Every November, writers around the world watch the clock move from Halloween to the first of November with a combination of anticipation and unease. The whole objective of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is to spur writers to draft a 50,000 word novel by 11:59 p.m. on November 30.
Organize Your Ideas
For first-time authors daunted by how to start, dive in by teaching yourself how to write a novel. This Writer’s Digest article outlines six excellent how-to books specifically geared to the NaNoWriMo writer (see tips 15-20). Now that you’ve got an idea about how to go about it; it’s time to organize all of that inspiration. Pre-Internet, the old-school way of writing a novel was by hand, with initial ideas on index cards, or in notebooks, which then took an eternity combing through to piece together the chapters. It’s well past time to update those old-school ways. Scrivener, a program designed specifically for writers, is a powerhouse tool to organize content in multiple sub-files, and helps with plotting fiction, from the first idea to the final draft. Scrivener is priced at $49 (for the Windows and Mac versions) normally, but they are offering a free month trial for NaNoWriMo writers with a special novel template available in the “Fiction” section of the project templates chooser. It’s based on the regular “Novel” template that Scrivener already offers, but it will create a project with the 50,000 word target set up for NaNoWriMo. Alternatively, yWriter is a free word processing program that breaks down your novel into manageable chapters and scenes. It was created by a programmer and author who wanted to make his own experience writing a novel easier on writers.
Connect with Your Fellow Maine Writers
Some days the magic just isn’t there and the blank page in front of you is like a direct taunt: “Y’aint got nothin’!” Those are the times to close the notebook for laptop for a moment to look for inspiration, a pep talk or commiserate with writers in your same position. Statewide, we have Maine NaNoWriMo Facebook group, a closed group with 434 members, that functions as a virtual cheerleader, particularly when writer’s block sets in. NaNoWriMo as an organization has a Midcoast region (from Bath to Bar Harbor along the coast). They welcome those in surrounding areas such as Brunswick/Topsham and Ellsworth/Hancock/Winter Harbor. To sign up for the Midcoast region visit /nanowrimo.org/regions/usa-maine-mid-coast We also have Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, a statewide organization that supports Maine writers and authors with multiple in-person meet up and events.
When NaNoWriMo is Done: What Next?
Don’t fret if you don’t make it all the way through. NaNoWriMo establishes discipline, the backbone of good writing habits. But the one major negative with NaNoWriMo is that it puts the emphasis on achieving word count over achieving quality. A good novel isn’t done in one draft—or one month. And there will be a lot of those 50,000 words that you will toss if you truly have the discipline to be a good writer. Author Sam Munger feels strongly about this on his blog post, Writers: Please don’t do NaNoWriMo. Please. Don’t do it. but his points are valid, particularly this one: “If you want to be a writer, you must do this every day. Not just in November. Every day. This must be part of your life.”
And one more point. November may be done, but the editing isn’t. Publishers and agents are often deluged in December with half-formed, unedited novels. So, once the NaNoWriMo pressure is off, take the time to let the novel sit while you go off and do other things. When you come back to it fresh, Hemingway ($19.99) is an online editor tool that cleans up clunky sentences, offers phrasing alternatives and alerts you to the passive voice. In the meantime, you can build up a potential literary agent and publisher list with Querytracker, which has both free and paid versions to explore and save agents and publishers in your genre with a helpful closed forum to submit your first five pages, queries and synopsis to other writers for honest feedback.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org