Wednesday, 31 October 2012

NaNoWriMo - the Secrets of Success Part 1

Tomorrow, National Novel Writing Month – NaNo for short – starts again, and during the next 30 days hundreds of thousands of writers all over the world will attempt to write 50,000 words at a rate of 1667 a day. (In fact, they’ve started in New Zealand already …). They’ll join Forums, upload word counts, forget the housework and walking the dog. They’ll laugh crazily, weep tears of exhausted despair, stare at the screen, hit the keyboard, hit the screen, hit the wall … They’ll overdose on caffeine and triumph – and in all likelihood they’ll have difficulty remembering their own names by November 21st.

So here you are, on October 31st, wondering whether to join in with the creative insanity. Look, you’ve got a To Do List as long as a giant’s arm already – why do this? Why put yourself through it? What will you get out of it? If, on November 30th the magic 50,000 word mark has been reached, you get a certificate. Big wow, you might say. But there’s so much more to it: there’s an enormous sense of pride. You’ll have put 50,000 words on the hard disk, on paper – that simply weren’t there before. They may be raw, rushed and clumsy words, but they’re words plucked out of your brain and sent down the neural pathways to that paper or screen – ultimately to make their way into the brains of your readers. You’ve gone beyond the idle ‘I’d like to write a novel sometime …’ You’ve cut the tree down, chopped it into planks and staves and masts, nailed most of it together – you can now trim and hone, carve and plane, shaping your ship of dreams and sending it out onto the ocean … OK, enough of the seafaring metaphor!

In this and the next blogpost or two, I’m going to explore NaNo and how to make it work for you, with an honest discussion of the benefits and the pitfalls. I’ll talk about my past experience and what I’ve learned from it – and whether I’ve decided to join in this year (still dithering at this point, with eleven hours to go!)

So, what’s the first lesson in making it work for you?

Make it your own.

Even though this is a huge collective endeavour, make it your own personal NaNo.

It’s wonderful to have the structure of Nano behind you, with the sense of that global community – but this is your Nano. You don’t need to write 50,000 words.

You should set your own goals. Make them challenging – yes. Make them aspirational enough to give you a sense of satisfaction when you rise to the challenge. Don’t make them impossible – don’t set yourself up for a fall and for that horribly familiar feeling that you can’t do this writing thing.

At midnight on November 30th I want you to be sitting in a golden glow of Serene Self-Satisfaction or under the glitter-ball of Total Triumph – not weltering in a grey miasma of Despair.

Today’s the day to consider joining. Today’s the day to consider your writing project –

  • Is it a project that’s been on your mind and now you feel ready to start it?

  • Do you have several projects on the go? If so, pick one for NaNo.

  • If you’re just setting out, try to block out the rough shape of it and decide how much of it you’re going to tackle in the coming month.

  • If you’re midway, where in the arc of your story have you reached? My bet is, you’re in that difficult mid-section. If so, you might use NaNo to hammer your way through this tricky bit, gritting your teeth all the way if need be, knowing that you’ll have the pleasure of coasting to the denouement later on.

  • Is this a project that is well-advanced but which has beached itself? Now’s the time to refloat it (drifting into seafaring metaphors again, sorry!) Use NaNo to finish the thing, for good or ill.

  • You don’t even need to write new stuff if you don’t want to – you can use NaNo for concentrated editing of your manuscript.

Be honest with yourself: if NaNo is not for you, whether this year or ever, don’t do it! There’s no law saying you should. Be a rugged individualist, stand back and watch other people suffer in that peculiar NaNo way. Don’t guilt-trip about it. Writers have a strange talent for finding oh so many triggers for feeling guilty – don’t let non-participation be one of them.

The secret of NaNo, then, is to know whether to join in and how to make it work for you: I’ll talk some more about the latter in my next post.

In the meantime, pop over to the NaNoWriMo website, run by the delightfully-named Office of Letters and Light, at – you’ll find loads of inspirational advice and enthusiasm there. Sometimes it’s a bit cheerleader-y, but hey, in the gloom of November we need all the sunny positivity we can get …

Upcoming Fictionfire Focus Workshops - a reminder


VILLAINS WITH RELISH (November 10th - booking closes November 7th)
Everybody loves a baddie - but how do you describe a really good baddie? In this workshop we'll set about creating villains who are memorably nasty in all sorts of ways.

SHORT STORY WRITING (November 24th - booking closes November 21st)
In this workshop we'll explore the constraints and advantages of the genre and the writing skills you need to craft effective short fiction.

FESTIVITIES AND FROST (December 1st - booking closes November 28th)
As the festive season arrives, we'll explore how you can use Christmas and winter settings to create powerful scenes in your fiction which will resonate with your reader - whether the tone is 'Bah, humbug!' or 'God bless us, every one!'

There are discounts for booking more than one workshop. You can find out more and make your booking by going to the Focus Workshops page on my  Fictionfire website. I hope you can join us!

fire up your imagination
fuel your self-belief


Carol McGrath said...

Love the website and just discovered these blogs. Fabulous.

Lorna F said...

Thanks, Carol - good to see you here!