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]