Workshop: Enjoying NaNo


Vision 77



Enjoying NaNo


Lazette Gifford

Joyously Prolific Blog

Copyright © 2014, Lazette Gifford, All Rights Reserved




This workshop has been partially adapted from the NaNo for the New and Insane book which I wrote many years ago. The book, which is free, has many suggestions and tricks for making it through the month of November and having something written at the end.

I suggest most writers try NaNo at least once, even if you don't intend to write the full 50,000 words of the official goal. NaNo is about pushing yourself in new ways and not be complacent (or make excuses) for why you can't work harder. More than that, though, it is an excuse to let your muse run wild and to write for the fun of it. This doesn't mean you will not write something you can't work on later and make publishable. This is an exercise in writing a first draft. It can be a good time to try out a new genre or a new POV because you know you are going to be working on it for a limited amount of time.

It is a month to have fun with writing.

There are people who, for many reasons, cannot take part in NaNo. Be honest with yourself, though, and see if you are avoiding it simply because you don't want to fail. However, here is the part that many people don't consider: if you write at all during November, you cannot fail. Anything is better than not writing at all and you might surprise yourself and find that letting yourself go wild has also allowed you to write something strange and wonderful.


The First Step in a Crazy Journey

Once you have signed up for the current year of NaNo one question immediately pops into mind:

Am I crazy?

Well, yes you are. And the odd thing is that people who repeatedly come back to NaNo ask the same question every year, though by the third or fourth year it's sounding rather rhetorical.

You are crazy to join NaNoWriMo. But now that you're here, there is another important question to ask yourself: What do I want from NaNo?

This question is more important than you think and it's the one many first time NaNo-ers don't think to ask. What is it you want to achieve during the month of November? This answer comes in three parts, and the first two are givens --

1. I want to have fun

No one should join NaNo if they don't think a month of writing in crazy profusion is going to be fun. You can write any time. NaNo is for the crazy people who think writing something this quickly is going to be enjoyable. How would you define fun, though? Many people approach writing as though it always has to be the most difficult, painful occupation ever created by mankind and they have to tear each word out of their soul. If you go into NaNo with that sort of approach, you won't have fun.

How can you set up to have fun?

Define a reasonable goal

50,000 words is the official goal that you signed up for when you joined. If you are true to the original nature of NaNoWriMo, this should be your minimum goal. However, you can set whatever goal you like, whether fewer words or more words.

NaNo originally also had a rule that you must start something new (though outlines and background work beforehand has always been encouraged). As the years passed, the rules have been expanded so that there is a large 'rebel' section for people who want to continue work on something already started. I believe that this year it won't even be considered 'rebel' to do so.

Setting a good goal for yourself is an important part of the writing process. If you have never done NaNo or if you have done so and failed, you might want to try 25,000 words which is less than 1,000 a day. Don't make the goal too easy. Remember that you are trying to push yourself.

Also be prepared to redefine your goals as you work. If the goal is too easy, bump it up a bit and try harder. If life simply takes too much of your time, drop the goal downward, but still make it a challenge.


Decide to try a genre that you might not have tried in 'serious' writing.

Normally you might write historical fiction with a splash of romance, but somewhere along the line your brain gave you an idea for a space opera science fiction tale, and every now and then it pops up in your mind again. Here is your chance to deal with that demon and see where he leads you. Trying a new genre just for the fun of it can be an exciting challenge.


Free up your mind to let words flow

Freewriting -- the act of simply sitting down and letting words flow, no matter what they are about -- is an amazing experience for anyone who has had to fight for every word on a page. Using freewriting to write a novel isn't exactly easy, though since the idea of the action is to not tie your mind to anything, including a plot. However, using it to explore a character's thoughts can be incredibly exciting and provide insight into your character that you never had before.


Find new writing friends on the NaNo site and related groups.

The NaNoWriMo site is huge and filled with writers. This is a great place to hook up with people who share your love for a particular genre, who might live in your area or who might want to continue in personal writing challenges throughout the year.


Step One: Define what you want from NaNo

Sit down and write up a short list of what you expect from NaNo. Include:

1. A reasonable goal

2. Genre

3. How can you help to make the writing during the month to be more fun?


2. How should I prepare?

There are two basic styles of approaching NaNo. The first is to jump in with little or no preparation and the other is to have outlines and more ready before you start. Which one will work best for you?


1. The No NaNo Prep method

So how can you be prepared not to be prepared? The most important part is to decide where you are going to get your ideas. For some people simply sitting down and writing will work and ideas will continue to flow through the entire month. Most writers aren't that lucky. It is always a good idea to at least have a backup plan for the last week or so of November when your brain has turned to mush.

Many people, from start to finish of NaNo, use the challenges on the site's boards to move from day-to-day in the writing. This might create a rather chaotic story, but there is no doubt that it can be fun to write this way. In other cases, if you get stuck, you might ask for ideas in the genre section for which you are writing.

There are also idea generation sites throughout the Internet where you might get a prompt from places like Seventh Sanctum: . Whatever you decide, be open to changes in your story so you won't get stuck.

You might want to decide on the genre that you want to write. The moment you do this, you are likely going to start getting story ideas and you might want to start jotting them down. This leads to the second style of preparing for NaNo.


2. Having all your ducks in a line

People who prepare for NaNo do so in various ways. Some might take a few notes on storyline, characters and setting and they're ready to go.

And then there are the rest of us.

For many, preparing for NaNo is half the fun. This includes outlines, character sheets, background material and research for anything that might need extra details. This also means starting all this work well before the November 1 deadline. (At Forward Motion the discussion of November's event seriously begins about August 1 -- right after the July NaNo events.) October is usually filled with outlining and growing panic because you can never be really, fully prepared.

Outlines do not have to be extensive. A great way to get through each day of November is to have a list of ten things to write about in your story and writing 200 words for each one, which is not a massive amount of work. These sort of quick notes can even take place at the end of each writing day to set up the next one.


Step Two: Decide how much preparation you will do


1. Will you leap in at the last moment with little or nothing for an idea of what to write? Will you use the site challenges or other forms of idea generation to keep the story moving?

2. Are you going to do some preparation before the event begins? Will you have a daily worksheet or a regular outline for your story?


3. What do you want by the end of NaNo?

Before you begin to consider what you want to do with your story after NaNo, remember this very important fact:

You are writing a first draft.

You will have plenty of time to work on it later. Don't rush the editing.

There are three major choices and a lot of lesser ones that will help you decide what you want to do with the manuscript after NaNo. The big question is what you expect from the book when you're done. There is no wrong choice. Even if what you decide doesn't quite work the way you think, it's all right. NaNoWriMo and November is the chance to experiment. You never know what you're missing if you never try anything new!


1. Writing just for fun

Writing for the fun of it is a great choice. There is a special subculture of insanity on the NaNo boards that cater especially to this kind of writing and everyone there seems to have a great time each year. In this choice, you aren't worried about something as simple as the plot! You have dares to take on, challenges, and silly bits of the story to add in!

You might be writing fanfiction (material based on someone else's original work), which can't be published so you don't have to worry about what you're going to present to a publisher later. Fanfiction has a huge readership and you'll have your own decisions to make based on the world you choose to write in. (But, I am obliged to write, fanfiction is infringing on someone else's copyright and some of these people don't appreciate it.)

If you are in this just for fun, then at the end of November, you are done.


2. Writing for publication

If you choose this path, you'll want a coherent storyline to write during November, though you may not necessarily reach The End by the end of November. The people who take this path include both traditional authors looking for a contract in New York and Indie Authors preparing to publish their work sometime in the future.

For you, writing the first draft is just the start of a longer process. It is easy at this point to toss the story aside and never look at it again, but that's not what you want to do, at least in most cases. There are occasions when the NaNo experiment does not work, especially if you are trying a new genre or style. However, for most people, they will have a reasonable manuscript at the end of the month. It might not be complete yet, so be prepared to keep writing.

Once it is done, let the novel sit for at least a few weeks before you start editing. The longer it sets, the less you'll be inclined to see what you think should be there rather than what really is there. Don't rush this part.

Step Three: For publication or not?


1. I intend to have this story published (either Indie or traditional), and therefore I need to work at getting a coherent first draft.

2. I am writing simply for the joy of writing and might do illogical and insane things with the story.

3. I don't know yet -- we'll see what I have at the end of November.

4. Remember to have fun!

No matter how you approach NaNoWriMo or what you expect to have from it by the end of the month, remember to have fun. This is nothing to stress over. If you don't make your goal, it doesn't mean you have failed as a writer. NaNo is not for everyone. It will not make you a good or bad writer, but it may open some new paths you hadn't seen before.

So prepare for November.

And have fun!