In her article, Abigail Beal gives some “Tips for Winning NaNoWriMo”. Although winning is nice, it’s also important to know what to expect from your NaNoWriMo experience and what benefit participating in NaNoWriMo is likely to have on you and your writing, even if you don’t come out the other side a winner.
NaNoWriMo (which is short for National Novel Writing Month) has been happening every November since 2000. That year, there were 140 participants and only 21 winners. In 2005, there were more than 59,000 people trying to write a novel in November, although that still only resulted in less 10,000 winners. In fact, since 2001, the average percentage of registered users who actually come out at the other side a winner is only approximately 15%.
If you think writing a novel in a month might be for you, it’s good to go into it thinking that you’re going to be one of the people who hit that goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. But what if you’re not? Was your November wasted? Are you a failure?
No, you’re not. Winning isn’t everything, you know.
If you’ve ever even toyed with the idea of writing a novel, devoting one November to NaNoWriMo is a sound decision. You can learn a lot about yourself in thirty days of frantic novel writing, and I promise you that it will be a quality education. I have participated in NaNoWriMo three times now, and I have met the 50,000 word goal every time. Although winning is always nice, what I got from the experience was even more important.
The one thing you can expect from NaNoWriMo is that you will find a great community of writers who are supportive and encouraging. Every year on October 1st, the NaNoWriMo forums go live for registration. Both new and returning writers flock to those forums as soon as they’re available to discuss their plots-in-progress, and to trade information and strategies. For me, the NaNoWriMo forums are like the best writers’ group you’ll ever find, and there’s almost always someone available to help you with whatever problem you’re having, whether it be inspiration, information, or motivation that you’re looking for.
The one thing you can’t expect from NaNoWriMo is that, on December 1st, you’ll have a perfect novel, ready to send off to agents. In fact, if the word “perfect” is even hovering around the word “novel” when you think about this endeavor, then it is not for you. Because 50,000 words in thirty days does not allow time for revision. It barely allows time for rereading a few lines to remember where you left off before diving right in again. Going into NaNoWriMo expecting to write messily is not only accepted, but encouraged. If you expect everything you write to be perfect, you will burn out before the end of week one.
The most important thing you can learn from NaNoWriMo is how and when you write the best. Best in this case is indicative of quantity rather than quality. Probably the most common piece of advice given about NaNoWriMo is to set yourself a writing schedule and stick to it, but I’m going to give you permission to not have a writing schedule for the first seven days. Because what you’re going to learn in that time is more important than how many words you may otherwise have written. During the first seven days of NaNoWriMo you should try to write in as many different situations and at as many different times of day as possible. Get up an hour early one day and see how that works for you. Write on your lunch hour the next day. Write for 30 minutes before you eat dinner the next. Find the time or times and place or places where you’re most productive. It may also be useful to figure out when and where you produce the best quality writing as well, if they’re different.
So even if you haven’t reached the NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 by midnight on November 30th, you’re still ahead because you’ve met new friends in a supportive group of writers, learned to relax a little when writing a first draft, and figured out some things about when and where you write the best. To me, that sounds like winning.