Start Your Engines: The First Lap of Nanowrimo

Happy November 1st! For some of you, this is just another day on the calendar. One day closer to the holiday season, a day devoted to leftover Halloween candy, All Saint’s Day… take your pick. For others, however, it is a day long anticipated, the first day of National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo.

Briefly, Nano is an annual event where people around the world attempt to write 50,000-word novels over the 30 days of November. There is no prize for winning beyond the sense of satisfaction, and no fee to enter — though the organizers appreciate all donations to keep the site and program up and running. It fosters a sense of community, with local write-ins taking place in coffee shops and bookstores in various towns, and on posting boards that allow Nano-ers to compare word counts, horror stories, plot ideas, and tips for overcoming writers’ block.

On this first day of the month, most all Nano participants are raring to go. They often count down to midnight on October 31st so that they can start accumulating words toward their total as soon as the new day begins. And all across the internet, you will find articles and tips on how to achieve your Nano goals.

If you planned ahead, if you have some sort of outline or notes or napkins with character descriptions scribbled onto them, good for you. But if you haven’t plotted out your Nano novel before now, never fear. It’s still possible to get your required word count done over the course of the month.

A few things to ask yourself:

Who is your hero/heroine? What do they want/need? And how many things can you throw at them to keep them from achieving their goal?

That last one is the key. The key to stretching word count, but also to ratcheting up the suspense, keeping the pace moving, and making sure your eventual reader has their eyes glued to the page. Whenever you’re stuck, whenever things seem slow or boring, whenever you feel like you should just write “the end” and never mind that it’s only page 74, find something else to complicate your protagonist’s life. You might not know exactly what path they need to take to get to the end, but if you drop a big boulder into the middle of it, well, then they’ll have to find a new route anyway.

Week one is about writing the introduction to your story, the first quarter of your book that sets up who your hero or heroine is, what they want, and what they must face to achieve that goal. But you’re only going to barely touch on that final one this week, because part of the surprise of the story will be unearthing those obstacles as you go. Sure, you probably have a few in mind, but the more things your character must overcome, the harder their journey, the more we will cheer for them along the way.

So get out there and write, pedal to the metal, and tell us who your character is and some of what they’re about to face. Keep typing, no matter how doubtful you are about word choice or sentence structure — all of that can be revisited and revised (should be!) once the month is over. Concentrate on getting a down-and-dirty draft accomplished. Focus not just on character and plot, but setting as well. Remember to engage all of the readers’ senses to put them fully into the story — and increase your word count. Again, you can pare down and hone these descriptions later on. For now, just write.

My last piece of advice for week one is aim high. Get those word counts up if you can, now while you’re working on the early parts of your novel and you’re still fresh. Nano suggests 1,667 words each day to meet your end-of-month goal, but if you can whip out 2,000 or more, you’ll get a little bit ahead of the game. Believe me, you’ll appreciate it the first day you have to stay late at work and can’t find time to write, or when Thanksgiving rolls around and you’re too stuffed with turkey and pie to even think about sitting at your desk. So write now, write fast, and let your enthusiasm be your guide. Good luck!

2 thoughts on “Start Your Engines: The First Lap of Nanowrimo

  1. I love it that you’re enthusiastic and supportive about NaNoWriMo. I’ve seen snide or condescending attitudes elsewhere, so I’m glad to hear your positive take on this project.

    These are great tips to keep in mind and I already see where I can improve what I’ve written and how I can move ahead based on your advice. Thanks.

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