For those not familiar with the challenge, NaNoWriMo is an annual internet based project where participants from around the world attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. The event began in July of 1999 with only 21 participants. Since that time, it has grown annually. In 2011, 256, 618 people participated and 3, 074, 068, 446 words were written. To put those numbers in perspective, if we assume five letters per word and a space after each, we are looking at approximately 1.2 centimetres of physical length for each word (with 12pt Times font). Multiply 1.2 centimetres by 3, 074, 068, 446 words, and we’re looking at 3, 688, 882, 135 centimetres, or 36, 889 kilometres. The circumference of the earth is 40, 075 kilometres at the equator. So, last year alone, enough words to nearly stretch around the globe were written in this challenge, and that doesn’t even include punctuation. Any way you cut it, that’s a lot of typing. There will be some stiff fingers by the end of next month.
This will be my first attempt at the challenge, but not my first novel. I wrapped the opening draft of an angsty piece of junk a few years ago, and am putting another on hold for the month of November. For this project, I will be attempting a western, which is a genre I have always enjoyed and wanted to write, but never got around to attempting.
Here are a few systems I have implemented to hopefully see me through to 50, 000 words:
I drafted up this calendar following the advice of Jerry Seinfeld. He said that in his earlier days writing comedy, he bought a large wall calendar with a full year on one page. If he did any work on his routine in a day, he got to put an X through that day. After a while, he began to see a big chain of productivity. He liked to see that he was progressing. “Don’t break the chain!” he said. I have modified his idea slightly by writing down my word count for the day from my novel, and noting any other projects.
There are 30 days in November and 50, 000 words to write. This means, in order to finish, I will need to write at least 1667 words a day. But to be on the safe side, I am going to shoot for 2,000 a day. That should provide a little wiggle room and, should it come to it, five extra days. Life will continue as always in November, and thus it will be helpful to have the luxury of a few days off.
- Distraction Free Writing
Quabel is an online writing program that makes it easier to concentrate on the writing itself. It is a free service. One does not have to play with format or get distracted by font, margins, sidebars or any of the other junk associated with Microsoft Word. Word is a valuable tool for formatting and printing, but it can be a real pain in the neck to just sit and type. Quabel does not have the red and green scribbles for grammar and spelling, which can impede progress if a writer has to constantly backtrack to make corrections. Remember, we’re not writing a dictionary, we’re trying to hammer out a novel as fast as possible. Quabel also allows the writer to set goals, either for time or word count, which is a great feature. It automatically backs up files, and, because it is an online service, the files are accessible on any computer so long as there is an internet connection.
- Advice From the Pros
In anticipation of this event, I checked out three books from the local library. I have found these to be full of good advice and useful tips. And the odd bit of bad advice (for me anyways). These books are, in no particular order:
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield – This book is a swift kick in the ass for anyone who has creative projects in the back of their mind but hasn’t got around to working on them. In fact, many aspects of this book are applicable to other areas of life as well. It could be a game changer. The book is short at only 165 pages, and many of those pages contain only a brief and direct statement, but it is quite inspirational. I started reading the book after midnight last week, and its content forced me to put it down and go work on my writing, even though I had already completed 3000 words for the day.
Page After Page by Heather Sellers – This turned out to be more of a beginner’s guide to a writing life, but there was some solid advice and many writing prompts. Writing prompts are not for me, and I found the woman a little ‘new agey’, but she is a well qualified and accomplished author. I feel that this book might go over better with a female audience.
On Writing by Stephen King – This one’s a given. There are so many positive things written about this book on so many websites that I’m not even going to comment. Whether you like King’s writing or not, he gets the job done, and he gets it done quickly. Again, we’re not shooting for a Pulitzer, we’re just trying to fire off a novel in a short period of time.
- Read What You Want To Write
As I will be attempting to write a western novel, I’ve been reading Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy. In my experience, it has worked well to get in the proper head space for the type of story I am trying to write. With this in mind, I have also been watching old western and samurai movies. They are a gold-mine.
- Don’t Edit; Don’t Read What You’ve Written
Unless I need to go back to fact check, I try to stay away from my earlier words. This is very important. Maybe the most important rule. I never know what I have until it is completed. Too many times have I gone back to my earlier words and never returned. There will come a time for editing and reading the work, and that time should be well after November. We’re seeking compositional velocity, here. Note to self: STAY AWAY FROM YOUR EARLIER WORDS!
- Matt Cutts’ Ted Talk:
Those are my strategies for NaNoWriMo. If anyone has suggestions for this challenge, please let me know. It is not going to be the easiest task, and I welcome all the support I can muster. What say you, internet?
For more information or to sign up for National Novel Writing Month, visit: http://www.nanowrimo.org/