November 1st-30th–National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo to those in the know)–is when anyone who’s considered writing a novel tries to. Words pour from pens like ants at an abandoned picnic with the goal of finishing a novel in a month. People stop going to movies, watching TV, making dinner, visiting social media–all in the name of literary passion.
In 2017 (according to the NaNoWriMo website): 402,142 participated including 95,912 students and educators in the Young Writers Program. Tens of thousands were winners defined in the rules as writing over 50,000 words. In any time but November, a novel would take from one to ten years to complete (twenty-two for me), exhaust the writer and infuriate those close to them who don’t understand how sitting in a hard chair, talking to fictitious people, can be so gal-darn fascinating.
I did strongly consider doing NaNoWriMo this year but 1) I’m in the middle of editing my fourth novel, and 2) I don’t like starting a new one until I finish the prior one. A month ago, I thought I’d be done editing in time so I bought M. L. Keller’s guide to NaNoWriMo, Your Novel, This Month: The step-by-step plan for writing a novel in 30 days (2018). Since I had it, I couldn’t resist glancing at the first few pages. I shouldn’t have. No way could I stop after these sorts of tidbits:
Sounds easy enough, and then — still in the introductory pages — Keller got into that pernicious debate about whether you’re a pantser or plotter. She explains the differences and how to adapt your new novel to either.
“Plotters insist their method will produce the cleanest possible draft and will ensure they never hit the dreaded “writer’s block” while pantsers argue their method will produce a more natural story where characters are allowed to explore their own identities rather than be forced into a formulaic mold.”
Here, Keller lays out what to do each day of NaNoWriMo — in detail. She covers all the characteristics of a good novel — such as developing a plot, building characters, and researching the setting — and makes sure all are covered in the thirty days of NaNoWriMo by providing a daily digest.
“Day 1 Opening scene or sequence of story; protagonist must be introduced within first 1-3 scenes. (* page 1 unless you have a really good reason.)”
“Day 2 *Establish normal, build the world, build characters, introduce theme (if any)”
“Day 3 Hook: Create a question, build an emotional attachment, or present a situation the reader needs to answer. May or may not be part of the main conflict.”
“Day 4 *Introduce stakes. What will happen if MC continues in the same path?”
Another piece I like is that Keller provides planning sheets and templates to cover every step of the process, making the book as much a workbook as a how-to guide. They’re free to download but I’m unclear if ‘free’ is for those who purchase the book or everyone so I won’t put the link here. Just know you’ll find it in the book!
By the time I was halfway through this book, I realize it was much more than a guide to NaNoWriMo. It covers everything required to write a novel. Here are some of my favorite hints:
“Write what you know” refers to writing what you know and understand emotionally.”
- “…find someone from the culture you are trying to replicate and ask for feedback. These people are called “sensitivity readers.”
- “The difficulty comes when a writer from a dominant culture tries to write from a minority viewpoint. The only exception to this rule seems to be the overwhelming number of writers who identify as heterosexual who write gay and lesbian romance.”
- “Twitter and Facebook writing groups are great places to find sensitivity readers or ask general questions.”
- “Many writers have started using Pinterest to create inspiration boards.”
- “Many writers also find “word sprinting” a helpful technique. Simply set a timer and don’t stop till the timer stops. Do this in short bursts (5-15 minutes).”
- “Don’t stop writing to look up a vocabulary word. Just type “XXX” and keep moving. You can do a “find/ replace” later when you are ready to edit.”
- “Now that we have a character, she needs a problem. This does not have to be the main conflict of the story, just a small, relatable problem that draws the reader’s interest. Most of these can be chosen from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.“
- “Yes, your character needs some backstory. No, you cannot put it in your first chapter.”
- “There’s no need to be published. No one is passing out certificates.”
There you have it. Everything you need to write 50k words in thirty days:
“Now that you have a completed draft, you may even begin to feel like a “real” writer. Go ahead and use the term.”
More on NaNoWriMo
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and Born in a Treacherous Time, first in the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for TeachHUB and NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Survival of the Fittest, Spring 2019. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning