The idea is this. Up until the month of November, writers prepare the foundation for their story. They research their characters, they visit the locations, and the get a sense of where their novel is going to go. They key is they Do Not Write A Word. Then, on November 1st, they all begin. Right then, on that day. They have until November 30th to finish their novel of 50,000 words or more. The standard rule of thumb is that a single page tends to have 250 words on it. This can of course be more or less depending on the font you use, the density of your paragraphs, and the amount of dialogue you have. Still, 250 words is a good baseline. So that means the novel will be about 200 or more pages.
The aim here is not to end up with perfection. It is simply to get the novel down on paper in rough form. As a wise friend of mine once said, "If you fill a page with rubbish, you can always edit it until it's just right. If you have a pile of blank pages, there is nothing at all to edit." So this project is intended to help you through that first step. Get the story down. Don't worry about the perfect phrase or the absolutely right line of dialogue. Get the rough idea laid down, from start to finish. You can then edit that to your heart's delight, honing it into a masterpiece.
The website that coordinates NaNoWriMo is, appropriately enough, http://www.nanowrimo.org/. It is completely free. You can see my profile here, to get a sense of how this works - Lisa Shea Profile on NaNoWriMo.
You can "buddy" with friends of yours who are writing, and with people who are writing in the same genre to help inspire each other. You can participate in the forums to cheer each other on, to ask questions when you're stuck, and to enjoy the fun of the challenge.
In the end, you upload your novel to their system to have it word-checked. If you're worried about privacy, you can run some filters on your novel so it garbles the actual letters, but maintains the word count. If you reach that 50,000 word count, you earn a badge, and the pride of knowing that you achieved your goal!
I have done NaNoWriMo for several years and have loved the experience. The fellow writers are supportive and encouraging. My first NaNoWriMo project, Aspen Allegations, earned a gold medal at the IPPY awards so a book created through the NaNoWriMo process can be solid and marketable!
For some reason, a few people look down on NaNoWriMo with the attitude of "my writing will take years and be a work of art, far better than this spewed-out dreck. Who would possibly engage in this cheap process?" My first comment is that life is too short to sneer at how anyone wants to take on their writing project! With so many unrealized dreams out there, we should each support each other in our goals and dreams, rather than stomp them. We are all different, and we all take different paths to reach our end goal. I also find it interesting that the people being stompy often don't have their own books published yet. So they scoff at the NaNoWriMo system - but their own system isn't working. Why not give it a try?
Here is the more full response.
For those who haven't investigated NaNoWriMo, the purpose is a focused effort to create a first draft.
Some people who invest in this process absolutely do months of research and preparation and outlining. Some invest years into that fact-gathering.
A writers-block situation for many writers - mostly new writers - is to then start writing. They just can't do it. They feel intimidated, or perhaps that their output will never be good enough. They figure they'll do it "someday" in the future when they have more time, more energy, or more research done. So they don't get started. The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to help people get through that stage. It is primarily new writers who participate in NaNoWriMo because they face that issue.
Because of the many emotional issues involved with writing, if there was no deadline it would be pushed off, other things would get priority, and it would never get done. I have seen that myself and heard about it from many other writers. So the purpose of a month deadline is to simply "do it" - to get that first draft out. Yes, absolutely one then revises and polishes it! But as my friend Ian said so wisely at a workshop, one cannot edit a blank page. One needs content to edit. So even if that content is a first draft, it is critical to HAVE that first draft to then polish up.
This project is a focused way to get through an enormous writer's block that many writers face. It has been extremely successful in helping literally tens of thousands of writers move through this massive hurdle, and get their book on towards a final product that was published with huge success.
If someone is already a published writer and is easily creating a new masterpiece each year, then they probably do not need this support. This is for people who do not already have that finish-a-book-in-a-year system down.
Participating in NaNoWriMo shouldn't take all day every day. It's only 50,000 words in a month. So that's barely 1,667 words in a day - which many of my content writing friends write as a long article. That would take many of us under an hour. So an hour a day of writing - which is definitely in line with what many of us do.
It's the whole "one step at a time" theory. Get that first draft out at a set, reasonable rate with a deadline. Do it with the support of hundreds of thousands of other people who are cheering you on.
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