Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor

How to Go Crazy Once a Year

by Lazette Gifford
2004, Lazette Gifford

National Novel Writing Month:

Imagine yourself in the largest collection of writers in one place, nearly all of them excited about their upcoming project and bubbling over with ideas, plans, and suggestions.  You get to talk to them for weeks prior to the starting date and exchange ideas, help out with plot tricks, and encourage each other to be daring.

Imagine sitting down, waiting for the clock to tick over to 12:01 am November 1st, knowing that there are thousands of others who are doing the same thing, and that you are all are part of a huge creative flow that can be found no where else at any time.

If you talk to people who know me, they'll tell you that I'm really crazy all the time, especially where writing is concerned.  I write every day and generally average about eight novels, twenty or more short stories, and dozens of articles every year.  So, why does someone who writes this much already still look forward to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)?

Because it's fun being part of something involving so many writers.  In 2003 NaNo had around 25,000 people sign up, and about 3500 made it to the 50,000 word finish line by the end of the month.  I see others still writing at their novels and enjoying the process.  The diehards hang about the boards throughout the year, and around September there's a definite upswing in posts and interest.

But how does a person become crazy enough to do this the first time and every year afterwards?

First let's talk about the people who won't enjoy it.  If you hate writing (want to publish a book, don't want to write it), just stay clear of NaNo.  The enthusiasm alone will drive you homicidal when you start reading about all those people who actually love to write and can't wait to get started.

If you think that deathless prose is all that should ever be allowed to be written, and you tend to linger half a day over the proper placement of a comma -- don't even look at the site.  You'll froth at the mouth over posts on the boards long before the actual novel writing starts.  This is not a site for you.  Erase from your mind the mere idea of NaNo and all those writers racing through their novels before your head explodes.


If (like me) you think writing not only can but should be fun, NaNo is a wonderful way to be silly, have a bit of crazy fun, and get some writing in as well.  You can write something silly, you can write something serious; you can go for a straight 50,000 words or go for a completed novel (or two).  It doesn't matter.  Even if you don't reach the goal of 50,000 words by the end of the month it doesn't matter.  No one, including you, is going to die from not writing enough words.

Here are some pointers that can help out, though:

Once November starts, don't write more on the NaNo boards than you do in your novel.  You'll start comparing word counts and that leads to serious bouts of head-against-wall incidents.

Be prepared with various bribes to get family members to leave you alone.  Money, candy, promises to clean the cat litter box for all of December -- whatever it takes.

Don't expect to spend all Thanksgiving writing because family and friends get very pissy on holidays where they expect you to join in -- or worse, where you might have been expected to bake that turkey or some other such thing. (If this is the case, move the computer --or better still a laptop -- to the kitchen counter.  Type in words with one hand while you mix dressing with the other.  Do try to focus when you're dicing that onion though.  It can get messy otherwise, and a trip to ER will just take more time out of writing.)

Don't agree to be one of the guests at a science fiction convention the last week of the month.  (Tattoo that one on your forehead, Zette.  Idiot.)

Advanced NaNo tips:

Have an idea of what you want to write about no later than October 20th, complete with outline, character notes, and in depth world building.  Completely scrap the idea at 11:55pm October 31st and at 12:01 am November 1st start NaNo with something you just thought of five minutes ago.

Having failed with the 'overall plan' approach (see above) try at least to have an idea of what you are going to write about each day when you sit down to work.  One way to do this is to have the 'no it's not really an outline, I don't do outlines, this isn't an outline' list on hand.  There are 30 days in November.  Jot down 30 things to write about.  These things must be interesting enough to get you through 1667 words a day.  Try to make them at least coherent and linked in some way:

November 1: Mary and Bob run into each other in the grocery store.  Compare prices of different sizes of eggs.  Eggs and breast sizes.  Sex.

November 2: Mary and Bob run into each other at the car wash.  Talk about car sizes.  Sex.

November 3:  Just sex.

November 4: Hell, even I'm tired of the sex by now.  Don't they know anyone else?  Mary sits in the window of her apartment staring out across the courtyard toward the other building.  No hold it. What are those two doing in that window....

November 5:  Mary talks to her husband David about... about... no......

November 6: Introduce Mary's boss.  She works at a book store.  She spends most of the day shelving books and trying to sell books to people who are really just looking for directions to the nearest bathroom.  She finds out her boss is having an affair.

November 7: Mary's daughter does homework with her friend, Tom.  Long discussion about social equality. There will be no sex.  Sit on opposite sides of the table and hands must remain in plain sight at all times!

(etc.) There.  One week done. That wasn't so hard.

It is, really, perfectly all right to have a true outline.  They can keep you moving when you couldn't come up with a story to save your life (odd phrase -- there might be a story in that...), and they can keep you from reaching 44,000 words and dying.

Or you can 'fly without a net' and let your characters lead you along the path without a clue of where you're going.  This is a dangerous way to work when you are under a time constraint, however.  Characters have a horrible habit of going on strike at the wrong moment.  If that is the case, threaten to abandon them and tell the story about their lost dog instead.  If they don't listen, think Lassie.

The final trick to going crazy for NaNoWriMo is to sit down at your computer and let yourself write.  Don't worry about perfection.  Don't worry about reaching 50,000 words.  You are not here to prove anything to anyone.  It doesn't matter who writes more or who has a 'real' book while you're stringing together silly stuff.  If you can let yourself go and write you're going to be a winner. 

A word of caution, though:  Once you learn how much fun writing really is, you're not going to want to limit it to November and a mere 50,000 words!

National Novel Writing Month:

And read last year's Interview with Chris Baty who started NaNoWriMo!