Fall is in the air. Halloween decorations have started appearing on porches, leaves are falling, and pumpkin spice lattes are back on the menu. I love October, mainly because of Halloween. But thirteen years ago, this season gained a new meaning. In 2005, my freshman year of college, I first heard about National Novel Writing Month, and my life would be forever changed.
I had a tradition in college. Halloween night, I’d come back after midnight from whatever party or gathering I was at, open my laptop, and write the first few paragraphs of that year’s novel.
In a post-college world, I’ve had trouble keeping up that exact tradition (when you work at 8am the next morning, it’s a lot harder to justify staying up past midnight just to sleepily type a few lines of text). But I’ve participated in every NaNoWriMo since 2005.
I don’t intend this year to be any different. But this time, I want to take you with me.
Some of you may be wondering, what is NaNoWriMo? National Novel Writing Month is a challenge writers set for themselves: to write a 50,000 novella within the month of November. It works out to about 1,667 words a day, which is, roughly speaking, about three single-spaced pages. It’s a doable task. Not necessarily easy, but achievable. Imaginable.
One of the hardest parts of writing a book is getting the first draft out. NaNoWriMo forces you through that process; it gives you the drive and motivation to overcome the planning stage, to actually put words on paper. To learn how to turn your inner editor on and off, and to push through the writing blocks, even if that means you might not be writing your best. I can guarantee you won’t be writing your best, not every scene, not every chapter. But you’ll be writing, and that’s really more important.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a strong writer. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good writer. Whoever you are, you will be a better writer on the other side of November.
And we’re going to get there together.
NaNoWriMo doesn’t start until November 1st, but just because you can’t be writing your novel yet, doesn’t mean you can’t be preparing. Everyone does this in a different way, and you don’t have to go into NaNoWriMo with a strict outline (there’s a strong tradition of writers just diving into it on the 1st, writing by the seat of their pants), but I’ve found I’m much more likely to finish the month if I have something to fall back on when I get stuck. You don’t need to have every little twist and turn of your novel figured out, but this month we’re going to work on building a roadmap. You can take as many detours as you need to, but at least you’ll have something to go by.
This October, you should be thinking about what story you want to tell. It can be something that you’ve been kicking around in your head for years, or something new that you’re itching to develop. It can be something you’ve written before (as long as you start writing again from scratch). Honestly, you can take something you’ve already started, and write a continuation, as long as you only count the words actually written in November as part of your word count. You just need some spark; some little nugget of a story that you’d like to develop over 50,000 words.
Start thinking about that this week. And tune in tomorrow for our first deep-dive into Nano prepping: building writing habits.