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Accomplish Your Dream: National Novel Writing Month

Have you ever wanted to write a book? Did you dream of holding your own finished book in your hands but you let it fizzle away once your army of tiny people started calling you mom?

I know, writing a book feels huge, an impossible mountain to climb (like that laundry piled on your couch). But I’ll let you in on a secret—it IS possible.

National Novel Writing Month

Every year in November people from around the world participate in National Novel Writing Month—or NaNoWriMo as most of us call the mouthful of a phrase.

The goal is simple: write a 50,000-word rough draft in 30 days.

Crazy, right? Well, yes, writers are a crazy bunch.

But it’s totally do-able.

This is my fifth year participating. And I’ve (somehow) managed to “win” every year. My first year I had a preschooler, a toddler, a newborn and a part-time job. (I told you writers were insane.)

The prize for 30 days of torture? A completed first draft, the accomplishment of a dream. There’s no trophy, no publishing contract (although a lot of NaNoWriMo-ers have published their projects, myself included.) A few of the sponsors offer some terrific discounts, but NaNoWriMo isn’t about a prize. It’s about making a dream a reality.

Whether you are a “traditionalist” or a “rebel,” it is a fantastic opportunity to finally sit down, put your fingers on the keyboard, and make your dream come true. 

So if you’ve ever dreamed of writing a book and would like to give NaNoWriMo a shot, here are some tips for surviving it and juggling parenting:

Find Your Community

Photo by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash

Most writers are introverts so this can be a challenge. Support is essential. It’s hard to keep up the pace of daily writing without some encouragement from people just as crazy as you are.

The NaNoWriMo Forums are a great place to start. Chat with other participants and work through a plot hole or writer’s block. You can get arc ideas, adopt characters, or even locate writers in your community.

Our area has several pretty active writing communities, including NaNoWriMo-ers. They meet at the library (Selby this year) and various Paneras and Starbucks throughout the county. I finally joined real live humans in 2016 and made some great new friends. There are also virtual write-ins, sprinting groups, and a Facebook Page.

You have to find what fits your schedule and comfort level.

Preparation is Key

October is referred to as “Preptober” for NaNoWriMo participants. It’s the time to plot your novel (if you are a plotter), or do character sketches and research (if you are not). I’m between the two so I plot a little but do extensive research on my setting and develop characters and backstories.

Doing the work ahead of time means that when you are trying to get the words down in November, you aren’t constantly stopping to research what Vikings used to wear or what the temperature in Kalamazoo is in the Spring.

Break It Down

Fifty-thousand words is a lot to take on. It seems insurmountable. It’s scary to look at the whole thing.

So don’t.

One of the things I always ask my sweet Type-A, overachieving eldest is:

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

(She laughs but it’s TRUE.)

Broken down, NaNoWriMo is:

  • 12,500 words a week
  • 1,667 words a day
  • 417 words 4 times a day
  • 167 words 10 times a day

Seems a little easier when you break it down a bit, right? Bite-sized pieces always seem less daunting.

Find Your Time to Write

You have to find what works best for you. Some of you crazy morning-people types get up a few minutes earlier, rising before the kids and add in some words with your morning coffee. Some people find staying up later a better option and trade a little sleep or a bit of before-bed television watching for writing time. Others find that using their lunch break to write is a way to succeed and others write for ten minutes here and there throughout the day.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

It may not seem like a lot, but all the little writing sessions and small moments stolen along the day add up. All books are made up of words that are put into sentences and piled into paragraphs, which add up to pages.

Write, Just Write

When the 30 days is through you will not have a gem, you will have a rough, nasty-looking lump of coal.

And that’s okay. First drafts are supposed to be terrible. Just ask Hemingway or King.

Whatever you do, resist the urge to edit during the writing process. Don’t go back and make corrections, don’t stop to research (that’s what October is for), just write. Sit down at your computer (or old school it with some paper—whatever floats your boat), put your rear in the seat, and write.

You can always polish and edit in the months that follow, but you can’t fix a blank page.

The important thing is that you have to find what works for YOU. NaNoWriMo brings people together to help make that happen. With over 400,000 people participating all over the world, you are bound to find someone who fits your groove. They also hook you up with writing advice and pep talks from novelist including Dean Koontz, Charlaine Harris, Veronica Roth, James Patterson, and more.

How NaNoWriMo.org can Help You, and Vice Versa

NaNoWriMo is a 501(3)c non-profit that does more than corral a bunch of crazy people into doing the (very possible) impossible. They provide the structure and tools to help people (including kids) find their voice, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.

They run the Young Writers Program (for K-12 classrooms), Camp NaNoWriMo (a smaller, twice yearly, writing challenge), and the Come In and Write Program (which provides free resources for libraries.) So if you are looking for a good cause to partner with, they are a worthwhile organization to support. (Don’t forget about Giving Tuesday!)

Want to know more? Check out their website at www.nanowrimo.org. If you want to track my NaNoWriMo progress (or hear my rants about writing) follow me on my author page or author blog (warning, there’s language). If you’d like to talk about NaNoWriMo or get more tips about writing your first novel, message me on Facebook (I’m on there as J. Nichole Parkins—Author.)

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