When most people think of November 1, they begin to think about Thanksgiving dinner, holiday travel plans (Where should we go this year?), Black Friday, Christmas decorations in all the stores, cooler weather, maple leaves in autumn’s colors, Daylight Savings and…if you’re a writer…like me…
…National Novel Writing Month.
November 1st is 4 days away. The clock is ticking. Only a few days left to set up your writing space,prepare your plot outline, clear your social calendar, and rearrange your schedule so you can make your minimum daily word count of 1,667 words.
In other words, November 1 begins the writing marathon: 50,000 words in 30 days.
Here in Athens, Georgia, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a very big deal. We have a Facebook group (Athens Wrimos), we have a municipal liaison (this year it is one of my AWA colleagues – I’m very excited for her!), we have a kick-off event on November 1st (not a moment to waste), the Night of Writing Dangerously (for some this is an all-night event – I’ve never made it to one of them), write-ins, sprint competitions, and more than 200 participants (for a college town this size, that is a large number of writers).
Basically, NaNoWriMo owns our lives for 30 days, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
This year may be particularly challenging for me, I admit, but I signed up yesterday, nevertheless. I can’t not sign up – not just because I am a co-founder of the Athens Writers Association and want to be a role model to my fellow writers, but mostly because this is our annual ritual – this is what we do – it’s unavoidable – we have to tackle the challenge – better to try and fail than not try at all. Or, as one of my favorite quotes says, “You only fail when you stop trying.”
In October 2015, I created a public reading group called “Read-Ins,” which was named as a play on our phrase, “Write-Ins.” I’m not sure if Katherine created it for the Athens Writers Association, or if she borrowed it from somewhere else, but it fits perfectly. We used to perform public readings on a regular basis in 2013-2014, and when the Coffee Shop of Athens closed down, our public readings schedule hit a lull. We had one at Cine, and one at the ACC Library, but we were no longer regulars about town (Luckily, in 2018, Normal Bookstore has stepped up to support us and become the new “home” of the Athens Writers Association).
However, I was anxious to get our writers back out there reading their work in public – so – during the “void,” I came up with the idea to get a small group of writers togetherin an informal setting, instead. Once a month, we gather together to hear their poetry, fiction and non-fiction read aloud in the Barnes and Noble bookstore cafe. (Quite the fitting place to read our writing aloud, is it not?) We give each other feedback and applause, constructive criticism and praise, and…
…According to what I am told, everyone loves it, and is having a blast – it is by far one of the best things I’ve done in Athens.
Last week, a handful of writers and I commemorated the 3rd anniversary of the “Read-Ins” at our regular meeting spot in Barnes and Noble. After our meeting, we headed to Carrabas Grill to celebrate Katherine’s birthday, and to toast to 3 years of “Read-Ins.”
“Here’s to the beginning of our 4th!” I cheered.
As it was already the last week of October, inevitably, the dinner conversation shifted to the impending start of NaNoWriMo – and – the question that goes around the table every year around this time (usually put forth by my colleague, Danny).
“So, do you know what you are going to write for NaNoWriMo this year?” Danny announced.
For a few moments, no one spoke up. Everyone looked at everyone else. I wouldn’t go so far as to say, “you could hear a pin drop,” but, we all grew unmistakably quiet upon hearing the proverbial question.
NaNoWriMo can be intimidating if you overthink it. After all, it is a competition, but it is a competition with yourself:
Can you set the goal to write ~2,000 words a day and complete a novel (or non-fiction book) in one month?
There are no losers, there are only winners.
Everybody who registers and makes the attempt to conquer the 50,000 word beast is a winner, for, let’s face it, many would simply shake their heads, “No, no, I can’t do that…”
When I first heard about it in 2011, from my San Diego Toastmasters colleague, Maxine, I was totally confused by the concept. She suggested I sign up next year.
The following year, I was living in Athens, Georgia.
One day, while having coffee with my friend Carmen, also a writer, the subject of NaNoWriMo came up again. She encouraged me to sign up, and even though I was about to leave on vacation for the month of November, I thought, “Why not?” Carmen was the person who explained to me how NaNoWriMo works, and that it is, indeed, a challenge to meet a goal for yourself: to write every single day, not to compete with anyone else (Incidentally, if you do not add any buddies, no one will ever know your word count).
I signed up late, and only made it to ~16,000 words that first year.
Oh well. At least I did it.
The following year, 2013, I tried again, while on vacation in November, again.
That year, I made it to ~21,000 words.
Closer, but not quite there yet
The following year, 2014, I stayed in Athens, and I’ve stayed in Athens every November since.
Somehow, that seemed to do the trick for me.
In 2014, I finally won with ~53, 000 words – and it was one of the biggest adrenaline rushes of my lifetime.
I did even better in 2015, and hit ~88,000 words – how that happened, I do not know, but I wrote ~21,000 words in the first 2 days, so that sprint at the beginning had something to do with it. I did not repeat that miracle, but I did make the 50,000 word goal, and then some, in 2016 and 2017.
I attribute my success to the support of my peers, and the build-up of momentum that came from doing it once, meaning, if you can win once, you can do it again…and again…if you plan ahead, and work hard.
(A little luck doesn’t hurt, either – meaning, no unexpected life events get in the way).
Most of my friends in the Athens Writers Association who have participated in NaNoWriMo have accomplished that goal, and I have been as thrilled for them, as I was for myself. Elsa, Jay, Danny, Par, Jenny…they have all won, year after year, and I’m so proud to be among this group of talented writers.
How do we do it?
Let me count the ways…
Tip #1: Breathe. You already won just by signing up.
Tip #2: Plan ahead. Write an outline. Get your materials together – whatever you use – whether it be writers’ software (like Scrivener), notebooks, notecards and pens, storyboards, whatever works for you. You know yourself and what you need for your creativity to thrive!
Tip #3: Get involved with your home region: Look up your home region on the http://www.nanowrimo.org website and find your municipal liasions’ profiles.
Tip #4: Keep track of NaNoWriMo events in your home region:
The Kick-off party is a great beginning (I almost did not attempt NaNoWriMo in 2014 after two years of not reaching the goal, but I went to the KickOff party with Jenny on November 1st at Avid Bookshop and decided to give it a try again).
Sign up for online sprints – you can get a lot of writing done by writing as many words as you can in 10, 15, or 20 minutes. It’s fun to see how far you can get, and yes, there is a little bit of competition here with your peers who are also participating in the writing sprints, but it’s all in the spirit of writing more words and having fun.
Go to write-ins: getting together with a peer, or 3 or 4, or more, to write together does wonders for productivity. Take it from Par and me…we got a lot of writing done in past Novembers by working together at Starbucks (too bad they removed all of the comfy cushion seats, but we will not be deterred!).
Tip #5: Sign up for buddies on the website. It helps, and you can track how much your friends are writing, too.
Tip #6: Read the pep talks from the agents, authors, publishers and famous people supporting NaNoWriMo from all over the world- once you register on http://www.nanowrimo.org, you will receive their emails as they come in.
Tip #7: Don’t give up if you fall behind. Trust me. Everyone falls behind. You’d be amazed how fast you can catch up when you put your mind to it. Many of my friends have done it. In fact, one of my friends made her 50,000 words at 11:51 pm on November 30, 2016, with 9 minutes to spare. We all cheered for her at Hendershot’s – a win is a win. Until 11:59 pm, it isn’t over ’til it’s over!
Time is the challenge: all of us who participate in NaNoWriMo still have to juggle normal life, but it’s possible, and in the end, you will have climbed the Mt. Everest of writing.
And you never know what could happen next…
November 1st is just a few days away, but do not be discouraged if you still aren’t sure what you are going to write yet – trust me – if you love to write, you have time to figure it out – take it from my friends, Danny and Jenny, it’s not too late to come up with an idea, and you probably have one already spinning in your brain, or written down inside a notebook somewhere, tucked away in a desk drawer, and ready to go!
Whatever you do, do not sell yourself short. You can do this.
It isn’t easy, but you know what they say, nothing worth having comes easily.
Go for it. Keep going. Don’t give up.
The world is waiting to read your book. All you have to do now…is write it.