I’ve officially participated in NaNoWriMo nearly every year since, I think, 2006 or 2007, but I’ve only actually completed it once. Eek. And it only took me about, oh, 10 years to finish that original novel. (What started out as a rough 50,000-word manuscript clocked in at over 500 pages when I finally finished the first draft last February. What can I say, I’m wordy and really lean hard on the pantser part of me when I’m in a writing groove.)
Okay, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, a quick primer:
NaNoWriMo is shorthand for National Novel Writing Month. It began, like so many Internet-based popular endeavors, in San Francisco in 1999 as a fun project among a handful of creative friends, and has since blossomed into an annual global creative writing movement with hundreds of thousands participating around the world. The big “prize” is the satisfaction of having completed such a heady challenge, especially during what for many is the busiest time of the year, which seems to only add to the excitement and thrill. (Or maybe that’s just me.)
The rules are simple: write a 50,000-word novel in November. You can break that down to whatever schedule works for you, but for many the magic number is 1,667 — the average number of words you need to write per day for 30 days. To qualify as a NaNoWriMo winner, you must have typed or written the 50,000th word by midnight local/your time on November 30.
To “win” NaNoWriMo, you need only have completed the challenge. There’s no strict validation process; everything is run under the honor system. Since the “prize” is the sense of achievement for the participating writer, there’s no incentive to “cheat”. You’re a winner simply if you follow the rules and write those 50,000 words.
The fact that the majority of participants each year don’t “win” just goes to show you how special that accomplishment is.
Anyway, I’m trying again! If you’re reading this on my actual site (rather than from an RSS reader or the email) you might have noticed that I’ve already put up this year’s official banner in the sidebar. A little motivation for me, with the added bonus of public accountability to boot.
Traditionally, I’ve always been a dedicated pantser. In NaNo-speak, that’s someone who writes by the seat of their pants, i.e., without planning or outlining (much). You simply start typing until you hit 1,667 words, repeat 30 times, letting the story go where it needs to go.
The opposite, and probably more successful folks (I’m guessing here) are known as the plotters. They outline, develop full character sketches, use copious index cards, build entirely new worlds, and probably launch the month with a box full of newly sharpened pencils.
I joke, but you get the point. They’re not taking any chances and are planning for success.
At heart I’m still a pantser, but this year I’m trying something different. I’ve already started outlining the characters. I spent an hour just thinking through the male hero, everything from the exact shade of brown of his hair to his sister’s name. I also plan to create a chapter-by-chapter outline. The other day I’d pulled a figurative thread on the Internet and stumbled on the writer Jami Gold’s website. It’s full of incredibly useful resources and tools, like this article about plotting a romance novel that actually includes a free, downloadable romance novel beat sheet that marks page-by-page what should happen by which page. Sounds strict? Sure, but having that structure might help that diehard pantser part of me be a little bit less wordy and meandering, and more focused on the whole point of a romance novel: getting the two protagonists together in the end, sooner rather than later.
Even the brilliant Picasso had to become a master of basic techniques before he could play around with them and create something entirely new.
After the dumpster fire that is 2020, I’m looking forward to throwing myself into a new world, with characters I want to love and to whom I want to deliver a worthy happy ending. I’m basically creating my own escape hatch. And while so many NaNoWriMo enthusiasts grumble about the timing of the event — right before Christmas! Thanksgiving! Family visits! Final exams! — I love that it happens when it’s cold outside and of course I’ll have a cup of hot chocolate and some little cookies with my evening writing ritual.
Any other bloggers and writers out there who are thinking about joining the merry band?Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels.