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The Ravings of a Mad (almost) Novelist

I think I'm finally going to do it this year: NaNoWriMo.
Some of you are thinking, "Uh, are you insane?" Some of you are thinking "Awesome!" And some of you are thinking, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

I'm somewhere between the first two opinions. First, let me explain: NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. You have between November 1 and November 30 to write at least 50,000 words. That's it. If you write 50,000 words – even if they are total crap – you win. You can hash out your plot and all of that beforehand, but no novel writing can actually begin until November 1 at midnight. Novels can be any theme, any genre, any language. Seriously anything is allowed – the FAQ on the page says, "If you believe you're writing a novel, we believe you're writing a novel too."

The problem isn't the skill - I think I am a pretty decent writer (although I may be flattering myself). The problem is the plot. I guess maybe my day job of writing about finances and earnings releases and promotions and the implementation of projects and world-class teams and "innovative" initiatives has turned the truly imaginative part of my brain to mush. I have zero plot ideas.

Also? I have the attention span of a gnat. So the thought of writing 50,000 words in a mere 30 days is, you know, a bit daunting. I know it's only April, but I figure I'm going to need a couple of months to come up with a decent idea for a plot.

Anyway, since I have NaNoWriMo on the brain, I thought I would share it – and a few facts about it - with any fellow aspiring novelists out there.

NaNoWriMo is celebrating its ninth birthday this year. It was created in 1999 by Chris Baty of San Francisco.
•50,000 words isn't as long as you think it is. Novels that hover around the 50k word count mark include The Great Gatsby, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Brave New World.
•50,000 words in 30 days averages out to about 1,667 words per day.

Sara Gruen, the author of Water for Elephants, was a participant in NaNoWriMo.
•A scant 21 people participated in 1999, NaNoWriMo's first year. Just for reference, last year, 101,767 writers spent November scrabbling a novel together.
•No one will actually read your novel unless you want them to. When you submit it for a word count, a program actually counts the words – not a real person. So, if your novel is crap, no worries! No one has to know but you.
•The collective word count for 2007 was 1187,931,929
•Participants who have had their books published are:
  • Jon F. Merz---NaNoWriMo novel: The Destructor

  • Lani Diane Rich---NaNoWriMo novels: Time Off for Good Behavior and Maybe Baby

  • Sara Gruen---NaNoWriMo novels: Flying Changes and Water for Elephants

  • Rebecca Agiewich---NaNoWriMo novel: BreakupBabe

  • David Niall Wilson---NaNoWriMo novels: Vintage Soul
  • Francesca Segre---NaNoWriMo novel: Daughter of the Bride
    and The Mote in Andrea's Eye

  • Gayle Brandeis---NaNoWriMo novel: Self Storage

  • Kimberly Llewellyn---NaNoWriMo novel: Cashmere Boulevard

  • Geonn Cannon---NaNoWriMo novel: On the Air

  • Lisa Daily---NaNoWriMo novel: The Dreamgirl Academy

  • Jacob and Diane Anderson-Minshall---NaNoWriMo novel: Blind Curves

  • James R. Strickland---NaNoWriMo novel: Looking Glass

  • Kathy Cano-Murillo---NaNoWriMo novel: Love Shine

  • Ann Gonzalez---NaNoWriMo novel: Running for My Life

  • Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen---NaNoWriMo novel: The Compound

  • Jessica Burkhart---NaNoWriMo novel: High Jumps at Collins Academy

  • Jenna Bayley-Burke---NaNoWriMo novel: Just One Spark

  • Teryl Cartwright---NaNoWriMo novel: A Sensible Match

  • Dave Casler---NaNoWriMo novel: The Story of the Great American Flying Broomstick, Book 1: Genesis

  • Liz Hegarty---NaNoWriMo novel: Salt River

  • C.J. Lines---NaNoWriMo novel: Filth Kiss

  • So, help me out here, Neatorama readers! Anyone ever participated before? Was it worth it? What was your novel about?

    I've written seven now. I loved it so much the first year ('01) I started volunteering for the group and am now part of the staff. (And helping to build the awesomer 10 Anniversary website.)

    If you're a regular blogger, I think NaNo will seem pretty easy. The continuity part is kind of hard (sometimes I'd forget that I'd written something like what a character did for a living and then go on later in the book with a long passage about their job), but then again I don't plan ... at all. One year I wrote a novel based soley on a title I thought would be good. Another was based on Murphy's Law.

    (BTW - April is Script Frenzy - there are a bunch of people writing 100 page scripts right now!)
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    I've done it twice (although not last year), and although what I wrote wasn't very good, it was a lot of fun to do. One of my plots-- vaguely about a man who hated superheroes-- was based on a dream I'd had about a month before

    (Point of interest: I went to see Chris Baty promote his book about NaNo a while back, which is called "No Plot? No Problem!" You ought to be fine. Good luck.)
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    This sounds really awesome. As a third-rate, unpublished poet, the idea of writing a short novel actually sounds appealing. I might try this.
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    I think you should go for it StacyBee!

    I've tried once to start a short story (not related to NaNoWriMo) and like you my brain at first was all mushy from doing nothing but projects and work for Uni. But, I began to write about my daydreams and eventually that kicked off my creative juices. I always carry a small notebook with me that I write down story ideas in point form and titles for my stories.

    My short story wasn't that good. It was about a young man who ends up trapped in an apartment and eventually tries to escape from some entity that slowly is consuming the occupants and neighbours around him. It had some kinks in it but I'm hoping to give it a good read through and edit some bits in it.

    Tip: From a friend of mine who did participate in NaNoWriMo - Don't burn yourself out in the first week. Let your brain "marinate" in the story and use a small notebook to write and jot down notes and ideas. As well, you have to schedule your writing. Best times to write are early in the morning when your brain isn't cluttered with work...or at night when your relaxing.

    Hope that helps! And give us an update on how it goes! :D Good luck!
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    I dunno - NaNoWriMo seems to take the task of writing a novel more as something like climbing a mountain than like an actual artistic task: you have to push out X number of words each day to meet the arbitrary word limit that counts as a novel so that you can scratch off the task 'write a novel' from your life's to-do list. If you don't have anything that you want to write about, save yourself the Sisyphean labor of writing about it. If you want to write, then just set aside a block of time each day (or a word limit or whatever) and write until your done. I think the difficulty in writing doesn't come from actually setting words down on paper. If it were then our most successful novelists would be teenaged shut-ins penning tome-length installments in their Star Trek:Voyager slash-fiction. The trouble with writing is writing well. And that takes time. Far more than a month, I reckon.

    So do it! Write a novel!

    Take more than a month!

    (Point of record, I am, painfully, writing a novel myself these days. I just set aside an hour each day to sit in front of the computer and I either write or stare at the computer screen.)
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    this past year was my first time to participate and i'm proud to say i made it to 50k!

    it definitely took a lot of time and i'm not sure i could've done it had i not been on sabbatical. but plenty of people find it easier than i did and manage to do it while also working.

    the community aspect is great, as you'll later find out. you can ask the other participants questions to help your story be more realistic, such as "what type of gun would an undercover cop carry if he tried to infiltrate a biker gang?" and awesomely enough you'll get very detailed and accurate answers.

    plus, having the network to compete against and support one another makes it a lot easier.

    good luck!

    oh, and my plot was about some scandalous politicians, journalists, and cuba. i'd tell you more, but i'd have to write you into my story, then kill you. :)
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    I'll read it Stacey! I wrote one last year, and it was a little different from what I had imagined lol. Water for Elephants is incredible! I had no idea it was a NaNo!
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    I participated in NaNoWriMo between the years of 2003-2006, though I took a break last year when I got to college.

    I won in 2005 (and still mean to go back, re-edit the story I wrote, and re-write it), but in previous years I couldn't even get halfway through the wordcount.

    Basically, you want to be sure you do not fall behind on your wordcount. When you get behind, the words rapidly add up, you start to feel stressed, and give up on it a lot sooner then you would have had you kept up.
    1,667 words is somewhere around 3 pages of Times New Roman 8 pt. font in a Word document (without too many paragraphs and speech.) If you write fast, it will take you under an hour. If you get stuck, you can try putting in a random sentence to keep you going. It could be about anything, for instance about how Shirley just noticed the pink elephant grinning at her maniacally in the corner. When you have to explain and write into the story the sentence you just put in, the words run by much faster.

    That is, if you're not as worried about quality (though it can also provide you with good plot twists.)

    It's a fun time, the mass emails do help, and the NaNoWriMo forums are great because you can complain with all the other people out there in the same writer's hell-month as you.
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    I've participated in nano three times. It has been great fun. Kill the inner editor and write your brains out. One of the best aspects is to catch up with other participants in your area (in the regional forums). Lots of motivating discussions with other crazy people.
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    never even heard about it until now. I'm pretty excited, maybe the month of november will finally give me a reason to write down all the rehashed ideas floating in my head.
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    I participated last year, and failed the word limit quite miserably. Having said that, I'm now 60 pages into writing a terrifically funny story set in the Land of the Dead. So it gave me a start at least!
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    I've thought about doing this before. Since I blog on a regular basis, and can churn out 1,500-word posts with little difficulty, 50,000 words doesn't seem like too much of a stretch. My main problem is having something of substance to write about, since unless I have a clearly defined topic to write about (usually from some external source) I just get too distracted to come up with anything. Contrary to what I used to write about, I also find that I work far better dealing in nonficticious topics these days (blogging will do that to you.)

    I'd like to try writing something like this sometime, but I suspect that it would take me far more than a month to write.
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    I've done NaNoWriMo the last two years -- and won both! First year was something like dark fantasy/horror in an urban setting, and is planned for revision. Second year was a contemporary crime story. I think it sucks, but I haven't actually read it yet. Actually I haven't even written the last chapter yet, but since I have passed the 50k mark I consider it a win.
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    I've been doing Nanowrimo for years - probably about as long as it's actually been a real thing. I'm a Municipal Liason (ML) for our local group, and I've written about everything from invaders from another city to war in Heaven. Honestly, start with a thought, sentence, or idea that simply enthralls you, and just...go...

    No planning, no character sketches, no world building...just...go.

    And if you have any questions - feel free to email me whenever the fancy strikes you. Nano is one of my favorite topics!
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    I did it last year for the first time. I knew how many words I had to write each day to stay on track, and I kept up by writing SOMEthing every day, no matter how hard it was. Scrivener ( is an awesome application to use to actually do the writing. I finished with a few days to spare, and I am already excited about working on the next one...I guess you'd say I'm addicted. The cool part is, now I can say I'm "a novelist."
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    Okay, stop whining about plots and stuff. There are plenty of great writing tools out there to help you out. Mac users like Scrivener, a word processor beefed up with organizing tools to juggle all those ideas that used to be on notecards tacked to the wall. Power Writer and Power Structure not only keep you organized but guide you through the process of storytelling. WritePro is another self-directed program with tips for novelists. I've played around with NewNovelist, and it seems like a cool way to go from a thread of an idea to a finished manuscript, and includes templates for creating characters and scenes and actually teaches you about literary theory almost without you knowing it. Dramatica Pro is actually for screenwriting, but has an intriguing way to approach building characters and plot that would work just as well for a novel. StoryWeaver sound great... walking you through fleshing your story out step by step. I might actually make November "Second Novel Writing Month."
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    I've done NaNo for the past two years, and won both.

    The first time it was basically a rewrite of a story I'd written years beforehand then last year was a story about a woman who was an author taking part in NaNo. It was mad and a lot more fun than my serious attempt from the first year.

    The best bits as far as I'm concerned are the word wars where you try and churn out as much as you can as quickly as possible in competition against other people.

    The important thing to remember is that it's all for fun, if at the end of it you end up with something which you think is a good novel then so much the better. I'm working on random stories all year round but I know that come November there's hundreds of thousands of other people all manically trying to up their word counts right along side me :D
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    The first time I wrote a NaNo-style novel, I did it in June, because I was so worried about taking too long. I didn't. I've done two more since then.

    My advice regarding ideas for the novel:

    --Pick your favoritest genre.
    --Throw ideas at the wall until you get one that doesn't sound boring.
    --Look up "log lines" on the internet and develop one. You don't need to know the whole plot, but if you know who your hero is and what the fight is, it's much easier.
    --Start writing.

    Although I have done it with just steps one and four.

    I wouldn't do this until you get closer to the date, though, unless you want to start early. Once you get a good idea, it's hard to wait :)

    On another note: I'm just now getting ready to submit the first book to an agent. You'll also have to learn how to edit. Writing the first draft is the easy part, as long as you just keep writing.
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    My best friend participated last year. She had already started getting her ideas down on paper and writing before November, but once NaNo hit, she used that to jump-start her unedited writing.

    Be aware that it isn't only a stressful time for you as the writer, it takes a toll on your family and friends. Every time I called my friend to hang out, she said that she was at the bookstore writing (or at home writing or at the coffee shop writing...) and I could join her if I wanted to. I would go and watch her write and I would feel bad interrupting her. So, yes, not exactly my idea of quality friend time.

    Be warned!
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    I did it in 2006 and won, which was the push it took to get me over my fear of long-form writing projects. It was a really great way to develop writing discipline.

    I signed up for it in 2007, but didn't get farther than day two. I'd had surgery literally a month earlier, and I just didn't have the energy. I thought I'd be fine, but I wasn't. For me, that was a wake-up call: Writing - real writing - isn't a relaxing activity.

    I've already got an idea for this year, though. *grins maniacally* I'll (hopefully) be in New Orleans on a mission trip for the first week, but that should give me lots of material to make up for the lost time. Hoo rah NaNoWriMo!
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    I did NaNo for the first time this year and I'm happy to say I won. I started with NO IDEA what my book would be about - it came into being as I went. The word count seemed daunting at times, especially on the days where my fingers just refused to produce anything moderately useful, but then other days the words would just flow and the benchmarks started flying past. Once I hit 10,000 I thought to myself, "Yes, I can really do this." Of course, my plot wrapped itself up quite nicely at around the 48,000 mark, leaving me to write 2,000 words about my cats.
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    I did it this year, and I got 26K words. I didn't win, but it's 26K more than the guy who didn't write at all. I'm still working on my novel and trying to get it to full-length, so I think it was a useful experience.

    1700 words in a day isn't intimidating, but the problem comes about when you skip a day. 3000 words is a pretty long day. Skip two days and forget about it!
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    Hmmmm I took a creative writing class and was introduced by my professor to "The 36 Dramatic Situations" by Georges Polti. The 36 dramatic situations are plots and are supposed to be every single story that can ever be told...(tragedies).

    Check it out!
    the book is here on

    or you can find simple versions of it here..

    Maybe that will help a little?
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    @Ted- Never judge the book by its title. Every book is worth the shot and Water for Elephants is one of the more than worthwhile ones. (Insipid. Nice lol)
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