NaNoWriMo Goal: writing 50,000 words in 30 days with over 300,000 writers
Fact: In 2014, there were 325,142 participants, including 81,311 students and educators in the Young Writers Program.
News: Cheryl Holloway will be entering NaNoWriMo this year.
Patrise Henkel is our local NaNoWriMo Expert.
CH: Welcome, Patrise Henkel, our local NaNoWriMo Expert. Welcome back!
PH: Thanks for asking me back, Cheryl, I’m excited to be ready for another National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), my 5th year!
In case you have been on a desert island, NaNoWriMo is a an annual creative writing event that challenges you to write a novel in 30 days. Run by a non-profit that helps writers of all ages, On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.
CH: Let’s get started, we have a lot to talk about. Why should a writer want to take the challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days?
PH: Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? It definitely raises the bar for most of us, and that’s the key: to give yourself a big challenge, like running a marathon, and aim high. No, it’s not possible on an ordinary day, just out of the blue. But with planning AND SUPPORT you can exceed your own expectations and really grow as a writer.
CH: Is there a NaNoWriMo for young writers?
PH: The NaNoWriMo organization runs the Young Writers Program throughout the year, coordinating with teachers and librarians who mentor students. Young writers set their own goals. Last year over 80,000 students and educators took part. Link: http://ywp.nanowrimo.org
CH: I’ve been to two classes already getting ready for the NaNoWriMo challenge. What can writers do ahead of time to prepare themselves and their writing for the challenge?
PH: Great Question! There are some great Nano Prep resources, as you have found locally. You can start on the NaNo website. Once you sign up, join your state’s region forum to see all the local activity. There is a NaNo prep page with a lot of resource links, including webinars and Twitter events before and during November. Link: http://nanowrimo.org/nano-prep
CH: What are some the prizes? Can you tell us about the years that you won or achieved the goal?
PH: The biggest prize is the Winners badge and how it makes you feel! There are no special prizes.
There are no losers in NaNoWriMo. You can’t lose. You can only get closer to your goals as a writer, and NaNo gives you lots of fun ways to do that.
You can earn badges along the way for filing out your profile, joining your region, posting to the forums and getting a Buddy; they’re all designed to encourage participation. You can also donate to the NaNoWriMo cause.
Oh, and don’t forget to order a Winner T-shirt! It helps keep you going!
CH: Can a writer start with a new project or can they use an old project?
PH: NaNo is designed to go from zero to First Draft in 30 days, so ideally you start on a fresh manuscript with a fresh idea. But many of us repeat offenders work on a series. After all, so many popular novels of today, like The Hunger Games, for instance.
Also, 50,000 words, about 175 pages in print, is a very short novel. The Great Gatsby and Fahrenheit 451 are slightly less than 50k; Lord of the Flies and the Color Purple are about 60k. But the average novel is typically 85,000 to 150,000 words.
CH: Writing 1,667 words a day can scare some writers. Should you have a daily word count goal? Should you write every day?
PH: That’s the average of 50,000 words divided by 30 days. I don’t know anyone who is that consistent, but it is a target to keep an eye on. We all have different daily routines, and some NaNo veterans work hard all week and write like mad all weekend, putting in 5-10 thousand word days. There’s a popular plan to write more per day early in the month to help you later on. It’s good to have some tools to pace yourself with such an ambitious goal.
CH: What happens if you get stuck? Should you keep writing?
PH: What works for me is to work non-chronologically, and sometimes, non-thematically. That means, if I just can’t seem to write the next logical scene in my story, I’ll jump to an earlier or later time. If that doesn’t work, I will shake it up by interviewing a character, or using a prompt to crack open a writing groove. For instance, one year when I was just dead in the water, I decided to write love stories to get unstuck. I went through my cast of characters and wrote pieces of their romantic lives, to get deeper into the characters, no matter what the time frame. This material can end up edited into the main story flow, used in a flashback, a dream or eventually discarded. But sometimes it throws new light on a story, and gives you a new momentum. For me, it had just the ‘heat’ I needed to get back in the flow!
CH: I’ve heard about the ‘bad’ first drafts. Should a writer edit while writing or wait until the draft is finished?
PH: That is the object of NaNoWriMo—a ‘rough’ draft. For those of us who worry about our work not living up to criticism or being ‘good enough,’ pausing to judge our sentences, paragraphs and word choices too often can get in the way of creating the raw material of a whole story.
Once you have a rough draft, you have a wonderful block of stone to polish. That’s the time to let your inner editor out to play!
CH: How often should you update your word count?
PH: Let me back up and explain the way NaNoWriMo uses Word Count to qualify you for a ‘Winner.’ On the site, when you register, you become a user and log in. Each year you can create a new Novel. At one minute after midnight on Halloween, the Word Counter on the site goes live, and you can go to your Novel page, or just the top of the NaNoWriMo page, and update your Word Count.
This is totally the Honor system. You put the number in. I update it every time I write. I love to see the graph on my Novel page climbing as I go. Sometimes, I lag behind the average, sometimes I surge ahead!! It’s all for my benefit and inspiration.
CH: Most writers use their pc or laptop, can writers write their novel long hand?
PH: If you like to write by hand, and I know many people like the feel of the pen in their hand, go for it. You can estimate the word count with a simple test. On average, a page of hand written notebook paper is 300 words. Write a page, about anything, just fill it in. Count the words and use it as your average.
By the way, whether you write longhand or on the computer, you do not post your book on the NaNo site—only your ‘word count.’ In order to earn your Winner’s badge, you must enter a document of 50,000 words or more into the ‘Qualifier’—which shows up on the site in the later part of the month. If you have privacy concerns, you can actually scramble your novel before you run it through. All that matters is the word count, and the file is not saved. So, for a hand-written draft, you would do your best estimate of a count, then create a document of ‘lorum-ipsum’ dummy text for the Qualifier. Like I said, it’s all on the Honor system.
CH: Can a writer use outlines, character sketches, and planning notes?
PH: Absolutely! Planning is welcome and encouraged. There are lots of things you can do before you start writing.
CH: I’ve heard a lot about rebels, what is a NaNoWriMo rebel?
PH: Rebels are welcome! Maybe you aren’t writing fiction. Or you have no interest in the Novel form, but want to do short stories. Some folks set their goal to a different word count, or no count at all, but a calendar: “I will write an hour per day.” “I will write 3 pages every weekday.” It’s your goal, and it’s your book!
CH: What should writers do with their 50,000-word novel once they have finished?
PH: Ah, there’s the rub! Now, you have a rough, and in my case I mean rough, draft. Each year, I see more and more workshops and resources for the post-NaNo period, to help a writer get going on polishing that gem in the rough. I know of several in our area, and NaNo writers can check the Forum for their Region.
Basically, you need to edit and rewrite that ‘rough draft’ until you have a solid ‘first draft.’
CH: How many times have you competed in NaNoWriMo? What have you done with your finished NaNoWriMo novels?
PH: I’ve written for NaNo since 2011, and crossed the 50,000-word line every year except 2012 when I only made it to 17,000 words.
Alas, I am a very slow rewriter. I have my 2014 book about half edited. What I am learning is that I need a lot of support for the very big task of taking on a novel. After all the energy and excitement of NaNoWriMo, the routine and pressures of mundane life return and it’s more difficult to carve out time for all the creative projects I have to work on.
CH: Is it too late to start NaNoWriMo?
PH: It’s not too late!! You might have to hustle a bit to make up for yesterday, but DO IT!! It’s so very worth it. You will have over 300,000 friends to cheer you on!
CH: Any Closing remarks?
PH: Yes – whatever goal you set for yourself, remember that investing in yourself is the best investment you will ever make. No one can write YOUR story. If you really want to write, choosing to leap the hurdles that seem to be in your way is how you will get to that goal.
For me, NaNoWriMo is an excellent tool for charging my writer-batteries with confidence and enthusiasm. You can find me on the forums as ‘patrise,’ on Twitter @patriseart, and on the Maryland Nanos Facebook page too. I hope I see you around!
CH: Patrise, Thanks for joining us again this year. It has been a real pleasure discussing NaNoWriMo with you once more. The link below is for last year’s blog post, so my audience can have all the questions about NaNoWriMo. Link: http://www.cherylholloway.net/blog/2014/10/27/guest-author-patrise-henkel-discusses-how-to-succeed-at-nanowrimo/
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