Every November, hundreds of thousands of would-be novelists fire up their computers, sharpen their pencils, and stockpile coffee and soda. National Novel Writing Month (commonly abbreviated NaNoWriMo) challenges writers to produce a 50,000-word manuscript in 30 days. By turning what seems like an insurmountable task into a game, complete with digital merit badges, NaNoWriMo has helped countless people achieve their dream of finally writing a book.
NaNoWriMo started in 1999 with 21 participants. Chris Baty writes of the first year experience, “Novel writing, we had discovered, was just like watching TV. You get a bunch of friends together, load up on caffeine and junk food, and stare at a glowing screen for a couple hours. And a story spins itself out in front of you.”
The idea that it’s not only feasible, but totally doable to write an entire novel from start to finish in a single month may seem crazy to some writers. The romantic ideal of the lone novelist slaving away for years at his typewriter, quite possibly in a drafty garret, has outlived its usefulness. NaNoWriMo harnesses technology and the power of social media to create a new experience for writers, one that focuses on community. Instead of a solitary trek through the wilderness, writing a novel becomes a lot like running a marathon, surrounded by others who can support and encourage you. This year, Grammarly has taken the idea one step further with the GrammoWriMo project, a group novel with the goal of creating a cohesive book with the largest – and most global – number of authors ever published.
If you’re ready to take the plunge, here are five essential strategies for surviving the craziest, most creative month of the year:
1. Prepare a NaNoWriMo survival kit: You’ll need a notebook or a stack of index cards, pens or pencils, and a computer. To power through the minimum of 1,666 words per day, you’ll also need caffeinated beverages and snacks. Treat yourself to a writerly care package stuffed with your favorite treats, but—and this is key—only dole them out as rewards for hitting your daily goal.
2. Set up your creative cave: Virginia Woolf said that every writer needs a “room of one’s own” to write fiction. Most of us can’t dedicate an entire room to writing, but all you really need is a comfy chair, headphones, and a space dedicated to writing even if it’s just the kitchen table.
3. Make it an interruption-free zone: Set aside about two hours a day during which your friends and family know to leave you alone. Turn off your cell phone; it’s okay, the world will keep turning if you’re offline for a little while. If you’re a habitual Facebook and email checker, curb the urge to procrastinate by installing a productivity tool like Stayfocusd to limit or block your access to time-wasters.
4. Keep your eye on the…tomato?: The Pomodoro Technique uses a kitchen timer (or, in these modern times, a computer app) to manage blocks of productivity interspersed with timed breaks. Each pomodoro (Italian for “tomato,” named for the shape of the kitchen timer that founder Francesco Cirillo used) is 25 minutes long, followed by a five-minute break. It sounds incredibly simple, but it really works. During your breaks, make sure you stand up, walk around, and let your eyes rest from staring at the computer screen.
5. Make the plan, work the plan: While NaNoWriMo requires a breakneck pace to complete your novel, that doesn’t mean you should fly by the seat of pants. Author Rachel Aaron, who went from writing 2,000 words on her best days to 10,000, suggests that writers block out their scenes in detail before starting to write for the day. By taking no more than five minutes to outline the action, dialogue, and purpose of a given scene, you end up saving time in the long run.
Will you be joining the thousands of aspiring novelists in this year’s NaNoWriMo? Make this the year you finally write that book!