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NaNoWriMo: How to write a novel in 30 days or less

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The movement began with only 21 people in July 1999, all with a singular goal: to write a novel of 50,000 words in just one month.

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By Karen Aney (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: November 16, 2011

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The movement began with only 21 people in July 1999, all with a singular goal: to write a novel of 50,000 words in just one month. It’s progressed from there, changing months to November along the way, to this year: while an official participant count has not been tallied, the total participant word count at the time of publication was 1,273,893,719. There are many spin-offs inspired by the novel writing challenge. One such movement is NaKniSweMo: National Knit a Sweater Month. Given the work involved in these challenges, one might assume that participants are generally the type to sit at home chatting with their cats because they simply have no other commitments. Apparently, though, the pool of participants extends to UFV students. Three of them were open to sharing their experiences: Lian McIntyre, Greg Eliason, and AnnaMarie Yang.

Their topics are varied. Eliason is penning what he calls an “epic fantasy.” The story centres around a world that he has created. “Basically,” he said, “it’s a story about Vikings, but they’re not really Vikings. That is just the time period I’ve set it in.”

Yang’s novel centres on a protagonist struggling with a destiny to explore when the society around him prohibits it. As she explained, “Technology rules while knowledge is now unimportant – only the work matters.”

McIntyre’s plot places “familiar fairy tale characters” in “a psychiatric institute.” No word yet on whether or not this institute bears any resemblance to our university’s hallowed halls.

Both Eliason and McIntyre have participated in past years. Though neither was able to achieve the 50,000 word mark, they still did fairly well. “I managed to accumulate a good word count in the first 10 days,” McIntyre recalled, “but then due to final papers I ended up quitting.”

Eliason’s 2010 attempt garnered him 20,000 words before he stepped back to focus on school. “Even though it was not the 50,000 word goal,” he said, “I was—and still am—quite proud of those 20,000 words.”

Yang and Eliason cite their current experience in their English 311 course as a great aid in their challenge. “I had the topic figured out beforehand,” Yang explained.

Eliason elaborated, saying, “I decided to take what I had written for class and expand on that. With everything I learned from 311 I’m finding it much easier to write this novel than past years.”

One of the key aspects of NaNoWriMo is that quantity is valued over quality. According to the website, “Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output… this approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.” This is a great departure from what we experience as students each day, having to edit and re-edit our work for the evaluation of our professors.

Participant reaction as to whether or not this improves their writing is varied. McIntyre said no. “I don’t really think NaNo itself helps improve your writing,” she explained. “If anything it forces you to write.”

Yang, though, was undecided, “I’m not sure how good my writing actually is, but I hope it improves with practice.”

Eliason, the most seasoned participant interviewed, disagreed. He explained that the simple fact that you’re writing so many words forces you to stumble on something good. “It forces you to write every day,” he said, “even if you are not in the mood… It’s also a good lesson in plotting… If you can manage to get the plot to flow over that long a work, plotting shorter things becomes much easier.”

Even if it didn’t improve their writing, the consensus seems to be that participating in the challenge helps with learning time management. “If I’ve improved at all as a student due to NaNoWriMo,” McIntyre said, “it’s in my ability to prioritize school over writing for pleasure.” That doesn’t sound like a bad side effect.

Eliason expands on this. “It’s a lesson in time management as much as it is writing,” he explained. “It’s all about finding a couple spare hours each day to write. So you cut back on TV shows you watch or video games you play… If you can balance all these things at once during November, the other months don’t seem quite so daunting anymore.”

It isn’t too late to sign up for NaNoWriMo: just visit the website (www.nanowrimo.org) and sign up to start logging your word count. As the participants pointed out, even if you don’t finish you’ll have something more than what you started with.

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