Tuesday, October 27, 2009

NaNoWriMo: A history, advice, and insight from a writing enthusiast.

Okay. For the last few weeks, I have been getting YouTube messages, emails, and twitter @replies asking me for NaNoWriMo tips and advice. I haven't replied to very many of these since I wasn't sure what to say really, because I don't feel qualified to be giving writing advice when I spend my time rubbing shoulders online with the likes of Maureen Johnson and John Green, whose successful novels line my bookshelves.

But I do know that the spirit of NaNoWriMo is to encourage amateurs and first-timers to embrace literary abandon, so maybe hearing from a novice writer like myself IS what people need. So now I am going to sit here and type to try and give you a collective analysis of my NaNoWriMo experience from the last 4 years. Whether or not you can glean any sort of advice from it; well, that's up to you.

First, a timeline.

2005: Heard about NaNoWriMo briefly from someone on my LiveJournal friends page. Thought it sounded interesting, checked out the site, was intimidated, backed away slowly. Didn't try. LOST.
2006: 4 days into the month, was reminded of NaNoWriMo by yet another person on LiveJournal. Even though I was four days behind, I decided to throw caution to the wind and just go for it. I opened a word document, started typing, and didn't stop until I'd hit 50,000 words and had completed about 2/3 of a story idea I'd had in my head since I was about 11. I finished two days early. I felt like a warrior. NaNoWriMo is awesome. WON.
2007: Started preparing early in October. I wrote out character analysis' for everyone important to the novel, sketched out a pretty detailed outline, and was SO READY on November 1st that the novel honestly wrote itself. I stayed strictly on schedule, doing the reccomended 1667 words a day, and then when I finished early, kept writing and made it to 59,000 words (and again, about 2/3 of the actual novel) by the end of the month. I was beginning to think maybe NaNoWriMo was too easy for me. WON.
2008: Everything fell apart. Two days before Nov 1, I had decided not to do it that year. On Nov 1, an idea came to me and I decided to go for it anyway. I just decided to wing it. I had no struture, no pacing, the plot was sketchy... with 16,000 words to go I gave up because I was too busy, it was hard, it wasn't fun anymore. Then I had an inspiring conversation with Liz and I locked myself in my room and didn't stop writing. I didn't stop at 50,000. I kept writing until I finished the entire story, ending at a satisfying 58,000 words. Despite everything, this is still my favorite story I have ever written. WON.

Everything I could possibly tell you, advice-wise, would be completely contradictory to the story I just told you. My best advice is to just WRITE. Just do it. It's that simple. Don't make excuses, don't think about it too much - just open your word processor of choice and move those fingers.

- Writing an outline and getting to know your characters before you start writing is a good idea, but my best novel was the year I failed to do that.
- Setting a schedule for writing can be really helpful, but don't regiment yourself into time blocks. Sometimes you won't feel inspired. That's okay. Do something else, let your mind rest, but get back to it later.
- Think about what things you can let go of for a month to make room for writing. Obviously there are a few things that have to take precedence over your novel. You can't let your homework slide, and it's probably not the best idea to skip your weekly phone call home to your Mom. But maybe you can stop watching the six shows you enjoy for a month, and catch up in December. Or maybe it might be a good time to get a little less addicted to facebook for awhile. Your friends will still be there next month; you can resume stalking them once you can say you've written a book.
- Find writing buddies. It's a lot of fun if you have "real life" friends doing NaNoWriMo with you, but it's not the only way to share this experience with other people. You can check out the forums and find people writing similar things to you, and in my experience, there are loads of people more than willing to make a few friends for the month of November. There's nothing better than having your own little support group of writing cheerleaders rooting for you.
- Do word wars! Sometimes you're sitting in your bedroom at 10 at night and you haven't written anything all day. You feel like a failure. You have no inspiration. Turn it into a contest! Message one of your NaNo buddies on skype (or aim/msn/facebook chat/gchat etc.) and challenge them to a word war. My favorite way to do this is to set a time (generally 30 mins to an hour) and whoever writes more words than the other in that time is the winner. It's fun. :)

NaNoWriMo is a chance to make something that is generally a very solitary activity an almost social sport. People are inspired to write because everyone around them is going through it as well; we're watching our little green word count bars move up and up, and we're sharing a really challenging and fun experience with the online community.
That being said, you have to find your own methods. You have to figure out what you're personally capable of, and what works best for you. It's not going to be the same for any two people. Some people are naturally faster writers than others. That's totally okay.

So just write. Just do it, and no matter how hard it gets, or how bad you think your novel is, don't give up. Often times you'll read it back in December and be pleasently surprised at how not-bad it actually turned out to be.

My username is reallysuperneat, if you want to track my progress. :)

Edit: I just thought of this: If you're going to Wrockstock, which is right smack in the middle of NaNoWriMo this year, don't panic. Yes, you're losing quite a few writing days. No, we're probably not going to work on our novels at all while we're there. On second thought, actually, you should panic. Just keep in mind we all have a lot of work to do to compensate for the lost days. Try to get ahead in your word count before you leave. If you're flying, bring your laptop and write on the plane. Scribble down notes and ideas on a pad of paper in the lodge while we're eating grilled cheese at lunch. :D It'll be okay. I promise.


to_thine_own_self said...

I was thinking about doing NaNoWriMo a couple weeks ago, but like you the first time, I backed out feeling intimidated. I'd only realized what it was a few months ago.
I'm still not sure if I'll do it this year. I don't know if I'm ready...but maybe...
I have a slight idea, but I don't know if it's substantial enough.

But to you and whoever is doing it:


Anonymous said...

I did it last year and won in the first four days (!) but I was a senior in high school then, not a freshman in college. In other words, I had no clue what "homework" really meant. ;)

That said, I am SO looking forward to this year. I have a six-page outline, a list of characters, and a detailed map.

Catja said...

Thank you!
I was thinking about doing it earlier this month but I, like you at first, backed out. I'm not sure I can do it but I think I will try.
Maybe I won't sign up but just do it as a little project for myself.
If make it that way, I'll definitely sign up next year.
I'm not the best when it comes to ideas to a story.

But good luck, even though I'm pretty sure you'll make it. (;

Elisa said...

Thanks for the tips!
I just decided last night to take the plunge and sign up for NaNoWriMo and I am pumped up!

I'm heading to Wrockstock as well and plan on writing in the mornings and on the flight to and from. I bet there will be several people itching to get some words out that weekend.

Caitlin said...

Akay, first thing I'd like to say is that I recently disappeared from Blogger for a while, reappearing with a blog only on Tuesday's when I was posting my own post on the collab blog I do with some girls who did BEDA, but checking on that blog every day because I love them and like reading their post.
First thing I see when I decide to check what's up with the people I'm following? A NaNo blog from Kristina! It made me smile and now I want to go finish up that sketchy character profile I was attempting last night (I've already done all of the main's profiles minus one, and I'm really excited, even if it doesn't turn out as good as I thought it'd be!)

Thanks Kristina!


Katie said...

Don't panic and don't forget your towel!

Godspeed, writers.

Lotte said...

Ok, this is too coincidental...I just left you a message on facebook being amazed at how many people ask you for nanowrimo advice. Where I was planning to be guilty of the same thing ;) And here I am checking your blog and it magically appears before me about 10 seconds after ;) Thanks for sharing your experiences! I am not sure if I will try this year. A friend of mine actually challenged me to do this, but I am rather intimidated, she's written fiction before and I've honestly never ever done anything remotely close to nanowrimo. Plus the fact that I'm in the middle of writing my MA thesis isn't helping either...anyway, I'll continue to think about it for a while and if I don't participate this year, I'm sure I'll try next year when I am done with university :) Good luck with your nanowrimo!

Mairead said...

Everyday I am thinking about NaNoWriMo. I have never written anything outside school. I am winging it. I am a freshman in high school where I know no one, so there is still a lot of adjusting going on still. It is also a school for science and technology, so as you might be able to guess, I can't write anyway. I will probably fail, but I am the youngest you can be to do NaNoWriMo so I won't feel too bad.

kala33 said...

Thank you so much For posting this! This is my first time doing NaNo, and I'm so excited! But when I heard some people saying they had complete outlines and detailed character maps, whereas I had only have a general idea of what I want for my story, I started to panic. What if it was the middle if November and I completely ran out of ideas fir the plot? But you saying that the best novel you wrote was the one where you weren't really prepared really helps. It certainly gives me hope!

And don't feel too weird about people asking for advice, I'm sure it's only a matter of time until you become a national best seller ;D

again, thanks so much for this!

Lauren said...

I want to try it again this year. I've been almost completely unable to spend more than fifteen minutes to half an hour a day practicing music since I moved in with the roommate who never leaves, and this will give me something productive to do while she's in the room (see also: every minute of every day). Other than, you know, feeding my FooPets repeatedly.

I have absolutely no ideas, unfortunately. Maybe I'll just think on it or create some characters and see what they do. I had so much fun doing this with you two years ago and I wrote a lot more than I thought I would that time.

Ravenclaw2313 said...

I know you feel wierd giving advice as a novice but honestly I find it incredibly helpful. We ask you for NaNo advice because we know you've been there. I think it's helpful to see the different approaches you've taken and what other ideas you have. I can't wait to get started!

imagryffindork said...

I don't know if i'm going to do it this month. I'm only fifteen. I love reading but i'm so scared that whatever i write won't be what other people want to read. I'm thinking of the whole throw caution to the wind thing, but im not sure ill make it to 50,000. i dont even know what i want to write. i hope it'll work out.

good luck to the rest of you!

M said...

Last years I watched a Halloween video of yours on November 8th and that was what got me to do it. I had heard of it once before, but it was simply mentioned in a vlog and I had no idea what it was. I don't know what it was that you did, but it sure made me enthusiastic about writing 50,000 words in 22 days. Thanks for introducing me to the amazing month that is Nanowrimo! =)

erin meagan said...

Thank you so much for the advice. I may not be doing NaNoWriMo, but I really want to spend time writing a novel.

Madeline said...

I had never heard of NaNoWriMo till a couple of months ago, and it's a little impractical this year since I will be spending 17 days in November traveling around Ecuador. I'm definitely going to do it next year, however!! Thanks for the advice!!

ZoeMoi said...

thank you for the advice :) I tried last year and lost with only 13,000 words, but it was still fun and I actually felt proud of every single one of them :)

I'm sooo unprepared for Sunday, but I think that's the way I work best, så Good writing luck :D

Steve said...

i'm doing NaNo for the first time this year, i only got the idea for my story yesterday, and have absolutely no character plans or much of an idea of where the story is going, but your 2008 NaNo story gives me (a tiny bit of) hope.
Good luck to you and all the other NaNoWrimers

kaitlynwrites said...

okay, i've been reading your blog practically ever since you started it, but i've always just kind of chose to remain behind the scenes as the annoymous non-commenter(..i don't know if that's even a word)though i always wanted to comment on your strength and awesomeness during the alex mess, i just didn't know what to say...

but anyways. since you're talking about nanowrimo i thought i'd finally come forward from the shadows. you introduced me to nanowrimo all the way back in 2007 and for the past two years i've participated and won :)i've really been considering not doing it this year, i only have a small idea of what i'm going to write about... but i think after this blog, i will officially be doing it. so thank you for being such an inspiration and just an overall strong girl and good role model :)
and sorry for the superlong, not very coherent comment :)

ThePeterIs said...


I have been debating doing it or not for the past month. For the past week or so I was sure I was doing it. Then last night I decided that I really didn't want to do it, and the decision felt so good. I want to write, just not this month, there are other things I want to do! I had my mind made up, and felt great about it.

And now you have me back in the other direction...Uggghhhh. I mean, if you can do it with wrockstock, I don't have much of an excuse. THANKS A LOT!

Just thinking about this is stressing me out way to much.

Michaela said...

I think I'm going to try it.I have an idea for a novel that I think would be cool to write, but i don't have it completely mapped out yet. I'm nervous.... :)

Anonymous said...

Ooo, thanks so much for this blog! This year is my first year doing NaNoWriMo (last year I gave up after 65 words) and I really needed advice on how to get started.
I was stressing because I don't really have a plot idea or characters or anything yet.
So, I don't really know how it works but I added you as writing buddies on the NaNo website.
I'm not sure if that's only for actual friends or not, but yeah.
Your progress might inspire me. Or make me jealous. :P


Allison said...

We have a Nerdfighter thread over in the NaNo forums! You should come check us out :)

Yay for NaNoWriMo! I am SO excited. I can't wait. I just REALLY CAN'T WAIT!

xxTIFFANYxx said...

Alright, you've convinced me to do it. Nothing much else to say. I blogged about it. It sounds nerve racking, but amazing. I have a feeling I'm going to be thanking you for this...you're awesome. Stay awesome. Please? :D

Emily said...

This was a really good idea for a blog post. =D Good luck with your novel and good luck to all of the commenters above and below me who are doing NaNo! =]

Brooke said...

I'm very excited for NaNoWriMo this year. I won last year, but my novel idea wasn't the best and it didn't really go anywhere after November. My idea this year, on the other hand, is pretty good and I'm excited.

Good luck. Wish I was going to WrockStock

Sarah McLeroy said...

I think I am doing Nano for the first time this year...the year I am going to Wrockstock and studying for my LSAT and working two jobs and trying to move across the country. I think it will be kind of...fun.:/ Maybe not, but at least it will be an adventure.

See you in less than two weeks at Wrockstock!!!

Anonymous said...

You were the one that introduced me to NaNoWriMo last year, and even though I failed (sad face), I'm attempting it again because I'm crazy. XD;

But this is all definitely helpful advice, even if you don't think so, lol. Last year, I didn't come up with anything more than a basic story and ended up plotting out the characters as I wrote.

The other thing that works for me -- and this may seem weird -- I always make sure the space I'm writing in is comfortable and clear of clutter. Seriously, if the area I'm working in (typically my room) is a mess, I CANNOT concentrate on writing.

Well, idk if you'll add me back, but I added you as a writing buddy, Kristina. :D I'm hobbesthestuffedtiger.


ginger jones said...

Kristina Horner you a are LEGEND/lifesaver. After writting down ideas for the past two months for one small story I have combined them and have my fair share of research to do but I'm quietly confident. Thanks for sharing your words of wisdom, definately much appreciated and saved me from sitting at gmail trying to sound cool to John Green whilst asking for writting advice hahaha.

quidditchs said...

this is really helpuful, I was and still am panicking a little bit 'cause I have absolutely no clue on what to write, and it's my first year. But I will come up with something, I know I will :p

thank you and good luck! :D

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty much going into NaNoWriMo blind this year.
Last year I didn't win, got about halfway. And I bragged about my plot, had a plotline, and it was a Fanfiction.
This year I'm not speaking of my plot too much, no plot outline, and I'm going off one scene I can picture very well in my head.
A.k.a a flashback with a little girl eating a cupcake.

The #1 problem I have is bouncing around from first person to third person narration... too many "I's" and "Says" ...gets confusing. T.T

Anonymous said...

I'm going to do NaNo this year, but lacking the, um, age, I'm just doing the YWP. Also, 50,000 is a lot of words.
I'm pretty nervous about the Wrockstock aspect, but it's totally going to be worth it. Nothing will get in the way of me and my precious Wrockstock. :D

There's also the slight problem that I don't even know what I'm writing about, but you know, whatever.

Good luck to anyone who is trying NaNoWriMo!


This was excellent, Kristina, it really helped. :) It's my first time doing NaNoWriMo and I'm a bit nervous considering the fact that I'm not 100% sure of what my novel will be about.

Also, did you get the portuguese HP book yet? I meant to ask you sooner, I sent it like a month ago. Can you @reply on twitter so I can be sure? :) (@alorena1)

Good luck on your novel this year!

Carly said...

Thanks for this Kristina, this is my first time doing it and this was really helpful :D

Indigo said...

This is super helpful, you rock Kristina :]

Jane said...

Thank you so much for telling those of us who hadn't heard of NaNoWriMo before about it, Kristina! You've inspired me to give it a go! =D I don't know how it'll go, but it's bound to be loads of fun, and a much better use of time than lots of other daily activities, and I've managed to get another friend into it, too, (we're going to share our novels, or however much of a novel we have written, with one another, come December)so you are just full of awesome!

Pippa said...

This is my fourth year of NaNoWriMo, too. Hopefully I'll be able to go 4/4 but we'll see. I have a full schedule this semester so time is already a little cramped but hopefully I'll make it through with only half of my novel outlined so far (oops!).

God, I love NaNoWrimo! I have the butterflies in my stomach. Tis the season!

SammyJo said...

Hey, you forgot to mention that you lost to nerimon in 2008 and had to write a love song for him as punishment!