What is NaNo? (NaNo Prep 1)

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The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page. — Anne Enright

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National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo, is a (now international) challenge to write 50,000 words on a new work of fiction during the 30 days of November.

First of all, why 50,000 words—

  • Today, novels for people out of grade-school are usually 70-100,000 words, but 50,000 is usually enough space to sketch a well-planned outline of whole story.

Even so I came across a few recognizable titles that are novels near 50,000 words:

    • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
    • The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
    • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    • Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
  • It’s mathematically doable while still maintaining a life.
    • 50,000 words in 30 days works out to about 1,667 words/day
    • If you use the Wikipedia-cited average for “composition” speed of WPM (19) that works out to less than 1.5 hours of work each night to keep up. And I’ve been known—and know others—who end up in a creative heat that goes both longer and faster than that.
      • Best nights for me have between 2-3,000 words after I put the kids to bed.

In 2010, my husband Jay bought me an illuminated keyboard for my laptop—a noble gesture and romantic gift—as soon as they were available for the PC: My children all shared a single room, and would sit with them, typing in the dark, until after they fell asleep.

Such working ahead was critical because my worst days were only 300-800, and the last three days of the month were always a flurry of putting everything aside to find out what happens to my characters (and reach that 50,000).

So that’s the 50,000 words.

Next is the phrase “on a new work of fiction.”

You’re really not supposed to use this race of “literary abandon” as the chance to round out and finish the 50,000 words you wrote last year, even if that would, in theory, give you one “complete” 100,000-word book.

This is because you’re too invested by that point to “let” the work be horrible.

There is a famous truism in the writing world that says you have to write a manky first-draft. (Actually the original phrase from Anne Lamott is “shitty first draft,” but I first presented this information as a speech, and found another word to play it safe. Now I’m kind of in love with “manky” both as a word and as a concept, so I’ve continued to hang onto it.)

You have to do this (write horribly) because you have to write a first-draft, and if you’re not prepared ahead of time for it to be *horrible* you will despair (and likely give up) before you’re three days or three pages in. You will try to make every word count, or fit perfectly from GO, and you will make yourself into an anxious wreck before anything useful can take root.

What all successful writers will tell you is that good writing isn’t about sitting down and being brilliant, good writing is re-writing.

This could be why I talk so much about personal growth, self-awareness or self-improvement: this is the orientation writers work from. Our goal is to find problems before someone else does. We are our own first critics. Our own first defense.

But we are not (the best of us) trying to be our own saviors. There is a point at which we take this baby we have formed from the scraps and jewels of our minds, and set it into the hands of some other word-lover. Another storylover. And we give them permission to speak freely about imperfection and improvement.

But that all comes much later. For these thirty days, that inner editor, the one we apply before sending our baby to the unfeeling world, it is locked in a box. It is not allowed to poke its useful, ugly head out for the entire 30 days.

Because if you start to wonder before day-31 why Sally would care if Betsy borrowed the dog’s ninja to go grocery shopping, you will lose momentum, and in NaNoWriMo the name of the game is momentum.

You tell me: Have you ever wanted to write a novel?


  1. Reply
    Jana September 30, 2013

    Although I have never finished a Nanowrimo, hope springs eternal every October. Maybe with a little more preparation I can make it this year!

    • Reply
      Amy Jane October 4, 2013

      Preparation helps in (at least) three ways: it builds your confidence in your idea(s), increases your composing/creating speed when it comes time to actually write, and it builds anticipation for the coming month– especially if you follow the rules and hold off until November 1.

      You are so full-to-bursting that you have a fabulous start to your momentum.

      Good luck!

  2. Reply
    Megan Eccles October 1, 2013

    I have yet to “win” nanowrimo, but I love to try!

    • Reply
      Amy Jane October 4, 2013

      Without the “try,” nothing more happens!

      I hope NaNo Prep will help you on your way!

  3. Reply
    Kati October 2, 2013

    Ok…… I’m signing on. Thanks for the push!! Now to see if I can make a story out of an idea……

    • Reply
      Amy Jane October 4, 2013

      You won’t know til you try 🙂

  4. Reply
    Jana October 3, 2013

    I have always wanted to write a novel – can I write one? I really don’t know.

    I’ve written thousands of words of memoir or non-fiction, but a fictional story? Not for more years than I prefer to count. I’ve tried NaNoWriMo for several years, but always peter out after a week or so. Momentum is something I need to work on, but I will be attempting once again.

    • Reply
      Amy Jane October 4, 2013

      I’m glad you’ll try again. And knowing when you peter out is a useful diagnostic tool: consider what has you (or allows you to) give up.

      -Busy-ness of life? (Is there more happening later in the month, or did writing cease to be a priority?)
      -Boredom with the story? (If you’re bored your reader probably is. What would make it more-interesting for you both?)
      -Embarrassment at the (current) quality? (Stuff that evaluative sucker back in his box. No evaluating allowed until December 1!)

      Ask yourself what’s gotten in the way before, and you may have more clarity for this year’s try.

      Good luck!

  5. Reply
    Robin Heim October 6, 2013

    You go, Girl! NaNo is MY next writing challenge — though I’m looking to NEXT year for THAT one. So glad to be connecting through The Nester’s 31-Day challenge with you and so many other wonderfully talented women. Having fun blog-hopping and getting to know some of my neighbors, too.

  6. Reply
    Serafina November 26, 2013

    Hello! Yes, I have (wanted to write a novel). But I had never tried. (I’ve written parts of short stories before, but most of those rest unfinished in box of old things.) Then last night-wow!
    I re-found your blog (originally read one of your posts in 2010), and couldn’t stop reading! I’d finally read a description of NaNoWriMo, which a brother of mine has mentioned on f/b several years in a row, without explanation.

    You got me started on writing a real novel…it was the link to the names website, and what you said about choosing names…I started to wonder “if I was writing a book, what names would I use…”
    And then suddenly I had a start. Well, one word. 🙂 But once I followed another trail over to posts about writing (mostly at Nano), and saw over and over people say: Just. write. something. NOW…. and there was my start. I wrote 15 little bits of whatever it (the name, or next thing I’d written) made me think of, and there. 24 hours later, I’m almost 2000 words into my first messy draft of a novel! 😀
    (I hope this isn’t too muddled, and makes some sense – I usually write -and read- most when tired!)
    Thank you for sharing so much…about so many subjects…I should have commented as I read though 12 pages of your posts… oh well, maybe I’ll go hunting and find them again, even if it’s from a thought that sticks around for almost 4 years, and I have to google it! 😀
    P.S. I can’t find your novel at Nano…there are 50+ pages that come up when I put Stolen into the search… 😛 I called mine Lily – for now.

    • Reply
      Amy Jane December 5, 2013

      Wow, what a fun comment!

      I just rescued this from the spam folder, which is why I didn’t respond sooner 😉

      So glad you’re enjoying Untangling Tales, and that you found inspiration there.

      My novel changed over the course of October: I shifted from the long-composted story (Stolen) to a story I literally dreamed the night of October 1st. I decided to try something new for me, and that was the creation of a novel only a month after I conceived it. You can see an excerpt at my NaNo novel page— as long as they leave 2013 stuff up.

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