Friday Speak Out!: What I Learned from NANOWRIMO , Guest Post by Sandy Ackers

Friday, November 26, 2010
What I Learned from NANOWRIMO

by Sandy Ackers

It's that time again, the one month a year when tens of thousands of crazy people attempt to write a complete novel during the month of November, or National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I did it in 2008 and "won"—meaning I completed the first draft of a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

While I usually recommend fitting brief moments of creativity into the stressful busy-ness of life, it can be eye-opening to pursue a large, ambitious project like this and see where it takes you. So, without further ado, here's what I learned from the experience:

• Don't expect to write a masterpiece in 30 days. You've succeeded if you can complete a coherent piece of writing in that amount of time, creating the solid skeleton of a novel.

• You will learn a lot about plotting and pacing a story when you work that fast.

• Forget about intensive character development and lovingly crafted poetic passages for the moment. You can add these elements later.

• Dr. Wicked's Write or Die ( is your best friend during NaNoWriMo. A fantastic tool to force you to meet your word count.

• Don't think, just write. You'll wind up with plenty of less-than-stellar passages, but I bet you'll also be surprised at some gems that arise out of this pressure-cooker situation.

• Don't get stuck in a scene you're having trouble writing—keep moving forward. Sketch the scene out briefly with a few sentences and move on. At 50,000 words, your novel will be short, so it's good to have spots to finish later.

• Include a couple of subplots so you won't wind up finishing your story before you reach 50,000 words.

• Don't fret about the quality of your writing. First drafts are supposed to be rough and unpolished. Getting the plot down is key in this fast-paced exercise.

• Approach the month as a giant writing exercise rather than as the chance to write a fantastic novel, and you will learn a lot from the experience.

• Back care is important when you're spending so much extra time at the computer. Be sure to get up and stretch a lot. If you can hire an on-call massage therapist, even better!

• My most important point: forget everything I've said and do it your way. There's no right way to complete a novel in 30 days—if my pointers help you, wonderful. If not, that's fine too.

Best of luck to everyone participating this year!

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Sandy Ackers is a writer and creativity coach. She blogs at Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World.


Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!



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