t want to be named), even a forum for Roleplaying and Character Development. There are forums for different age groups if you want feedback from those your own age
Now, why would you want to do this? You think, “It’s not like it’ll go anywhere. I’ll never get published.” Well not with that mindset you won’t. Come on, have a little faith in yourself! Some novels that people have written during this event have been published. “But I’m not good enough to get published,” you think. Well, there’s this little saying, you’ve probably heard it, in fact, I’m sure you have. “Practice makes perfect.” And that’s even truer with writing. You can’t come up with complex characters that your reader loves without thinking of, and writing, what you’ll come to think is the most underdeveloped character in the history of writing itself. The same goes for plots. Think about a series you’ve read recently, or even just a single book. There’s a lot of plot that goes with that, a lot of interesting storylines. Those authors couldn’t have written that without writing cruddy first drafts of stories with a single storyline that will probably never see the light of day. Don’t lie and say that you don’t have at least a couple of those.
And NaNoWriMo will help you with that as well. AG, who has written a number of novels over the course of the event explains, “It [NaNoWriMo] keeps me focused and on a schedule. I know how many words I need to write every day and having a goal really encourages me to get things done! I really get better at focusing and working on how to add words to a novel and scene. It encourages me to use a lot of details and work on my description as a writer.” Of course, for that to be effective, you have to stick to that schedule. And this quote from ES, another participant, “It [NaNoWriMo] makes me add more details in things to get more words.” is simple but true. To get that word count you have to be able to ramble off descriptions that go beyond what you might typically write, and then even further than that.
NaNoWriMo is a fun thing too. This quote from LF, a first time participant this past November, is, again, simple but just as true. “I think NaNo is fun because nothing's impossible.”
And, you know how I said that thing about making friends? They’re trying to do the exact same thing you are. You’re messing up your sleep schedule, and I’m willing to bet money that most of them are doing the exact same thing. Think about those plot holes that you have running throughout your story. Chances are they’ve got the same amount if not more. Another quote from AG, “The most fun thing about NaNo is definitely the people you meet. The writing games are the best too. There are too many games to count to get you writing and they're all super fun and competitive.” And they’re willing to help you too. “NaNoWriMo's fun because you get to meet people who have common interests, then build each other up to the top,” says GH. Especially when you get about halfway through the month. They’ll be there, and they’ll help you slay the Writer’s Block Dragon.
Have I convinced you yet? Even a little bit? You’ve got until November to decide. Or…at least if you want to write the Next Great American Novel during the official NaNoWriMo. Onto my next point…Camp NaNoWriMo!
There’s more? Yes! Of course there’s more. Camp is fun, right? Right. Camp NaNoWriMo is the best. And this time you get to set a word count goal as high or as low as you want, no matter the age. The people who bring you NaNoWriMo aren’t that cruel. Well…usually. And with Camp, instead of forums (but they have those too), you get…wait for it…Cabin Mates! You can set your novel info, and you can set your cabin preferences, and then with a little NaNoWriMo magic, you can have campers with the same novel genre, word count goal, and similar ages in your cabin with you. Hey, moral support. Can’t get enough of it. And if you‘re one of the daring ones, you can get put in a random cabin and meet five strangers with completely random novels and word counts and ages. Which, really, isn’t as bad as you might think. Or, if you’re really stubborn, you could just not get put in a cabin. I just wouldn’t recommend that personally, but it’s all a matter of preference.
To add onto the excitement, Camp NaNoWriMo happens twice a year. Somewhere between April and August you’ll have a chance to write your novel and no one can stop you.
My personal opinion on NaNoWriMo is really pretty simple. Basically, it’s the most epic thing to ever happen on the planet as far as authors and writing are concerned. Well, okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but really, it’s fun, and it helps you as a writer. I’m not writing this to say you have to do NaNoWriMo, but I do hope that I’ve planted the idea in your head. Whether you take time to plan out a really complex novel and know exactly what you want to write that first day, or you take more of a seat-of-your-pants approach, maybe planning a couple random scenes to place here and there and then just hoping for inspiration to come forth, it’s always great, and there’s definitely something to be gained from the whole process.
You copy the whole of your novel into the Word Count Validator, very aware of the time in the lower right hand corner of your screen. You curse your computer for being slow, especially now. But the words show up, and you quickly hit the ‘Send’ button. The website tells you it’s processing your text. A large banner boasting the word ‘Congratulations’ is there to greet you. You lean back, looking as the numbers change to 12:00. You did it. 50,000 words in thirty days. You cringe at the thought of editing, but crawl out from in front of the computer towards your bed. Though, despite the struggle, you can’t wait to do it again.