Tuesday, September 20, 2016

NaNoWriMo: Write with Abandon! (Hannah)

Now that the Relationships Beyond Romance series is over, I can finally talk about an event that has become an annual tradition for me: NaNoWriMo!  If you know other writers, you might be familiar with "NaNo."  If not, let me introduce you!

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month.  It started when twenty-one twenty-something year olds decided to try writing a novel in a month.  Seventeen years later, it is an international nonprofit that encourages people young and old, from all walks of life, to try writing a novel.  And not just try, either.

NaNoWriMo officially takes place during the month of November.  It follows two main rules.  1) In order to complete the challenge, you must write 50,000 words during the month of November, and 2) you must write a draft of a novel - no revising, no editing, no poetry, no short stories, etc.  The important element is 50,000 words.  In one month.  Not an easy task!  But don't be daunted - it is completely doable, and well worth it.

50,000 words sounds like a lot, but it only comes out to 1,667 words per day.  Most people can type around 1,000 words in an hour, so even if you work slowly, its only two hours in a day.  However, I won't lie to you - NaNoWriMo is hard.  This is a good thing.  Difficulty pushes us to grow and improve, and step outside of our comfort zones.  That is what happened to me.

My First Attempt
In 2012, I attempted my very first NaNoWriMo.  As a young teenager, I should have participated in the Young Writers Program, which is designed for students and allows you to set your own goal.  But it was my first year, and I didn't even know the Young Writers Program existed.  I did some preparation beforehand, and on the first day, I sat down at my computer to write the first words of my very first novel.

I failed.  As you can see, I barely broke 15,000 words - painfully short of my 50,000 word goal.  Despite my disappointment, I had nevertheless discovered a nugget of gold: my passion for writing.  My first foray into the world of novel writing awakened my love of novel-writing, but it had also shown me how far I had to go and what I needed to do to become the writer I wanted to be.  The next year, I spent October preparing my story: character profiles, setting descriptions, and some plot notes were right there with me for the first day of NaNo.  But more importantly, I had two intangible elements that would keep me going: the sting of defeat from the year before, and the knowledge that I loved writing. No matter what, I was determined to make 50,000.
My Second Attempt

Throughout November, my story meandered, my progress fluctuated depending on my mood, schedule, and inspiration.  Nevertheless, just hours before midnight on November 30th, I validated my word count and officially completed NaNoWriMo: I had hit 50,000 words.

I am now a five-year NaNo veteran, and it has changed me.  I am fully convinced that even if you think your story is no good, no one will ever read it, or you are not meant to be a writer, if you think there is any possibility you would like to write a story, try.  It can't hurt, right?  You might discover - like I did - that writing is something you would like to do all year long.

The beauty of NaNoWriMo is that it forces you to write with abandon.  You don't have time to agonize over word choices, contemplate your plot, edit endlessly, or worse, daydream.  Writing this quickly means you have to write whatever comes to mind.  This is often called "pantsing," or writing by the seat of your pants.  Explore new ideas!  Try new things!  See where your writing takes you.

Another benefit of having to write quickly over a long period of time is you get so caught up in the story that ideas flow like water from a broken dam.  Words pour out and sweep you along.  You know how you get so drawn into a good book that you can barely put you down and it thrills you with possibility and mystery?  Writing is like that, only it isn't someone else's story.  It's yours.  There is no feeling like being caught in your own story, and that is an experience I would recommend to anyone.

NaNo isn't just a challenge, though.  At the website, there are forums for questions, advice, procrastination, fun, and more.  There is a way to track your word count day-by-day, see how much you need to write per day to finish on time, and see a handy chart of your progress (you can see mine above).  They have a store with neat merchandise, and they have a message system so that you get pep talks and news every week.  The whole site is set up to build community and encourage participants.  You should check it out!

But Wait - There's More!

If November is a bad time for you - it is for most people, including me - there is another option.  Camp NaNoWriMo is there for you!  Camp is less rigid than the normal NaNo, and there are three great benefits:

1) It takes place during April and July, usually much less hectic months than November.
2) You get to set your own word count goal and work on any project - revision, editing, short stories, poetry, nonfiction, scripts, or anything else you can imagine.
3) You are placed into a "cabin," which is a 12-person (or fewer) mini-chatroom where you can track each other's progress and easily talk to each other.  You can choose to join a public cabin sorted by project or genre, or you can create your own private cabin and invite only your friends.  Last year, two of my friends and I had a private cabin and it was a blast.  It would be fantastic to have other blog readers join us, but I will talk more about that as Camp approaches.

If you feel like November NaNo is not for you, I would encourage you to try the more laid-back and community-focused Camp NaNo.

Why are you telling me about an event in November?  That's more than a month away!

Right... But even though NaNo officially takes place during November, many people - including me - like time to plan out what they are going to write beforehand.  Also, there are plenty of resources available throughout October for any aspiring novelist.  If you are interested in some of these, check out these links:

Note, offsite links may contain a couple of minor curse words.  It is the Internet, after all.  Nevertheless, I thought these and other links were valuable enough to post anyway.

I will be expanding this list as I find prep resources over the next few weeks until November.  Also, don't forget to check out my NaNo Prep series throughout October, and the NaNo Tips series in November!  I will be adding links as the posts go up.

NaNo Prep: Character Resources
NaNo Prep: Setting Resources
NaNo Prep: Plot Resources

NaNo Tips: Give Your Story a Chance
NaNo Tips: What Helps You Focus?
NaNo Tips: My NaNo Journey

Have you ever wanted to write a story but didn't know how to start, felt inadequate, or felt too busy?  Is NaNoWriMo a challenge you would like to attempt?  Does Camp seem like a better time to dip into the writing world?  Would you be interested in being part of a cabin with other blog members and readers?  Let us know what you think!

~ Hannah

All images were taken from the NaNoWriMo website.


  1. Awesome post, Hannah! I'm so impressed that you've done NaNo so many times! I've never attempted it, and this will definitely not be my year since I'm trying to finish up edits to my current manuscript. But your description of writing with abandon made me want to start a new story :) It really is an incredible feeling to get swept away like that in a story that you get to control. Good luck with NaNo this year, I'm looking forward to hearing more about it!

    1. Thank you! I am facing the same dilemma: I am almost through the first edit, with many after that. But NaNo is now a tradition for me, so I can't not do it... And now I am being tempted away by a grand new idea. I am seriously considering using that for my November draft, but I don't want to waste the time working in my actual WIP. I will certainly be talking about it some more as October and November go by. :)

  2. I loved doing NaNo (and being in your cabin for camp :) ), and you did a great job of describing it here. Usually, if was never a problem of not knowing how to start, for me- I would always lose inspiration a few pages in. But NaNo helped with that!


    1. Oops- it, not if. :S

    2. It certainly was fun doing camp together this year. :) Ahh, sticking with a story once the dazzle has died off - it is so difficult. I am glad NaNo helped you with that. My attention span is so narrow and long-lasting that my problem is trying new stuff, but once I get started I tend to stick with it. It is neat to hear a different perspective on the benefits of NaNo. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Wow, what dedication, Hannah! This is very inspiring. I kind of want to try this year now. Perfect amount of time to plan for it too. Thanks for a great post and great info!

    1. I am glad it was inspiring! Even if you don't intend to go all the way to 50k, it is so worth doing anyway. I have tried twice to do "casual" NaNo and not actually care about completing, and just enjoy the experience. I have found that I usually get swept into the story and 50k turns out to be not quite as daunting as it first appeared, when you have 30k+ words already written. :) And I mentioned it this early so you would have time to plan... I would be so happy to have you join me this year! :D

  4. Thanks, Hannah! I had a hard time with NoNoWriMo, but Camp NaNo seems much more my style. . .thanks for explaining it! : ) Maybe I will try it this year! : ) I'd like to have my 2nd manuscript done by May, so April might be perfect!

    1. Yes, camp is much more relaxed and I prefer it a lot more. I would love to have you try it with me! Liz did her first NaNo in July as part of a camp cabin with me and Brenna, and it was a blast. It would be fantastic to have more of us working together and encouraging each other through a month dedicated to writing. :)


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