Wednesday, 13 October 2010

NaNoWriMo: What it Is and Basic Survival Training

Rule number one: Don't make any plans for November.

Rule number two: Don't make any plans for November.

If you follow the above stated rules, you will have plenty of opportunity to participate in NaNoWriMo. If you don't already know what NaNo is, check it out here.

In short, anyone willing to sacrifice health and sanity promise to write 50 000 words in one month. If you do, you get a wonderful prize  (a diploma) to print and frame. I didn't find out about it until September last year, and I went crazy enthusiastic. In one month I prepared and planned a short novel, and finished it in 10 days. It was one of the most fun experiences of my life - sitting hauled up every day before and after school (and late into the nights), eating junkfood and candy that I never get to eat otherwise. The "worst" day, a Saturday, I wrote 10 000 words in one day. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it was painful.

However much pain NaNo '09 caused, I can't wait to do it again! It's just over two weeks away! This year I'm going to take some challenges, because the best part about NaNo is how imaginative it is. Spend 5 minutes on the forums and you have 50 000 things to write about. Spend another 5 minutes there and you will have laughed so much that you gained back those minutes of your life you lost by eating crap and sitting in front of the computer.

Before last year's NaNo I spent a lot of time reading up on how to prepare. Now, after experiencing it, I can say that the useful things I learnt were:
  • Plan beforehand what you're going to write. 50 000 words isn't child's play and you need to have at least a reasonable idea of what to pull out of your brain.
  • Buy a lot of food that can be easily eaten while typing, e.g. chips/crisps, cookies, candy, nuts, grapes etc. etc.
  • If you need help or ideas, look in the forums. Everything you could ever imagine (and many things you couldn't) can be found there.
  • Make sure you have a writing software that you're comfortable with. I use Q10 and I'm very pleased with it. There are many similar, and different programmes available for free, and of course the classic Microsoft Word always works. Just make sure you can use it comfortably.
  • Start immediately. It's much easier to stay motivated if you don't fall behind. 
  • Use a spreadsheet to keep track of your NaNo progress in addition to the graph on the web page. There are many available made by proficient NaNoers. Just search the forums!
  • Just write! You can edit later. During NaNo, all you have to keep track of is how many words you wrote, not if they make sense. It doesn't matter if you're writing a masterpiece, just that you're having fun. If it turns out awfully you can always edit - or burn it (symbolically, of course. I would never ask you to burn your computer...) and never show it to anyone. Ever.
  • Prepare your family and loved ones that you will not be available all of November. Allow them to bring you food, but then they must leave. Food, however, is always welcome. 
  • Prepare your family and loved ones that you will ask them strange questions, and that they should never ask WHY you wonder these things.

If you do all these things, you will survive NaNo. This is just enough to make it through alive - in order to excell at NaNo you will have to come up with your own rules. There are people who aim at (and reach) 1'000'000 words during November. I admire these people tremendously. I couldn't do it. After reaching 50'000 last year I planned on going for another 50'000, since there was so much time left. I wrote about 2'000 words before I gave up and devoted every wake moment on school-work.There just wasn't motivation enough in me to keep going after I reached the goal. So I can't see how people writing about 50'000 words a day do it. I really don't.

So, now you've learnt what NaNo is, and how to survive it. Now we get to the most important part. How to enjoy it and make the most of it:
  • Spend time on the forums. They're half the NaNo experience. You can find any kind of information there - I found several ways to kill my characters, how Catholic confession works and not to mention challenges, ideas and subplots that helped in filling out my story.
  • Take challenges. They help develop your writing and they are fun, fun, fun. 
  • Write. This is what NaNo is all about, isn't it? Write, and be happy with that you're writing, even if it's garbage. 
  • Reach 50 000. Nothing can make you feel better than finishing NaNo. 50 000 is a huge accomplishment. If you've never written anything that long (just as I hadn't), it's also proof to yourself that you can write a novel. Sure, it's slightly shorter than a regular novel, but it's in the ballpark. Not all novels are 500 pages, are they? Just look at most Nobel Prize winners, and how long their novels are... 
  • Write every day. If there's a day you don't have time to write, make sure to write double the next day - or even better, write extra a couple of days before so you have some slack in case you just can't find the time one day. 
  • Write what you want to read. This goes for all writing of course, but it's much easier to enjoy cramming up with your writing all day long for a month if you like what you're writing. 
Other than that, you will have to come up with your own special ways to make NaNo your own. I'll write more about NaNo during the couple of weeks that we have left before it starts. I can't wait!

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