Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Fifty thousand words later: Junior participates in novel writing contest and lives to tell the tale

Well, it’s all over now. It’s been 30 days, 50,000 words and countless hours of sacrificed sleep, but my novel is finally done.

November was National Novel Writing Month – affectionately dubbed NaNoWriMo by its followers – where the goal is to complete a 50,000-word novel over the course of the month. The event originated eight years ago as a fun challenge between a group of friends in San Francisco, but since then it has ballooned into a phenomenon of approximately 100,000 people across the country. Generally, less than 20 percent of the novelist-wannabes actually reaches the 50K goal. I, I’m proud (and slightly astonished) to report, am one of them.

It was a gloriously stupid idea. What was I thinking anyway, tackling a novel in addition to a Williams workload, not to mention a host of extracurriculars? I’d made a pact with myself, though, that if I started turning into a hermit, or a grouch or a sleep-deprived zombie, I would quit right then and there. But it never reached that point, miraculously enough, and so I kept on writing.

I blame my family and friends for my perseverance, because they made NaNoWriMo fun. There were a bunch of entrymates attempting novels, so we made a word count bar graph for the common room, each person’s name below a bar to fill in as they completed every thousand words. A bonding activity. Other Williams students decided to write novels of their own, and while I was in awe of how many other slightly crazy, certainly determined, writing-inclined students existed here, somehow I was not surprised. Even my family joined in the merriment; my mom decided to write a novel herself, and we’d e-mail each other our word counts every night, along with motivational quotes and novel excerpts. As time went on, though, she needed more and more encouragement. My younger brothers made fun of her writing, and she made fun of her own writing as well. “You’re never going to make it to 50,000 with an attitude like that,” I informed her, and sure enough, she didn’t, dropping out after 10,000 (“But you keep going,” she urged me. “You can do it!”).

You can do it, you can do it, everyone told me. I wasn’t too sure. Fifty thousand words was mind-bogglingly gargantuan, the kind of quantity that’s hard to even wrap your head around. I calculated that to be on schedule, I’d have to write 1667 words every day. Instead, it was already day two before I even broke a thousand. I realized that if I really wanted to do this, I’d have to completely murder my inner editor, my inner critic, and my inner sense of sanity. And so I did. It was only then, when they were all lying in a bloody dog pile that I was able to type furiously, recklessly, writing things that I knew were ridiculous yet also knew I couldn’t afford to think through rationally or reasonably. There just wasn’t time.

After a week, I made the mistake of printing out my work-in-progress (at the time, only about eight single-spaced pages. Yes, I had already fallen dreadfully behind schedule). I read through it and was horrified. Flat dialogue, character inconsistencies, and an already overly confusing plot. Oy vey. Why was I wasting lord-knows-how-many hours on this story that was, effectively, a hunk of junk? But, bigger question: how could I possibly stop now? (There was that all-telling bar graph in the common room to consider…)

And so I barreled onward, spinning convoluted interwoven stories of obese tortoises, train hijackings, Bulgarian woodcarvers, Hal’s Unfortunate Tractor Incident, and – perhaps most frequently – hilarious and possibly incriminating anecdotes of my own family, under the guise of clever pseudonyms, of course. (“Hey, is this character supposed to be me?” asked my dad, after I e-mailed out an excerpt in which the father in the story is suffering from a bit of a baldness complex. “No, no,” I assure him. “That’s Mr. Bugle. This is a fictional piece of literature, Dad.”)

I soon discovered that NaNoWriMo writing is wonderfully liberating. There’s simply no time to search painstakingly for the perfect word or to stress over syntax (that’s what December is for). Instead, you can write freely, splattering sentences on the page in an explosion of exuberance. It’s such a different mentality from schoolwork, where you think carefully, draft an outline and then edit heavily to make your text crisp and clear before turning a paper in.

In contrast, the emphasis of NaNoWriMo is on quantity over quality. It’s not supposed to be a literary masterpiece right away. Rather, the idea is that from amidst all the rubble (and believe me, there’s a lot of it), a few gems will emerge. I can only imagine trying this on an English paper. “Sorry that the first few pages stink,” I would write on a little post-it note disclaimer, “but check out that gem on page four.”

Some people might approach novel writing as a solo endeavor; however, I learned that I worked most effectively when I involved as many people as possible. Everyone turned into my story fodder. I solicited countless ideas from friends, and I made my relatives role-play a few of the pivotal scenes over the Thanksgiving table. I’d send out e-mails, urging people to bombard me with “social pressure” to go write. I told scores of people that I was trying to write a novel, figuring that once the word was out, I wouldn’t be able to weasel my way out.

With this social pressure flowing free, I knew that I would meet the challenge. I did get just a little worried as the end of the month approached and I still had 10,000 words left to go, but I knew that I could always have one character read aloud from the Bible or Anna Karenina to take care of a couple thousand words. On the eve of November 30, I finally put my finishing touches on the novel, overlooking major plot inconsistencies to end it in a flash of drama, poignancy, vigor.

I’m not going to even think about this novel for the next two weeks. Some time after that, I may pull it out eventually and give it a good read-through, keeping my eyes peeled for gems. Maybe I’ll like it. The nice thing is, if I don’t, it’s only 11 months until I get to do this again.

[Elissa Brown / Williams Record]

Friday, November 30, 2007

It's a novel effort: 50,000 words in 30 days

Gail Lynes (left) of Everett and Heidi Fuller
of Machias work on fast-and-furious fiction
at a National Novel Writing Month write-in
Thursday night at the Espresso Americano
cafe in the Everett Public Library.
Heidi Fuller looked up from her laptop -- from the novel she's furiously writing -- but only for a moment. A hard and fast deadline was two nights away.

"It's all about the word count," she said.

Really, it is? This would-be novelist has always assumed it's all about intriguing plot twists and exquisite prose. Nah, forget that.

This is the final day of National Novel Writing Month. Tens of thousands of writers from here to Tanzania are typing as fast as they can. They're telling tales of anything and everything to finish a crazy assignment: Write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Their deadline is midnight tonight.

"The first year, mine was embarrassing smut," said Fuller, 31, a mechanical engineer who works for Boeing and lives in Machias. This is her fourth year of involvement in the frenzied writing exercise, and she's moved on to other genres: young-adult fiction and fantasy.

Wednesday night, she sat at a corner table in the Everett Public Library's Espresso Americano cafe. She was joined by her husband, Mark Fuller, and several others for the final Everett "write-in" of National Novel Writing Month 2007.

Quantity, not quality, is the overriding rule of this offbeat effort, with a close second being the notion that it's no fun writing alone.

Started in 1999 by Oakland, Calif., freelance writer Chris Baty and 20 other fledgling novelists, it's grown into a global movement organized through a nonprofit Web site, www. The site describes it as "a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing." Baty is now a published author -- of "No Plot? No Problem: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days."

As for mechanics, writers sign up online beginning Oct. 1, and choose a "home region." There are online forums and local events. Some writers work in anonymity, others meet and share ideas. The aim is to lower the bar on standards to boost the odds of getting something done. Last year, about 79,000 writers signed up, and nearly 13,000 finished.

Works are submitted and a program counts words, which are unread. In the end, the writer owns the book. Those hitting the 50,000 mark are winners. There's no prize, beyond a certificate (you print it out yourself) and the satisfaction of knowing you've written something. There is a place on the site for donations to National Novel Writing Month efforts and a Young Writers program.

Gail Lynes of Everett has already hit 50,000 words, but by Wednesday her first novel wasn't done. "Mine is a sci-fi story. It's 1,000 years in the future. Archaeological digs unearth old musical instruments," said Lynes, 57, who plays drums as a hobby.

When she started, Lynes had a rough outline. "It took me where it was going," she said. With her husband pursuing a degree at the University of Washington, she's had time to write while he studies. She hadn't had time until Wednesday to meet other writers. Not long into the evening, they all seemed like old friends.

It's also a first effort for Mark Fuller, Heidi's husband, a 43-year-old research engineer at Boeing. He doubted Wednesday he'd finish in time, but he's had fun. He took a short-story approach, writing several tales with a common theme. "There's a particular object in each story," said Fuller, not revealing that object.

Claire Cruver and Ardyth Purkerson, both veterans of the effort, have serious ambitions. Purkerson, 29, of Lake Stevens writes children's literature. She's writing three novels for school-age kids, "one with anthropomorphic animals."

"I'm going to get published this time," said Cruver, 24, of Everett, whose story centers on angels inhabiting Earth after heaven becomes overpopulated. She's a fan of bestselling authors Nora Roberts and Janet Evanovich.

Those writers surely have different methods than the cooperative approach this group takes. Heidi Fuller, a sort of cheerleader for the group, hands out little toys to spur writers on. They share ideas, too.

"I asked for the name of a soup, and Claire said 'chestnut and lobster bisque,' " said Heidi.

"And one night I looked at Mark and said, 'I need a disaster,' " Cruver said.

In four years of writing, Purkerson has been in several cities, once in Oregon, another time in El Paso, Texas. "It's fun. You meet new people at these gatherings," she said.

Asked what they all have in common, Heidi Fuller laughed and said "laptops."

Cruver elaborated, adding, "They're all very creative people, interested in reading and writing."

And partying, too. Still on deadline Wednesday, they were already planning a celebration for Saturday.

What about editing? What about rewriting and polishing those golden words?

"We save revisions for December," Purkerson said.

[Julie Muhlstein / HeraldNet]

Thursday, November 29, 2007

There's a whole lotta writing going on

Plenty of people have dreamed of writing a book.

Dreaming is one thing.

Actually doing it is another.

But this year, at least a dozen Grand Junction residents have devoted the entire month of November to making that dream come true.

Welcome to National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, which kicks off on the first of November each year and ends at the stroke of midnight on Nov. 30. What began as a writing challenge in 1999 among a small group of friends in Oakland, Calif., has exploded into a global, caffeine-generated phenomenon. In 2006, nearly 80,000 aspiring novelists signed up, of whom almost 20 percent met the challenge by writing at least 50,000 words by midnight local time on Nov. 30.

This year, more than 100,000 would-be writers from more than 70 countries cranked up their laptops or bought a fresh pack of pens, ready to tackle another round of the biggest writing competition in the world. In Grand Junction alone, quite a few have made a habit of meeting weekly at Traders Coffee on Seventh and Patterson or the cafés at either Barnes & Noble or Borders. You can’t miss them: They’re usually clustered in a tight group near the wall — the closer to a power outlet for their numerous laptops, the better — around a handmade orange sign declaring,

“Caution: Novelists at Work.”

For Heather Nicholson, the unofficial organizer of the local chapter and a recent Mesa State College writing graduate, this year marks her third time participating in NaNoWriMo.

“This year, I’m not juggling work and school while (also) finishing a book, so I thought I’d take my time,” she said of participating in the 2007 challenge. “I can have a social life and still cook dinner.”

Her writing schedule finds her working well after midnight, which she said dovetails nicely with her night-owl tendencies.

“Working with a group is my chance to get out of my house,” she admitted. “I get encouraged by being around other people who are doing the same crazy thing, talking about (our) word count.”

As of Tuesday night, she was only 7,000 words short of the official goal of 50,000, and she’s confident that she’ll finish in time for the Nov. 30 deadline. Others in the group have already “won” the challenge but are continuing to write, adding to their word count while they finish their stories.

Amy Pittsford is doing NaNoWriMo for the second time this year and writes her “science-fiction/vampire” novel around her work schedule at Best Buy.

“My goal was to finish before Thanksgiving,” she said, “so I could take the whole weekend off. I didn’t want to have to worry about writing after work. Retail is crazy during the holidays.”

She’s already surpassed the 50,000-word mark, pumping out an additional 2,000 by Tuesday evening. While she likes the camaraderie of a group, she admits working with others can be distracting.

“When we first started (a few weeks ago), there were only four of us, and we swapped turns at people’s houses so it was a little calmer. When I’m writing by myself, I don’t feel as competitive; I’m not comparing word counts with anyone. It’s just me and my characters and my world.” Still, she enjoys writing with the group and looks forward to the Tuesday night writing marathons.

“There’s that social aspect of it,” she pointed out. “There are other people (here in Grand Junction) who are doing this, who like to write.”

Others in the group echo her sentiments regarding the group dynamics. Rodney Larson, a telecommunications engineer with the City of Grand Junction, has been participating in NaNoWriMo for a few years and was initially inspired to join while on a business trip to New York.

“I was in training there for three weeks, and I met some people up there who were doing it. (NaNoWriMo) gave me something to do with my nights.”

Like Pittsford, he’s already met the challenge but continues to write with the group. Writing three hours a day — two hours before work and an hour after — has allowed him to write over 60,000 words over the past month. He doesn’t limit his writing to November, however; his output is about “two to three books a year.”

“I’m not sure what to do with this (year’s book),” he said. A character-driven novel about a man slowly being driven insane by an undetected intolerance to gluten, it joins other manuscripts he’s written in the past and which he might edit for possible publication.

Megan Hansen, who graduated from Mesa State in May along with her friend and fellow creative writing major Nicholson, hasn’t quite met the challenge, but is enjoying the process all the same. Unlike the majority of NaNoWriMo participants, she’s chosen to write her novel in longhand, a technique she admits takes longer but which she relishes for the opportunity it gives her to really think about her story.

“I have a laptop, but like with Jane Austen or Shakespeare, so much great literature has come from hand-writing books. Technology has really taken away the whole idea of thinking about what you’re writing. You just type what comes to your head. Writing longhand gives me a chance to really think about what I’m writing.”

Like everyone else in the group, however, she carves out time each day to write. She and Nicholson also have a writing group that meets regularly throughout the year to discuss their projects and encourage each other’s progress. “We’re all English majors,” she said with a laugh. “What are we going to do with an English major? So we decided to use it and write.”

“It really helps to know there are thousands of other crazy people out there who are doing the same thing you are,” Nicholson added. “And it’s so cold, so you don’t want to be going outside anyway. You just stay inside and drink hot chocolate and write.”

When asked whether or not they’ll participate again in NaNoWriMo in 2008, the group unanimously agreed that they would. They’re especially hopeful others will join them next year in their quest to finish a novel in 30 days.

“Everybody should sign up and do it at least once in your life. Even if you don’t think that you’re a writer,” Nicholson said.

Hansen agreed. “Sometimes you have to be forced to do something you want to do. Carpe diem, man! Sometimes you just want to go home and rest, but then you have a writers’ group meeting and you go, and you think, “Wow, I really did something today,’ and you feel so good about it.”

[Marjorie Asturias-Lochlaer / Grand Junction Free Press]

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Writers Race to Finish Novels by Month's End

For many of us, writing a novel is a lifelong dream we never seem to find the time to accomplish. But over a thousand Chicagoans, including students at a South Side high school, are determined to make that dream a reality. And they're going to do it all in the span of a single month.

F. Scott Fitzgerald spent eight years writing Tender Is the Night. Finnegans Wake took James Joyce seventeen years to complete. But this November, some Chicagoans are joining a global community of writers trying to finish novels in just 30 days as part of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo started in 1999 as a challenge among a group of friends in the San Francisco Bay Area. They found that writing a novel in a month was a lot more do-able than they'd expected, so they decided to try it every year. The event has grown from 21 participants in its first year to 79,000 people from around the world.
SAM: National Novel Writing Month kick-off party - 'I'm Sam, this is my first year…Okay, cool, I'm not the only one!'
Here in Chicago, NaNoWriMo participants meet throughout November at gatherings like these. Both first-time novelists and veteran writers, like Michael Goldman and Sarah Condic, bounce ideas off each other and offer tips learned from previous years about how to reach the official goal of 50,000 words.

GOLDMAN: Well, I started all purple prose everywhere, and then around chapter 2, I realized - I've written a thousand words in four days, I really gotta speed this up. And then it's like -'Tom said this, then she responded to Tom saying this!'

CONDIC: I replace all the contractions -'it's' is now 'it is.' You will never find a contraction in my novel.

The rules of National Novel Writing Month are simple. To win, you must write at least 50,000 words between midnight on November 1st and 11:59 pm on November 30th. You can outline and plan ahead, but you can't write a word of prose until the beginning of the month. Each day in November, novelists upload their most recent draft to the NaNoWriMo website, and the site then automatically detects and charts their word counts. It's not just adults who are getting into National Novel Writing Month.

RUSHEK: You're going to take an orange piece of construction paper, and you're going to write in the center a bubble diagram - My Novel - and then all of the ideas you could possibly do.

When Kelli Rushek heard about NaNoWriMo last year, she immediately thought it'd be a great opportunity for the Writers Workshop class she teaches at Corliss High School on the South Side. But it turned out the school didn't have the technology for the project.

RUSHEK: There weren't enough computers in the school for me to do it for the whole month. So, I brought it up to my kids last year and they were actually very excited about it. And then, when we weren't able to do it, they were kind of upset.

Then, earlier this year, she won a contest sponsored by the NaNoWriMo office to receive 25 laptop computers for use in the classroom. Two days before November began, Rushek surprised her students with the announcement that each of them would be writing a novel. Students like Allen Wallace and Kiera Torrey reacted with a mix of excitement and trepidation.

WALLACE: I was a bit shocked when she told us about it cause it came out of nowhere. She said the minimum was 50,000, and I kinda choked on my breath or something. But I'm going to do it anyway, because I like the challenge.

TORREY: I think it's gonna be fun. I'll get to see how far I can push myself and how much I can actually write. I think I might reach my goal, I don't know. If I reach it, I'd be happy. I might cry.

Allen and Kiera's teacher Kelli Rushek is confident that her students will make it to the finish line. They're motivated by the competitiveness that high-schoolers are famous for.

RUSHEK: So, there's going to be the student vs. student - "I'm at this many words, how many are you at?" And then there's the class vs. class. If period one is reaching their goal more quickly than period five - it's amazing what a pizza party will do.

To make the process as stress-free as possible for her students, she's letting them choose a word goal they feel is appropriate. She's also telling them not to let worries about grammatical errors get in the way of their creativity, as might happen in their other English classes.

RUSHEK: They might have had a teacher that said, 'Oh, you have to have a comma here, you have to have a period here. Your subjects and verbs don't agree.'

BATY: In some ways, it really should be called National First Draft of a Novel Writing Month.

Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month, agrees that simply writing anything is more important than worrying about the quality of the writing.

BATY: The lesson that I've learned from this is that you can edit a bad first draft into a good novel, but you really can't edit a blank page into anything but a blank page.

For most people, finding the time and inspiration to write even that first draft isn't easy, but Baty thinks that what you gain is worth the trouble.

BATY: You do come away from it feeling, "Wow! If I could write an okay book in a month, what else can I do?" That tends to be kind of the start of a lot more other kinds of adventures in people's lives.

And those adventures might just provide the plot for your next novel.

[The Archives / Chicago Public Radio]

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Greatest noveling song of all time?

The greatest noveling musician of all time?
Noveling songs. So I'm going to go out on a limb and declare "Out of Egypt" by Sufjan Stevens as my favorite noveling song of all time. Which is weird because it's really just a hectic mix of piano notes, musical wheezes, and windchimes that I would normally fast-forward through in a heartbeat.

But pump that song through a pair of headphones while I'm staring at a Microsoft Word document, and my brain elevates itself right into a state of heightened noveling awareness that's unlike anything else I've encountered. I feel focused. Inspired. Fluid. According to the copy of iTunes on my laptop, I've played "Out of Egypt" 288 since I loaded it in two years ago. At 4:21, that means I've spent almost 21 hours of my writing life listening to it.

It's a big question: What is your favorite noveling song of all time?

Grand Blanc area columnist says fellow Flint-area writers are intelligent, fun bunch

The best characteristic of writers is their imaginations never die, and they are always willing to share ideas -- no matter how seemingly ridiculous -- with other writers.

On Tuesday, I attended a gathering of National Novel Writing Month participants in the Flint area. The group, the Flint Red Hot Writers, meets at The Coffee Beanery in VG's Food Center, 5080 Corunna Road, Flint Township.

Meetings are 2-4 p.m. today, 6-9 p.m. Tuesday, 6-9 p.m. Thursday, 2-4 p.m. Nov. 11, 6-9 p.m. Nov. 15, 2-4 p.m. Nov. 18, 6-9 p.m. Nov. 20, 2-4 p.m. Nov. 25 and 4-9 p.m. Nov. 30. The group will celebrate the end of writing month with a party on Dec. 2.

Parents, single adults, high school students, college students and children as young as 6 showed up at Tuesday's session. The children are part of NaNoWriMo's Young Authors Program. Everyone has a username on the Web site,

Everyone in the group is encouraging, fun and kind. I came out as a novelist with no plot and was embraced. My fellow writers began brainstorming with me and giving me tips on how to come up with ideas for my novel.

Loren Burr, a freshman at Goodrich High School, teased me for not having a character, a plot or even a genre selected. It was all in good fun because I'm certain Loren changed his novel plot about three times that evening -- from a story about a band member to a Chuck Norris adventure to an angst-ridden action drama about a character named Gary Stu.

Cylithria Dubois, a former Flint resident now living in Bay City, eased my insecurities when she told me she was also struggling with a plot for her anti-romance romance novel.

Dubois, our group coordinator, introduced an idea that would help break writers block. The idea, which she borrowed from the Bay City NaNoWriMo group, is to write a plot device on an index card that goes into a box.

Writers who find themselves struggling during the month can pull a card from the box and must use the idea in their novel.

Mischievous grins appeared on everyone's faces. The writers began scribbling with ink pens of fury, stopping only to show the person next to them what they'd written on the index cards. Laughter soon filled The Coffee Beanery.

The first card Loren showed to me read, "Alien Invasion. 'Nuff said."

"That should help your novel get going," he said, sticking the index card into the plot box.

My favorite ideas the entire evening were also written by Loren: "Your character explodes. Go back two spaces" and "Your character turns out to be Jesus. Have you heard the good news? Extra points if his best friend is an atheist."

Let's hope I don't actually have to write using any of Loren's helpful plot devices.

The writing group motivated me further with free stuff. The NaNoWriMo swag included a sticker, refrigerator magnet, door hanger, ink pen, temporary tattoo and other fun stuff.

Now, I'm ready to write. I've got my swag, signed up with the Web site, attended a group meeting -- and my iPod is stocked with music only a 20-something could love. Wish me luck. It's 50K or bust.

[Matt Bach | Flint Journal  / The Flint Journal]

Monday, November 5, 2007

Austin NaNoWriMo Nature Write-In

Deanna Roy, a photographer and writer in Austin, Texas, and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) participant, sent in these amazing photos and the commentary that follows from a nature write-in she organized for this year's National Novel Writing Month. These writers are among 300 or so Austinites who are posting word counts with headquarters. At the time of this 2007 write-in, Austin was ranked 17th in the world.

Down the short hiking path to the hidden waterfall, the breeze picked up a chill from the water, reminding us that despite recent 80-degree days, we were indeed noveling in November. A few writers shivered, but most of us pulled on our hoodies, exhilarated just to be outdoors with our books-in-progress.

Two of us were writing scenes that took place out in nature, so we eagerly listened to the calls of birds and the errant splash of a frog among the rocks in the shallow parts of Bull Creek. We captured every tiny detail to shamelessly pad our word counts, as is necessary when writing 1,667 words per day to make the goal.

LazyM in Her Hidden Spot
After an hour, we all walked around and talked a bit, complaining of numb body parts from sitting among boulders and tree roots. LazyM, the Austin municipal liaison, walked down from her hidden spot a distance away to chat with the others. Everyone agreed that the lack of internet access and the inspiration of nature were significantly impacting their word counts.

Silver at Her Bull Creek Desk
Silver (we call each other by the handles we use on the NaNoWriMo forums) set up a desk in the middle of Bull Creek. Her stuffed penguin took a tumble in the stream, but this made for another story to add to the mythology surrounding the Austinites' NaNoWriMo mascot.

We wrote on laptops, on Alphasmarts, and even by hand. Writing outdoors was a little painful, a bit out of the way, but definitely productive and a refreshing change from dark coffee shops and going it alone long into the hours of the night -- by Deanna Roy

A parting shot of NaNoWriMo participant Quasky, writing by hand.

[Ginny Wiehardt /]

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ready, set, write

Brenna Levitin, 14, of Worcester has a plot percolating in her head.
New to National Novel Writing Month, Brenna plans to write a chapter a day,
probably while sitting on the dining room floor, where she likes to work.
A brief item on National Novel Writing Month in Writers Digest caught Sariah Armstrong’s eye.

Ms. Armstrong found the idea of writing a novel in a month intriguing.

“I thought, ‘Oh, I can totally do that,’ ” she said.

And that’s how Ms. Armstrong, a junior at Fitchburg State College, came to spend November 2005 banging out a 50,000-word novel in the annual NaNoWriMo contest. She did it again last year, and she’s among more than 170 participants in Central Massachusetts for whom the clock starts ticking today on the 2007 competition.

Wrimos, as they are called, are really only competing against themselves. Anyone can join in the challenge by signing up throughout this month at In order to “win,” a participant must write a novel of about 175 pages from beginning to end and upload it to the Web site by midnight on Nov. 30 for an electronic word count.

NaNoWriMo isn’t about writing “the great American novel.” It’s about producing “the great frantic novel,” according to Chris Baty, NaNoWriMo founder and program director. Participants are urged to let themselves go and just write, even if it’s nonsensical. It’s about quantity, not quality. Ms. Armstrong has written long passages in which her characters are dreaming or thinking things over. “That’s straight for word count,” she said.

Last week, 14-year-old Brenna Levitin was poised to start writing, with a plot already percolating in her head. Brenna, who is new to NaNoWriMo, intends to write a chapter a day.

Sariah Armstrong, left, a junior at Fitchburg State College,
and Sara Marks, a librarian at Fitchburg State College,
are the municipal liaisons for National Novel Writing Month.
Both write fantasy and science fiction.
But 50,000 words? She’s not so sure.

“You can always hope,” Brenna, of Worcester, said cheerfully. “I’m just going to write and write and write whenever I can. I’ll steal ideas from other authors and from my friends. It’s going to be fun.”

NaNoWriMo got its start in 1999, when Mr. Baty and 20 friends decided to see if each could crank out a novel in a month, just for the fun of it. They had a blast and the experience was uplifting, as well.

“My sense of what was possible for myself, and those around me, was forever changed,” Mr. Baty wrote in his online history of NaNoWriMo.

The next year, a friend built the Web site, and Mr. Baty, who lives in Oakland, Calif., sent out invitations to friends who, in turn, invited other friends. By the starting date, 140 people had signed up. Mr. Baty created a message board so that Wrimos could get acquainted.

In 2001, 5,000 people took to their computers, and NaNoWriMo has continued to snowball ever since, drawing teachers, graphic artists and auto mechanics, to name a few, from 70 countries. This year, soldiers serving in Iraq are among the estimated 100,000 people participating, Mr. Baty said.

Peter Elbow, a leading proponent of free writing — writing for a set amount of time without stopping — and the author of “Writing with Power,” said the NaNoWriMo marathon is likely to help a prospective author develop comfort and fluency in the art of using a lot of words.

“It’s good practice in letting writing lead to surprise,” said Mr. Elbow, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “One of the interesting things that happens when you write fast is things emerge. The plot happens.”

Mr. Elbow emphasized that free writing is not designed to produce good writing. But it can lead there.

“A lot of good writers talk about the words taking over,” he said. “Frankly, it’s what the ancients talk about as inspiration, where you don’t feel like you are in control any more. This business of writing and writing almost inevitably leads you there.”

That may well have happened to Sara Gruen, who wrote her New York Times best-seller, “Water for Elephants,” as a Wrimo several years ago. She participates every year, Mr. Baty said.

As NaNoWriMo gets under way, it takes on a carnival quality. There are more than 500 chapters around the world. Volunteer municipal liaisons organize get-togethers and monitor message boards. Wrimos can join 40 different forums, including “NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul,” and, for the more upbeat, “This Is Going Better Than I’d Hoped.”

“We have people writing in Japanese and Swedish,” Mr. Baty noted. “We have kickoff parties in England and France.”

Closer to home, Ms. Armstrong and Sara Marks, a librarian at Fitchburg State College, are the municipal liaisons for the Worcester chapter. Both women write fantasy and science fiction.

Ms. Marks, a four-year Wrimo veteran, holds weekly get-togethers at Panera Bread, on Route 9 in Shrewsbury. Ms. Armstrong organizes group meetings at Moose Creek Coffee Co. in Leominster. They hold write-ins to boost writers’ word counts by coming up with games and posing challenges.

“Many people don’t know what they are getting into when they sign up,” Ms. Marks, 31, said. “They start off strong. The first week they have energy. The second week it takes a downturn. Things start getting in the way. They start losing sight of the goal.”

Each year, roughly 18 percent succeed, Mr. Baty said. Ms. Marks came out a winner the first year, but missed on her second try. She said she devised her plot and characters too narrowly. She also went to Miami to visit her family for Thanksgiving, and that didn’t help.

Ms. Armstrong has succeeded twice and can reel off her exact word counts: 50,071 in 2005 and 51,234 in 2006.

As Mr. Elbow pointed out, most of what is produced isn’t likely to be very good. So what’s the draw?

“At the end of the month, you look back on this OK book you wrote that you didn’t know you could write,” Mr. Baty said. “People start asking themselves: ‘If I can write a book in a month, what else can I do?’ ”

“It brings people to a new level,” Ms. Marks said.

NaNoWriMo is now a full-fledged nonprofit organization. It operates a Young Writers Program and has started a second writing marathon, Script Frenzy. Mr. Baty has published a book on the NaNoWriMo challenge. Its title? “No Plot? No Problem.”

Still, Mr. Baty is down to earth in discussing the future.

“At a certain point, it will level off and stop being cool,” he predicted. “There will be something else that will be cooler. For now, it’s an incredible thrill to let your imagination run amok.”

[Pamela H. Sacks / Worcester Telegram]

Ever try to write 50,000 words in 30 days?

Reaching a 5000-word minimum may seem unfathomable at 2 a.m. when all you’ve got is a couple of paragraphs and the paper is due in your 9 a.m. class. But somehow—somehow—it always gets done. In fact, if you’re an upperclassman, you probably suffer a moment of panic around 2:15, take a coffee break, come back and breeze through the remaining few pages with enough time for a nap before breakfast. Recently, a senior Editor at the Voice made a telling comment to me as I was complaining about a paper due the next morning which I hadn’t yet begun.

“A thousand words?” He scoffed. “That’ll take, like, an hour.”

He was right—but that’s not the point. Writing the paper was arduous and downright boring. Writing for NaNoWriMo would have been a lot more fun, and might have allowed me to keep up with the Voice editor’s pace.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. During NaNo, as insiders call it, participants challenge themselves to pen a 50,000 word novel in the thirty days of November. Winners are novelists. Losers, well—nothing ventured, nothing gained. Strict rules apply, of course. Absolutely no beginning before the official start date of midnight on November 1 (although you may use an outline.) No co-writing. No nonfiction, epic poetry, or screenplays—novels only. All manuscripts must be electronically submitted to the NaNoWriMo website by midnight on November 31st for the official word court. Break these rules, NaNo founder Chris Baty warns wryly on, and your novel “will be dismissed by the global governing council that oversees internet-based novel-writing events.” Beyond these rules, though, anything goes.

NaNo is already popular among college students. According to Chris Baty, founder of NaNo, some colleges even run NaNo workshops in their fall semesters, and professors “are flabbergasted by how much the students take to it.” Baty has his own theory about why college students like NaNo so much: “NaNo appeals to people who are at big transition points in their lives, and I think college is the first of those. There’s so much noveling material, and people feel like they have a lot of stories to tell.”

Not to mention that, as he puts it, “the combination of over-caffeination and lots of free time is a creative writing miracle!” The completion rate reflects this enthusiasm—normally, about 18 percent of NaNo participants make it to 50,000 words, but in college workshops the rate is between 85 and 95 percent.

Baty launched NaNo in 1996. The event consisted of consisted of 21 friends in the Bay Area armed with laptops and a month’s worth of junk food. Four of them completed novels. The next year there were 140 participants from throughout the West Coast and Canada. By 2003, there were more than 25,000 participants from more than ten countries around the world. On the eve of this year’s NaNo, Bays is “comfortable anticipating 100,000 adults.”

Eight years into NaNo, Baty seems awed by its following. “We’re the worst writing contest ever. We have no prizes and no one reads your book!” Winners—those few, nearly 13,000 last year, who hit the 50,000 word mark—must make do with a gold star attached to their NaNoWriMo avatar and the enormous satisfaction of having written a novel (or so I hear, never having won the damn thing.) But in reality the tangible benefits of NaNo do extend beyond the several thousand 175-page manuscripts littering living rooms across the world on December. In 2004, Baty began asking participants for donations to cover technology and coordination costs, and NaNo eventually donated $7,000 to Room to Read to build three children’s libraries in Cambodia. In 2005, NaNo participants raised $14,000 for seven libraries in Laos; in 2006, $22,000 and twelve libraries in Vietnam.

You can do it without leaving the comfort of your dorm room. It’s physically less demanding than the Marine Corps Marathon And as Baty says candidly, “the ONLY thing that matters in NaNo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality.” When else in your college career will you be given free license—and a gold star!— to write as much BS as you can in the space of month?

[Louisa Aviles / The Georgetown Voice]

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

INTERVIEW: NaNo’s Chris Baty, Part 3

That accelerating metronomic sound you hear is the NaNo clock about to blazon the start of this year’s NaNoWriMo competition. TOMORROW marks the beginning of the 2007 event, which means there’s still time for you to sign up if you haven’t already. (Visit the NaNo site HERE to do so.)

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing NaNo’s founder and fearless leader, Chris Baty, about what NaNo is, how it’s evolved and what’s in NaNo’s future. Missed parts one and two of our interview with him? Click HERE and HERE to catch up, then come on back. In this, the third and final part of our interview, Chris offers some last-minute NaNo advice pulled right out of his inspirational book No Plot? No Problem! and tells us a little more about his stunning philanthropic ventures–all in the name of creativity and personal growth. Enjoy!

Part 3: Interview with Chris Baty

Q: Tell us about your book, No Plot? No Problem! Is it meant only to help people striving to succeed during NaNo month? What prompted you to write it?

CB: I think for me it was the desire to have a book like this when I’d written my first novel. I kind of put everything in it that I’d learned from four years of NaNoWriMo and added advice I’d solicited from people who’d done it for many years at that point. A lot of it was to try to get at those ideas and those counter-intuitive lessons that you learn—that when you turn off your inner editor, you oftentimes end up writing better and this idea that it’s okay to be imperfect as a writer and in fact there’s a real power in imperfection.

Also, NaNo month tends to follow a familiar trajectory for a lot of people. Week one starts, and you’ve gotten your words down on paper, and you feel you’re a god and you have no idea why you haven’t done this your whole life and the world has waited far too long for your eloquent gift. Week two comes and that’s when you feel like a truck has kind of parked itself on your face, and that you are the worst writer who’s ever lived. This is because week two usually means making really difficult decisions about plot: you have characters and not you have to something with them. Even professional novelists typically struggle at that point, and they’re usually dealing with a timeline where that crossroads may not occur until the six month point or the one year point. They write at a more humane pace. It’s just flat-out a tough time, and that’s where a lot of people quit. I think No Plot, No Problem can help walk people through those phases and lets them know week two is going to be miserable and they should just accept and embrace it.

Q: All right, what is a “wearable, writing-enhancing object” anyway?

CB: Well, I think this kind of gets into the psychological realm, or as I like to think of it, the 30-day vacation from everyday living. I think wearing a special thing, like a hat or wig or a special writing jersey, can help to remind you that this is a special and crazy month where maybe the rules of everyday life do not apply. It’s easy to forget that and kind of let demands of life sort of wash in and take time away from writing. But it’s harder to forget that if you’re wearing a Viking helmet! It’s kind of like a memory device that helps you realize that this is anything-goes playtime, where you’re not necessarily taking the content of your writing too seriously but you are taking the process itself very seriously.

Q: How can stress propel a writer forward? Is there “good writer stress” and “bad writer stress”? How can you tell the difference?

CB: Really, there is a kind of “good fear” and “bad fear.” In order to tap into the good fear, you need to give permission to write bad first draft—with problems, with agonized embarrassing moments—and really the only bad thing you can do is actually stop writing. So at that point then you have good fear. You’re telling everyone you know that you are writing your novel, and that your fear is that you will not complete it. That then becomes a motivator, because you don’t want to fail at the task of completion.

Then there’s the task of perfection which sometimes opposes the task of completion. One fear drives you to sit down at computer and write; and the other fear drives you away from the computer as far as you can go because you don’t feel up to that challenge of perfection and you’re not living up to an impossible potential.

Q: Do you participate in NaNo yourself?

CB: Every year, yes, until I die.

The cult of NaNoWriMo

Coffee shops everywhere are loaded with people preparing
for the National Novel Writing Month contest
My first mistake was admitting to National Novel Writing Month founder and director Chris Baty that I had attempted to participate in NaNoWriMo the past two years, reaching a combined word count of zero.

He sounded disappointed in me, but I had my excuses. I had school to attend full-time, a couple jobs to work part time, a high score to beat in Tetris, a lot of email to check and blogs to read.

Baty doesn’t buy any of it. After all, this will be his ninth year and his ninth novel. He runs a non-profit organization and consumes what is certainly an unhealthy amount of coffee, yet he still finds the time. “The difference between people who hit 50,000 words and those who do not is the decision they make,” explains Baty.

Time management skills are learned and honed for many thanks to NaNoWriMo. “When I cut out aimless Internet surfing and spending ridiculous amounts of time checking my email inbox, I have 18 hours a day that I didn’t have before. People end up finding that they have more time in November for things than they did before. They become more conscious with decisions about their time.”

NaNoWriMo was born in July 1999 when Baty and his friends got together and set out to write one novel each in a month. “I was 26 years-old at the time. I had a group of friends in the Bay area who kind of have a hard time saying no to bad ideas,” jokes Baty. “None of us tried to write novels before, none of us were fiction writers or even studied fiction in school. We were doing it because it seemed like it would be fun to do and that it would be fun to tell people at parties that we did it.”

When Baty began the second year of NaNoWriMo, it had shifted to November to better accommodate his friends. “I hadn’t expected a second year, but the first ended up being so much fun,” admits Baty. “That second year when we had 140 people, I was convinced we had peaked. We are the largest writing contest in the world.” Last year, NaNoWriMo brought in over 79,000 aspiring novel writers with almost 13,000 of them hitting the 50,000-word mark. That’s impressive for a contest with no judges or prizes besides self-satisfaction.

Baty first realized how big NaNoWriMo had grown while preparing an order with a photocopy clerk at Kinko’s. “He rings me up and I pay. He says, ‘I only made it to 20,000 words,’” Baty recalls. “It’s just a testament to the power of the idea. Set a goal and follow through. You’ll never read or write the same way again. It’s a life-changing experience.”

Baty didn’t set out to start any of these projects—the world’s largest writing contest; the Young Writers Program, a reading and writing program for individual students and for classrooms; or to start a non-profit organization, The Office of Letters and Light. Baty simply wanted to drink coffee, have a good time with his friends and see if there was a story in his head that he could write down.

Friday, October 26, 2007

INTERVIEW: NaNo’s Chris Baty, Part 2

If you missed part 1 of our interview with National Novel Writing Month’s founder and inspirational leader Chris Baty, click HERE for a quick remedy, then come on back.

In this, the 2nd of our 3-part interview with Chris, we talk about what NaNo ISN’T, why “30″ is a magic number, the secrets to NaNo success, NaNo communities and more. Enjoy!

Part 2: Interview with Chris Baty

Q: Are there any NaNo misperceptions you’d like to dispel?

CB: Yes. One of them gets back to idea that NaNo is basically committing a horrible travesty against the written word. I think you hear that from people who have not taken part in NaNo month. We hear that from people who’ve never tried to write novel before as well. I think some people have the idea that novels are written by a certain species of human, they were born to write novels. I think that first year of NaNo taught me that novels are not written by novelists, that they’re written by everyday people who give themselves permission to write novels. Once you see and realize the truth of that, I think the world becomes a much more magical place. The creative process is important for everybody and is enriching for everybody. The perception that people are wrecking books by trying to write them fast seems laughable. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around it.

Another misperception would be about publishing stuff. Even people who’ve not sold their novels have taken parts of it and have won prizes with it, a couple significant prizes with it. If you do want to publish a novel, there’s no better way than sitting down and knocking out first draft in a month and then going back and starting revision a month after that. At that point you’ve jumped a year ahead of schedule at least, with what I believe is no loss in quality. Your first draft is going to suck no matter if you give it a year or 30 days. I think more and more professional novelists who have book contracts and who do this for a living are taking part in NaNoWriMo because it is this gift from heaven and that is a deadline. It helps give you focus and structure and company, and that is something that has changed over the years—the idea that NaNoWriMo is also for professional writers, and it’s kind of neat to see people who really do make a living at this writing right alongside fourteen year olds who love Harry Potter so much they have to write the 8th book.

Q: So why 30 days? Why not 12 or 45?

CB: I think there are five good reasons for 30 days.

The first one is that you’re able to kind of turn off that editor’s voice for a limited amount of time, and it’s the time limit that turns it off. When you tell your inner editor that you’re going to write first draft of a novel in thirty days, it basically throws up its hands and decides that you’ve gone completely crazy and goes off to haunt somebody else for that long, some newspaper writer or something.

The other nice thing is that your significant other and your friends really get behind a 30-day novel, much more than they do a 5-year novel or 30-year novel. There’s sort of a stunt built into it, and I think that aspect allows people to sort of become your cheering section for a month, which helps to keep you excited about the project, but it also raises the fear of complete personal humiliation should you fail to get it done. People can keep track of you for 30 days—they will ask about it. That’s one of the tips I give people: When you set out to write a 30-day draft, you tell everyone you know you’re doing it and you encourage them to check in on you. It’s both wonderful and horrible. It gets people personally interested and invested in your writing habits, and it also gives you that extra incentive right around week two when what you want to do more than anything else is just pretend the whole thing never started, to keep going. And that’s really all you need. Usually there will be one point in the month, and for most people it’s right around week two, when you loose momentum. You’re exhausted, the novelty has worn off. But having the sense that you do not want to embarrass yourself in front of all these people you bragged to about your novel, really helps you get over that hump when nothing else will.

Then there’s the promise of it. It’s really irresistible—the promise that you can have a novel in 30 days that you didn’t have 30 days earlier. Which kind of sounds like a late-night infomercial: take this pheromone and suddenly you’ll be beating them away with a club! But, I think that’s part of the appeal.

The other part is that you really can have a completely un-horrible first draft of a novel in 30 days. It’s going to be a warts-and-all first draft, but you will be amazed at how much of it you actually really love and the sort of plot twists you come up with in these late night sessions. I have found that when you write for quantity over quality, you end up getting both because you have sort of turned off that inner editor. You can sort of tap into these worlds of improvisation and intuition that you don’t necessarily access when you sort of carefully reach out for each word and comma. For me, that realization was so strange: this idea that you reach for quantity, you also get quality. But it’s true. It also makes the process not hurt as much as it might otherwise.

That’s the other appeal, I think: the idea that writing finally gets to be fun again. I think we associate many words with novel writing. “Bleeding” is a good one, but “fun” should really be in there!

Friday, October 19, 2007

INTERVIEW: NaNo’s Chris Baty, Part 1

If you’ve never heard of National Novel Writing Month, you need to ditch that rock you’ve been living under! NaNoWriMo Fever has swept the nation, with writers renouncing sleep and a good chunk of sanity during the month of November in order to attain a single goal: finish an unimpressive draft of a 50,000 word novel.

Chris Baty, founding father of NaNo, began this writerly venture in 1999 with a few friends, and the NaNo competition has snowballed ever since. (The number of entrants may well hit 100,000 this year.) Chris is an ambitious freelancer and the author of the inspirational guide for NaNo-driven writers, No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days. And he is the heart behind some philanthropic ventures that have benefited people worldwide and continue to nurture the creative lives of American children.

On a personal note, I’ve got to say that of all the telephone interviews I’ve ever given–for WU and during my over twelve years of nonfic work for hundreds of articles–I’ve never enjoyed an interview more than the one I had with Chris. This guy is full of ironic wit, charisma, intellect and good-karma drive. And, in Chris’s words, “Why the hell not?”

Want to learn more about what NaNo actually is? Read on!

Part 1: Interview with Chris Baty

Q: For folks who may not have heard about it, tell us what NaNo is all about.

CB: It’s based on the somewhat ridiculous idea that everybody in the world should spend November writing a 50,000-word novel from scratch. No judges. Nobody even reads the manuscript you write in our contest. At the end of month, you upload your script, and we have a system that grabs it, counts it for words, then immediately deletes it. You’re basically looking at the worst writing contest in the history of writing contests—spending 30 days toiling away on a novel that nobody ever reads. But the fact that nobody reads it is a really empowering aspect of NaNoWriMo. You can turn off the inner editor that slows so many of us when we sit down to write a first draft. You really do have a chance to free yourself from the inner voice that says you’re a horrible writer and that you have no business doing this. You can run amok in imagination for 30 days. Once you’ve done that, it forever changes the way you write first drafts.

Q: So what does it do? What have you heard? What’s your feedback about this first draft phenomenon?

CB: Well, the problem with being a writer is that you are unfortunately also a reader, and by the time you sit down to write first novel, you’ve read hundreds if not thousands of beautifully crafted, world-abandoning novels that have been edited probably a dozen times by a host of different people. But you never get to see what that thing looked like when that thing first tumbled out onto the author’s page. I mean, they hide those things for good reason. So our expectations for the caliber of our own first drafts are set terminally high. We basically think that if what we are writing is not as good as what we are reading, then there’s something really, really wrong. And when you examine it, you realize how silly that is. You realize that every book that we have loved started out as a deeply flawed first draft. And this is straight out of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird or Stephen King’s On Writing.

Q: So NaNo helps to get that first draft behind you…as fast as possible?

CB: You cannot escape that first draft. The beauty of writing is that you have an opportunity to go back and find the best parts and hone those, and improve and revise and fine tune. As every writer knows, the second draft is often just a world away from what you came out with the first time. But you have to have a first draft in order to get to the second draft. You cannot edit a blank page. Unfortunately! I would love to edit a blank page, it would be so much more practical!

And I think we get so caught up in this crazy notion of competence: that if what we’re writing is not genius, then it’s just another confirmation that we are total failures. But you cannot write a book when you’re basically dragging this rhinoceros of self criticism behind you; it’s impossible.

National Novel Writing Month is based on this very simple idea that the inner editor that we all have is crucial, that it is a very important thing, but that it’s important when you get to the editing phase. But it can be destructive when you’re still in the creative phase to allow that editorial voice to second guess and criticize work that is comprised mainly of loose, still-forming constellations of plots and characters and ideas.

National Novel Writing Month Is Near

A thought for those people who get itchy at the idea of writing. National Novel Writing Month is coming soon.

Every November, for several years running now, large numbers of people have registered online to participate in the project. There’s no cost, unless you want to make a donation to the organization to facilitate the event.

At midnight, on the turn from Halloween to November 1, participants from around the world sit down at their computers and begin writing, with the goal of having 50,000 words written by the end of the month. They send their documents in to the NaNoWriMo web site every now and then, and the documents are checked for the number of words written, but not read. People can, in this way, show their quantitative progress on the site.

Everybody who reaches the goal wins. Everyone who tries is congratulated. There is no promise that any of the works written in the month will be published, or any guarantee that any of the results will be much good. The benefit seems to be in the experience, a kind of endurance run for people who want to prove that they can get words down on a page.

At a time when being entertained is increasingly the dominant American past time, I think that it’s worthwhile to spend one month each year trying to create something for oneself, by oneself.

If the idea of trying to write a short novel in one month awakens something perky inside you, give it a shot. You’ve got nothing to lose but sleep.

[Peregrin Wood / Irregular Times]

Thursday, October 4, 2007

NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month

Have you heard of NaNoWriMo? It's very popular in some circles, and still completely new to others.
Every November, thousands of people attempt to write a 50,000-word novel. This is actually a short novel; some people stretch the definition of "novel" to include other types of fiction or "creative nonfiction." A lot of fanfic writers use it as the inspiration for longer works of fanfic, while other aspiring writers use it to bang out a first draft. (Finishing a first draft is one of the most significant milestones that a new writer can achieve. Many run out of steam after a few dozen pages.)

NaNoWriMo, sometimes just called NaNo, is also a competition. You win by finishing: turn in at least 50,000 words before the end of the night on November 30. Almost one billion words were written, and presumably submitted, for NaNo last year.

But it's not until November!, you say. What are you doing posting about it now? I shake my head. Learn why, when you read more about NaNoWriMo after the break!

The NaNoWriMo site is open for signups for 2007 as of October 1. If you start on November 1st with no idea of what you plan to write about, you'll probably get nowhere fast. While the rule is that you cannot start writing your novel until November 1, you're encouraged to start planning your novel as far in advance as you like... even if that's December 1 of the year before you plan to compete.

Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, wrote a book with tips for success: No Plot, No Problem. (Don't miss Debra Hamel's review at that link!) This would be a perfect time to pick up a copy. There is also a No Plot, No Problem Novel-Writing Kit, which does not include the book. It's mostly motivational accessories, like a badge that says "Novelist" and a progress-tracking chart, all of which you could easily make by yourself.

Either version is full of encouragement for first-time writers, as well as writers who have never been able to make it past page 50. You'll learn how to silence your inner critic (your worst enemy, in NaNo terms), abandon economy of phrase, resist the temptation to ensure that your plot makes complete sense, go where your imagination takes you, and generally rock a first draft.

(Seriously: cohesiveness, solid research, and good writing is for the second draft. The first draft is supposed to be the one with all the problems. Get the story out of your head and on paper or screen, get in the habit of working on it every day, and then worry about making it good.

If you're writing for fun and not with an eye to being published, don't even bother with that! But a lot of fanfic writers fall somewhere in between: they're writing for fun, but they often want what they do to be as good as possible because they're publishing online.)

Every participant has a variety of support resources at their fingertips, regardless of whether or not they choose to purchase Baty's extra materials. Sign up, and you'll receive motivational emails through the month of November, have access to forums where you can talk to other writers (dangerous distraction, though!), and possibly have access to meet-ups in your area, depending on where you live. Some local NaNo groups have even gone on writing retreats together! You can devote an hour or two a day to the project, or you can really build your whole November life around it, even use it as an occasion to make new friends.

Since the idea of NaNoWriMo is to finish a novel-length work in a month, without regard to quality, it was inevitable that some people would want to go back over their novels and do something with them. For that reason, NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month: essentially, "a second draft in a month!") is in March. Mark your calendars.

[M.E. Williams / DIY Life]