Have you seen the acronym NaNoWriMo floating around lately?
During the month of November, writers of all ages – all across the country – try to tackle the goal of writing a novel in a month. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a “fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.” For 30 days, all writers (both official and unofficial) are encouraged to attempt writing a total of 50,000 words.
Two of our very own Fusion teachers have participated in NaNoWriMo, and they shared their insights into the wild experience of writing a novel in a month. Chloe, MA, M.Ed. is an Electives Department Head at our Los Gatos campus, and Lindsey, M.Ed. is the Master Teacher at our Southlake campus.
Why did you decide to participate in NaNoWriMo?
Lindsey: A co-worker encouraged me after finding out I had started a novel and struggled to finish. After joining, I was able to write three times more of my book than I had ever written before – all in a matter of days! I have knocked out about 15,000 words each go-around but have yet to complete it. It has, however, been very motivating and I attended a couple of write-ins to help hold myself accountable.
Chloe: I love National Novel Writing Month! This will be my ninth year participating, and while every year is a little different, they’re all special and exciting. Regardless of whether I win or lose, I learn something new about writing—and about myself. I’ve written a lot of novels for NaNoWriMo, and have done it across the East Coast, in Asia, and in California. Part of what makes each NaNoWriMo special is the people you do it with. You make so many friends and each of them can impact your writing in a unique way. That’s why I love doing NaNoWriMo with students! It seems like students always bring a fresh excitement to the project.
How did you come up with an idea for your novel?
Lindsey: I actually got the idea for the novel over five years ago while driving home to Corpus Christi for the holidays. I have experienced sleep paralysis since childhood, and after getting into ghost hunting shows on TV I thought it would be cool to connect something like that with a historically driven storyline. Needless to say between working full-time and getting my Master’s degree I haven’t yet completed the novel, largely because of the amount of research associated with making parts of the storyline historically accurate.
What is the hardest part about trying to write 50,000 words in a month?
Lindsey: For me, it’s finding a groove and forcing myself not to stop and re-read what I’ve written to try and edit it. Once I can sit down at my desk, light a candle, have a cup of coffee/tea next to me and play some music I can really get going, it’s just a matter of keeping up that rhythm and not stopping!
How are your students participating in NaNoWriMo?
Chloe: This year, I’m working with a few of my students who have bravely stepped up to the plate to try to meet NaNoWriMo’s goal of writing a novel in a month. They have word count goals from 25,000-35,000 words, and each of them set their stretch goal to the full 50,000! We use the NaNoWriMo Young Writer’s Program Workbook to get them prepped. The detailed planning activities, which take the students through various creative-writing aspects, help them feel prepared. We often make digital scrapbooks of their fictional worlds and find pictures of actors to serve as models for their characters. Visualizing their fictional world gets them excited. One of my students told me last week, “I can’t wait to start writing!” I’m pretty excited too!
What does the creative writing process look like for you?
Lindsey: I have to be in the right headspace to write, largely because I’m a perfectionist about my writing. I know for most people writing is therapeutic or cathartic, but for me it can be a lot of WORK until I hit a groove. This is the number ONE reason I have yet to finish the novel I started writing three years ago. However, when I am in my space and hit my groove I can really get a lot down without stopping. The key is to NOT stop and go back to edit, a cardinal rule in trying to finish. That’s my struggle! The temptation to re-read and edit gets me every time.
What advice do you have for other writers or anyone who is interested in writing?
1. Write, just write. Every. Single. Day. In a journal, a blog, on a napkin (that’s how Harry Potter started!). Know that almost everything you write will probably be terrible, and that’s ok. Just like you see professional photographers snapping hundreds of pictures during a shoot – only a handful will turn out good enough to publish. Writing is just like that! If you get hung up on trying to make everything perfect every single time you write, you’ll constantly construct your own roadblocks.
2. Write without stopping. Write until your fingers feel numb. Write until the very end, THEN go back to edit! NaNoWriMo especially. They strongly encourage that you ONLY write in November and then EDIT in December. Editing is a HUGE time-suck – don’t let it kill your daily word count!
3. Write what you know. Write about something you are passionate about. It’s SO much easier. If you try to tackle something you don’t know very well, you’ll get bogged down in research and looking for ways to add detail. Base some of your characters on people you actually know, it’ll be much easier to build their background stories and personalities, and tweak them to fit your story.
4. Don’t get too attached to your storyline or specific characters/traits. As you write things will evolve- let them! If you are too set on things you are going to write yourself into dead ends. Let the story take you where it wants, it typically ends up much better that way!
5. Download Scrivener. It’s a great program that allows you to outline, plan, create character bios, and much more and keep it all in one file. It’s been a lifesaver for me! It even keeps track of your daily word count for you!
6. Check out blogs and tumblr accounts for fixing your writing habits. They are a TREASURE TROVE of information about strengthening your writing in every possible way, AND users submit questions about research, topics, character development, and so much more. Just be careful – you can get lost in reading about writing for so long it actually takes time away from really doing it!
Chloe: My advice for other writers—or anyone who wants to be a writer—is to “just do it!” Don’t wait for some time in the future when you’ll be a “better writer.” Start now! Writing is all about practice. The more you write, the better you’ll become. For NaNoWriMo specifically, I would suggest two things: a) setting up a writing schedule to hit your daily word count goal, and b) being social—it can be really encouraging and empowering to go to local NaNoWriMo meetups and talk to other writers who share your experiences!
At Fusion, we love to see our students and teachers exploring their creativity in new ways. Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo before? Let us know what your tips, tricks, and experiences were!