Thanks to everyone who sent in questions!
How do you keep yourself motivated and keep going when you fall behind?
This is such an important question and so relevant, because there is no universe in which I never fall behind! I love it, but it’s HARD. Week two is notoriously difficult. The adrenaline has worn off from the first week, and your word count is still relatively low; the finish line looks miles away. Many people give up during week two, and there have been some years I have not been able to get over that hill. The thing that keeps me motivated the most is writing with other people. It’s easy to make excuses when it’s just me staring at a computer, but if I have people asking what my word count is, and others that I am cheering on, it motivates me to keep going. I am especially excited this year to go to more in person meetups to meet local Wrimos.
Word sprints are amazing. That’s when you set a timer for ten or twenty minutes and see how many words you can write in that time. If you’re behind, a few good word sprints can get you back in the game. Granted, those probably won’t be the best pieces of writing, but I have often been surprised by those frenzied bursts. This year, there is a word sprint function on the website. If you are feeling competitive, do a “word war” with your friend or as a group.
and coffee. Obviously.
Do you have to write a novel? Are other kind of writing acceptable?
You absolutely do NOT have to write a novel. In fact, there’s even a name for those who choose to color outside the lines: NaNo Rebels. Whether it’s a memoir, non-fiction, short story collection, or blog posts, anyone who writes something other than a traditional novel is considered a NaNo Rebel. Rebels are in good company; you can find your fellow non-conformists over in the forums.
What's your favorite social part of NaNoWriMo?
I love participating with friends. The first year I participated, a friend and I would meet at each other’s house or at a coffee shop and write together. When we got stuck we could bounce ideas off each other. When we wrote something we loved or got excited about, we could share it and geek out about how our characters were turning into real people and doing things even we didn’t expect. The forums and pep talks are also great ways to stay connected to the larger community of writers. There are twitter chats and giveaways, and lots of chances to interact with other participants from all over the world. In my experience, the more people you have cheering you on, and the more you can cheer on others, the easier it is to finish. Writing can be such a solitary pursuit—sometimes that’s what we like about it! But others writers understand you in a way that no one else does. Those bonds can turn into lasting friendships, or deepen those you already have. When you become a NaNoWriMo Participant, you are automatically part of the community. Whether I am interacting on the global level through social media, or with local folks at a write in or just at home with a friend, there’s a sense of “These are my people. This is where I belong.”
Why is it important for a writer to participate? What's your background in writing--have you already been trained on how to properly structure a novel--what if you haven't?
I have always wanted to write a book, but before NaNoWriMo, the most I had ever written was a ten page term paper in college. For me, it was the curiosity of, “can I actually do this thing?” I studied literature in college and took as many creative writing classes as were offered. I know a lot about story structure, plot, character development, and literary devices. But learning about writing is not the same as WRITING. This is a trap that even established writers can fall into, we are constantly concerned with honing our craft, and there are plenty of wonderful resources out there to help us do so. But at the end of the day, it’s the hours spent in front of a keyboard or with a pen and paper that is going to make the biggest impact on our writing. Despite knowing a lot about writing, and considering myself a writer, when I actually sat down to write my nanonovel, I had NO CLUE what I was doing. It was scary, strange, and wildly freeing and magical. For me, the biggest hurdles, and the most important thing I gained from doing nanowrimo, was to throw off the need for perfection or to “know how”. Because NaNoWriMo is all about quantity and not quality, it allowed me to get excited about my story, to experiement, take risks, and drown out the little voice in my head screaming “this isn’t good enough!” NaNoWriMo silenced my inner editor and allowed me the freedom to just write without expectation. It taught me that the best way to figure out how to write a novel, is to actually WRITE A NOVEL.
The other significant thing that I gained through NaNoWriMo, was a clear formula for writing long fiction. 50k words in 30 days sounds impossible, but when you break it down into a daily word goal, it becomes manageable. It provides the structure for sitting down every day to write, whether you feel like it or not. It forces you, as so many literary luminaries advise, to make your writing time “sacred.” Most of all, it provides a level of accountability and motivation, that is hard to duplicate on my own.
Will anyone read it or is it really more of an exercise?
I have a few trusted writing buddies who have seen small portions of my drafts, or I’ve read them parts while we were writing together, but believe me when I say you do NOT want to read one of my unpolished NaNoWriMo drafts. I write out of order. I add in random song lyrics. I have whole paragraphs where all I type is, “I don’t know what to write now” and there are portions where giant squids come and eat a character in the middle of what’s supposed to be a realistic contemporary novel. There are some that are probably more organized and come out with more polished first drafts, but for me, NaNoWriMo is about letting my writing be messy. It is definitely an exercise in creativity, stamina, and resilience, and when you start carving away the giant squids and the other rough edges, the heart of a story emerges. Editing that draft is a whole other mountain, but we don’t talk about the “E” word until December.
I also want to note, that NaNoWriMo doesn’t read your novel either. During the last week, the site provides a word counter where you can copy and paste your novel. It will calculate the words and make you an official winner if you have reached 50k. The words are encrypted, and nothing is stored. (note: some word processing programs count words differently. Some year’s I have had to write an extra couple paragraphs to register as a winner on the site. It’s always good to have more words if you are worried about just squeaking by and you really want the offcial “win.”)
I never put too much pressure on my NaNo novels. If they end up as a messy draft that never gets read, that’s okay. If it becomes something I think I can edit and turn into a polished manuscript, fantastic! It is never about the final product, and always about the journey of discovery during the month. Even when I plan out elements of my story, I am always surprised by the twists and turns it takes during the month. Even on the years that I barely break 10k words, I never regret doing it, because I always learn something new, and those words are stepping stones on the path to becoming a better writer.
Still have questions?
Write a comment or send me a message! I'll respond to some in the comments, or if we get enough maybe I'll do one more blog post Q&A before November.