A writer needs many things. Ideas, a mastery of language, an understanding of grammar and punctuation, a medium with which to write, and the time to actually do the writing.
But there are two things far more important than knowing how to describe a sunset without using clichés. And NaNoWriMo can help you get them.
First of all, if you didn’t know, November is National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo. Or even NaNo for short. It’s 30 days in which several hundred thousand writers come together and try to write 50,000 words of their novel.
Now, there are four schools of thought about NaNoWriMo amongst writers. There are people (like me) who love it and believe in all that it can do, there are people who think “writing fast” is a bad way to go, then there are people who just aren’t interested, or people who don’t even know what it is. Here’s my case for becoming one of the die-hard NaNo supporters.
The two best features of NaNoWriMo are also the two most important things a writer needs—discipline and feedback.
When you’re aiming to write 1,667 words per day (which will get you to 50,000 on day 30), you have no choice but to be disciplined. Sure, some people sit down and knock out 10k at a time, but most of us get there by writing a bit every day. The goal and the visual reward of seeing your stat bars and word counts go up keeps you moving and so does the competition and encouragement you receive from other writers.
I’ve been at this writing thing for over five years now and I can say without a doubt that without a disciplined writing schedule, it’s not going to go well for you. You’ll slack off, make excuses, let life get in the way, and you’ll forget parts of your story, forget what you were thinking, and lose your momentum. That thing people call writer’s block can seep in. It might even make you give up on the story.
But, if you train your mind to be creative every day at a certain time for a certain amount of time, the writing comes much more easily. I can feel the difference when I haven’t worked on a story every day. It gets sludgy in my mind and the words don’t flow as easily. But when I write every day, I hardly have to think about it. The characters run around my mind all day. I dream up new scenes and have them half written in my head before my fingers hit the keys. It’s just easier.
And this is where the whole “writing fast is bad” myth gets debunked. I’ve heard the sentiment that writing that fast makes for a bad book, bad writing, bad planning, whatever. That nothing good can come of it. But you’re not forcing it, you’re not rushing it or speeding it along. The discipline of writing every day, of not letting your mind wander far from your story, gets the words flowing without much effort. There is no warm up time because you don’t cool down between writing sessions. We should all be so disciplined that the creative juices pour through our veins before we even open the lid of our laptops. Discipline is the way to get there. So, it’s not writing fast as in typing without thought. It’s thinking more and writing more that yields higher word counts.
There’s a great quote floating around from Ira Glass.
In it, he says that in order to bridge the gap between doing what you know isn’t great and what is, you must produce a great volume of work. If you’re not writing every day, it’s going to take you a very long time to produce a volume. Write often, write a lot, and watch how you improve.
Now, there is also the notion that practicing something incorrectly does not make you better. This is where the other important thing comes in. Feedback! And this comes in the form of critiques from your trusted critique partners.
All throughout November, you’ll hear NaNoWriMo-ers talk about write-ins. Write-ins are these wonderful events in which writers who are sharing the same goal come together and write. It is a fabulous way to meet writers in your area. Online, you can meet writers from all over. There are forums and Facebook groups, Twitter chats, and you might even run into someone in person (which is how I met my friend and critique partner, Nicole).
While writer friends are great friends to have because you have plenty in common with them (and don’t we all love to talk about writing and books?), one of the most important reasons to befriend writers is so that you can get swap feedback. You need people around you to boost you and encourage you, but, if you don’t have people who know what they’re talking about look at your work and help you improve, chances are, you won’t.
You can read craft books, but if you’re like me, you’ll read something, think “I don’t do that” and keep going. It takes someone scribbling in red all over your pages and pointing out every time you shifted your POV for you to realize that maybe you haven’t mastered that like you thought you did. Happens all the time.
You should already know this, but in case you don’t: You are too close to your work to properly and completely edit it. You MUST have outside feedback. I don’t even consider a piece of any writing finished until I’ve had several sets of eyes on it. I’ve learned. There are going to be things clear in my mind that don’t come through. There are going to be plot holes I overlooked or some place I made a poor word choice. Even the best of the best writers in the world will tell you that they could not do it without the feedback of their trusted critique partners.
Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. – Stephen King
Sit in your writing space alone and write your heart out. Have the discipline to do it often and on a schedule. Then, when you start editing, get all the feedback you can.
Even if you don’t want to write 50,000 words in November, sign up for NaNoWriMo and go to a write-in. If nothing else, the site is full of tons of great resources. There is so much buzz and excitement around NaNoWriMo. I’ve had my idea for months and have been writing notes and dreaming up details. I’ve been ready for November since June. And even though I’ve written plenty since then, there is a special magic that November holds.
Now is a great time to start thinking of ideas and writing an outline! You have more than a month to plan and prepare to write when November 1 hits. And if you’re a pantser, then you have more time than you need! If you sign up, become my writing buddy so I can cheer you on. I’m there as ddrespling.
Have you done NaNoWriMo? Will you this year?