Editorial Notebook

Participate in NaNoWriMo

Have you ever wanted to write a novel? An epic tale, full to the brim with gorgeous description, realistic characters, masterful exposition, and shocking plot twists, all from one of the most gifted creative minds on the planet—you? Sure, it’s easy to start, but once you got going, could you stick to your guns? Could you spin out your story to 50,000 words or beyond? More importantly, could you do it in 30 days?

This month, that is exactly what I—along with thousands of others across the country and even around the world—am attempting to do through an event known as NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. The idea behind NaNoWriMo is to take an idea for a story and, during the month of November, write and write and write until either the month is over, or the story’s finished and hopefully at least 50,000 words in length. The catch is that you’re encouraged not to edit what you write. Don’t go back two days later and remove chapters, scenes, paragraphs, or even sentences that you don’t like any more. Even if you run out of ideas and ramble on for 12 pages about how you don’t know what else to write, leave it in the novel. While this may seem strange to some, I think it’s an excellent idea, mostly because if that rule wasn’t in place, I’d spend the entire 30 days editing and re-editing the first page of my novel.

The amazing thing about NaNo, at least from my perspective, is that it gives you so much more motivation to finish what you start, which is the main problem I have when trying to write for fun. I love the planning and beginning stages of writing a story, but I almost never finish if left to my own devices. Now I have a goal to work towards, and the added motivation of avoiding the shame and recrimination of my friends and family should I fail, since I told them all about it.

I’m not in this alone, however. I’m part of a small group of RPI students participating in NaNo this year—a group which it is not too late for you to join, though by the time you read this you will have missed out on at least one day of writing. We’re going to meet every Wednesday in the fifth-floor lounge of Sage Labs from 11 am–2 pm to write together and discuss our novels. We’d love to have new people join us. And hey, so what if you start late? The fun is in the attempt and the writing, not in reaching 50,000. Plenty of participants never reach the goal but still enjoy NaNo!

But how is this all organized? Where does one acquire more information about the insanity that is NaNoWriMo? Well, they have a website at http://nanowrimo.org/, with a huge forum that contains everything you ever wanted or needed to know about NaNo as well as plenty of people you can chat with about your novel, problems you encounter while writing or planning, and everything else under the sun. Signing up will also entitle you to receive a few pep talks from time to time via e-mail.

As for what you can write about, it can be anything, literally anything. The site has subforums for each genre of literature, as well as an “Other” board for everything that doesn’t fit into one of the defined categories. You don’t even have to come up with everything yourself; fan fiction is a perfectly acceptable project for NaNoWriMo. (In fact, the novel I’m going to write is a fan fiction.) There are even NaNo “rebels” who don’t write novels, instead creating works of nonfiction, poetry, screenplay, compilations of shorter works, and other such things.

The key when doing NaNoWriMo is to pace yourself. Understandably, real-world issues and obligations can get in the way of writing, but if you let too many days go by without touching your novel you may fall too far behind. Writing every day (breaking down the total goal into 30 segments means you only need approximately 1,667 words a day) is the best way to stay on top. Of course, I keep telling myself this, and also thinking of everything that could complicate the process, but I fully expect to not be prepared for the reality of trying to write fifty thousand freaking words in only one month.

NaNo is an excellent and enjoyable opportunity for anyone who likes to write, and I heartily recommend giving it a try. That being said, if sometime in the next month you happen across a bearded, ponytailed, bespectacled RPI student frantically mashing keys on his laptop and muttering incoherent plot points under his breath … best to let me be. (Also, to anyone reading who is already participating in NaNoWriMo, best of luck in finishing what you started!)