November is only a few days away, and that means that National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo!) is nearly here.
If you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo before, it’s a month-long event where writers challenge themselves to pen a 50,000-word novel (about the length of novels like The Great Gatsby or Fahrenheit 451).
The goal is to begin writing on the first of November and finish by midnight of November 30. You can plan and outline your story as much as you like beforehand, but the actual writing of the story can only be done during November.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Whoa, that sounds intimidating! Not for me.” Perhaps you don’t have any idea for a story, or you have an idea but not a plot, or maybe you’re not even interested in writing fiction.
Well, one of the cool things about NaNoWriMo is that you can adapt it to your own writing goals. Whether you want to start a daily writing routine or overcome writer’s block or begin working on a nonfiction project, NaNoWriMo can be the perfect way to motivate yourself to start writing.
In today’s post, I’m sharing three ways that I’ve used NaNoWriMo in the past to reach several different writing goals.
1. Use NaNoWriMo to Crush Writer’s Block and Stimulate Your Creativity
Are you looking back on the past ten months and feeling frustrated that you didn’t make as much time for fiction writing as you wanted to?
Maybe when you finally found an hour or two to sit down at your computer to work on a story, you weren’t sure what to write. You stared at the blank page until you finally typed a few paragraphs, but then you heaved a huge sigh and pressed delete because you hated everything that you’d written.
NaNoWriMo is an excellent solution to this problem.
Back in 2013, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo because I’d had a busy year with college classes and hadn’t been able to make much time for fiction. But I also hadn’t had time to think up a story idea. I showed up at my computer on the first of November with no idea what I wanted to write.
Now, I usually recommend plotting a novel before diving into the first draft, but, in this case, I didn’t have any intention of publishing my final 50,000-word manuscript. I just wanted to have fun during NaNoWriMo and use it to stimulate my creativity.
I showed up at the page each day and didn’t worry about plot holes or perfectionism. I could experiment with narrative techniques and thinking outside the box.
If you’re in a creative rut, NaNoWriMo is an awesome way to spark your inspiration.
Whether you reach the 50,000-word goal or only get to 10,000 words, you’ll have written much more than if you hadn’t taken part. And you’ll have forced yourself to “write first, edit later” and abandon perfectionism.
2. Use NaNoWriMo to Test a Story Idea
If you’ve already plotted a novel, then NaNoWriMo is a fantastic way to push yourself to overcome your fear of the blank page and start writing chapter one.
But it can also be useful if you’re struggling to develop a story idea. For example, a few summers ago, I had a story idea that I thought I could turn into an enjoyable middle grade novel. My plan was to plot it out and start writing in November.
However, I soon realized I’d need more than a handful of months to flesh out my idea, develop a cast of characters, decide on a setting, and assemble all of the other ingredients necessary for an intriguing plot.
Additionally, I’d never plotted a novel before. I began to worry over my opening scene and the three-act structure. I had no idea who the villain of the story should be or even what direction my story should take.
Before I knew it, November had arrived. And I decided to just start writing.
I wrote about fifty pages of a very messy draft of the first act of the novel. It wasn’t plotted at all. I just let the words spill out onto the page.
That messy first act awakened my muse and gave me lots of ideas for how to structure the entire story. At the end of November, I put the draft aside and went back to plotting my novel, working off the ideas I’d come up with during NaNoWriMo. Then I dove into writing an official first draft.
If you have a premise for a story whirling around in your head, but you’re not sure how to turn it into a structured plot, then NaNoWriMo might be a perfect way to let your brain experiment with different ideas.
When I dove into writing the entire first draft of that novel, I went at a much slower pace than if I’d been participating in NaNoWriMo. My daily writing goal was 500 words, though I often wrote more than that.
However, the fast pace of NaNoWriMo was just what I had needed to propel me out of the starting gate so I could plot the story and turn it into a finished first draft.
3. Use NaNoWriMo for a Project That Isn’t a Novel
Finally, you can use the NaNoWriMo challenge even if you don’t want to write a novel in a month.
Maybe you’d like to write a nonfiction book or material for an online course or, say, a collection of blog posts that you can keep in reserve so you’re not scrambling to write a new blog post each week. Or maybe you want to begin publishing a blog post each day on Medium or you just want to challenge yourself to start a daily writing routine.
NaNoWriMo is a wonderful way to inspire yourself to make progress (or get started) on a writing project that you’ve been procrastinating over. There’s an energy and enthusiasm that you feel from so many writers around the world diligently working towards a writing goal. You can find NaNoWriMo Facebook groups where you can join in on writing sprints, churning out a certain number of words during a set period of time (say, twenty minutes or an hour).
And I love that the author account on NaNoWriMo displays a helpful graph that tracks how many words you’ve written each day and how many you need to continue writing each day in order to reach 50,000 words.
One year I used NaNoWriMo to motivate me to work on short stories. Another year, I used it to challenge myself to make progress on several different writing projects I was working on that month.
The possibilities are endless. If you’re in a writing group that’s diving into the NaNoWriMo challenge, you can still participate even if you don’t want to write a novel in a month. You could even gather a group of several of your writing friends and cheer each other on, even if you’re all working on completely different projects.
These are just several ideas for how you can adapt NaNoWriMo to reach your own writing goals. I’m sure that there are many more! I’d love to hear if you’ve creatively adapted the challenge too.
No matter whether you decide to follow the official rules or bend them to your own project, I wish you success if you jump into NaNoWriMo.
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Or have you participated in the past? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear your NaNoWriMo tips too.
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