NaNoWriMo for the Newbie

If you know me, you know that NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) starts Sunday, because I haven’t stopped flapping my jaw about it to anyone who will listen. Every November, there is a worldwide conglomeration of questionably sane writers who commit to producing 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. That breaks down to 1,667 words per day. A magic number in NaNo Land.

Three months ago I decided to give it a shot. Okay, this is me we are talking about— I decided to win it. Now don’t get all excited, there isn’t an actual single winner of NaNoWriMo. There’s no internet version of a red carpet adorned with screaming fans, no somewhat inappropriate gold naked-man statuette presented in honor of your discourse, no online kingdom of writers that you reign over for the next year until your throne is usurped by Diana Gabaldon in an epic battle involving ink pens and scrunched up balls of paper. Although, that might be fun.

What you get is a piece of paper YOU fill out and print at your own cost that confirms arduous completion of writing 50,000 words in thirty days. Anticlimactic, I know. If it helps with your biting disappointment, there are some writer oriented discounts and prizes winners find here.

I haven’t participated in NaNoWriMo before, so I’m not about to spout off experiential advice about how to conquer and win— once I do, watch out. I will be impossible to live with due to my over-sized ego and small doorways. Kidding. What I can help you with, this year, are seven things NaNoWriMo newbies can expect once committed to NaNo frenzy for the first time. I know this, because I just did it.

1. You will be afraid. Sign up anyway. If you fail, no one is going to point a finger at you and laugh. Well, maybe the jealous ones who never bothered to try, but you are one step ahead of them already.

2. You will question your life choices. You are signing up to potentially ignore your spouse, children, and job to do something that you have no guarantee of winning and if you do win, brings no financial gain. You will spend hours secluded, anxious, and riddled with self-doubt. Your family will start to hate the sight of a crockpot and the house will be taken over by dishes, laundry, and dust bunnies. Oh, wait. That’s my house. What’s not to question?

3. Your ass will hurt. There is a lot of sitting involved.  And don’t even get me started on what my recent writing induced sedentary life has done to my body. Lets just say I’m much fluffier these days. Except my ass, which needs fluffing desperately and Mother Nature refuses to accommodate. I somehow lost my ass between a sunny sangria filled July day on Misquamicut Beach in Rhode Island and August days in my gazebo working on an outline for NaNoWriMo. It slid right off without me noticing and that makes sitting for long periods of time uncomfortable. If you find this errant body part of mine tugging on your sleeve, I would appreciate it returned to me.

4. You will have to choose Planner or Pantser— and it will feel like an irreversible commitment you will have to live with from now until you die. Fear not, it is not a permanent life decision. I blame it on the NaNoWriMo badges and a desire for all things pretty. Upon signing up, the simple question is asked— are you a planner or a pantser? Planners, you guessed it, plan their novel. These writers will range from having some semblance of an outline to full on research including Pinterest pages that correspond to characters and settings (guilty). Pantsers start Nov. 1 with an idea in their head and a dream in their heart.

Either way, NaNo asks you to declare one in exchange for a nifty badge added to your profile. You will want one at any cost. You’ll think your profile just looks so lonely without them. Don’t fall for the enticement of this succubus— NaNo can’t label you! Plus, in the forums you will come across the word plantser, which the editor in you will insist is a spelling error. It’s not. Trust me. This planner/pantser hybrid may be the answer that rings true to you inner writer. However, you forfeit said coveted badge. Sad face.

5. You will discover that you are considered old.  My first foray into the NaNoWriMo forums I immediately had second thoughts on participating and here’s why. I discovered there are some ballsy teens out there who are on their third or fourth NaNo— and they’ve won. Several. I can’t imagine maneuvering through adolescence and hormones, dealing with school, parents, and today’s unforgiving social media based society, and still saying “50,000 words? No problem!” They make me want to reach my right hand into 1988 and wring my 16-year-old self’s neck growling “You could have done that!

All you teens making the NaNo commitment, I am in awe of your creative guts. You rock. However,  I have daughters in that age bracket, and I think finding the 30’s & 40’s forum saved my dignity and reinstated my self-worth. It definitely made me stand by my pledge to complete the task.

6. It doesn’t have to be great. It doesn’t even have to be good. For me, NaNoWriMo is my opportunity to write a shitty first draft.  Okay, half of a shitty first draft— 50,000 words does not novel make. NaNo is about getting your ideas down. At a future date, edit them into some semblance of good or great.  And not all writers work on a new novel. Some are revising their WIP (work in progress— you laugh, but I had to look that up a few months ago), some continue what they started last NaNo. Whatever the choice, it is meant to be 50,000 new words in novel form.

7. People will cheat. I was so disappointed to learn that there are cheaters in NaNaWriMo land. These deceivers are writing their NaNo novel RIGHT NOW in October because they have a vacation in November, or work deadlines, or the deadly Thanksgiving/Black Friday combination. I’ve already encountered them in forums. They will reach 50,000 words, put that work into the NaNo word counter, and receive acknowledgement as a winner. They didn’t win. Cheater cheater pumpkin eater. (Aww, how apropos for Oct. 30!).

If it wasn’t written in November, they didn’t win. Otherwise, who is to say that all my writing from January up to November isn’t fair game to submit? I’m convinced this is the by-product of the “everyone gets a trophy” culture being promoted across the globe. My youngest child figured out this possibility straight away. Upon hearing that NaNo is an honor system, she announced “So, you can just write the word ‘and’ 50,000 times and put it in their system and they will tell you that you won?” Yes, yes you can. That doesn’t mean you should.

So that’s it, my limited experience as a NaNoWriMo newbie. 30 days of insanity starts Sunday, November 1st. If you don’t see me around Twitter or Facebook, you’ll know why. Then again, this blog post is 1,192 words long, and here I am. 1,667? I got this!

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