• Jamie Lynne Burgess

Why You Need to Get on the NaNoWriMo Bandwagon

One of my Awake readers recently wrote to me: "I have a writer trapped inside of me."

If you feel like this too, I think it's time to set that writer free.

In the train from Paris to Troyes back in July, I was listening to an episode of the podcast Write Now with Sarah Werner, which was an interview with Grant Faulkner, the Executive Director of NaNoWriMo. I learned that this year, more than 400,000 people will participate in NaNoWriMo, an endeavor to write a novel during the month of November.

[See: Coffee Break 053: Grant Faulkner on the Write Now Podcast website]

To "win" NaNoWriMo, you must write more than 50,000 words in 30 days, what literary agent Ann Rittenberg calls "the metaphorical equivalent of dumping a rousing bucket of cold water over one's head."

And even though I listened to the podcast back in July, I knew it was important to start thinking already about November, because it's a month that comes up quick, and quickly dissolves into holiday parties and Thanksgiving travel. And if you aren't prepared, you'll watch the days disappear, and let me tell you, 50,000 words do not write themselves.

Although I've done this before, I worked previously on books of essays, which don't lend themselves as well to this fast-typing format. This year, for the first time, I am working on a novel (You can read about my novel, and be my NaNoWriMo friend, by clicking the link to my profile), so preparing has been a little different than previous years. Here's what I'm doing to get ready for the November writing marathon:

Going on a time hunt: In the interview for the Write Now podcast, Grant Faulkner talks about going on a time hunt in October, so you'll know in November where you can find an hour here-and-there to write. While creating a routine is a great way to foster creativity, it's not available to everyone.

Part of what I love about NaNoWriMo is that it proves to you that all your excuses about not having enough "time" are total crap, and if you can find the time to write for 30 days, you can definitely find the time in the rest of the year. How bad do you want it?

I've been time-hunting this year by creating a spreadsheet to calculate the time I spend doing things. My most time-consuming activity beside working seems to be feeding myself, so I know I'm going to be freezing some leftovers in the next couple of weeks. No procrastination-by-cooking in November.

Putting scene ideas into an envelope: This is suggested by Laura Whitcomb in the book Your First Novel: A Top Agent and a Published Author Show You How to Write Your Book and Get It Published, and it sounds like a great way to stay inspired. While a scene might not yet be ready to write, you can put the idea for it on an index card and put all the cards into an envelope. At the start of writing the draft, you might take out the index cards and arrange them, possibly even number them, so you can move from scene to scene and create the book.

She advises that if you have between twenty and fifty cards, the kitchen table might work for arranging them. But if you have more than that, work on the floor. Look at all your ideas, and feel good about what you are about to write!

Timed freewriting: So far, timed freewrites have been the best way for me to generate words, and these little scenes are going to become the first draft of my book. I learned in a creative writing class about creating a multi-sensory ritual that tells your brain it's time to write. This includes: lighting a scented candle, playing classical music, and setting the timer.

While a lot of what I have written in these timed sessions is unusable garbage, the little glimmers of potential shine through and keep me pushing forward on my book. I'm going to take some of these ideas and turn them into more polished scenes.

Creating a vision board and choosing an intention: Lately, I make a collage for everything. But I just love putting on a good podcast (like Sarah Werner's interview with Philip Kenney, that was a revelation for me about writing!), cutting out words and pictures along a theme, and pasting them together. It really helps me to understand where my priorities are when I see them visually.

An intention is similar; NaNoWriMo can be a somewhat frenetic time, but if you choose a grounding intention, it can help you to make good choices because your priorities are clear.

It's sort of an obvious intention, but this year, I'm choosing: PROLIFIC. I don't want to stop at 50,000 words! I want to write an excessive number. An obscene number of words. And I want to believe I can do it.

In addition to everything else, in addition to working, running a household, getting enough sleep, exercising, drinking enough water at altitude, and eating three meals a day, writing an average of 1,667 words on a purely creative project might sound like a special kind of torture. Yet it can be incredibly freeing.

In his NaNoWriMo pep talk (yeah! if you sign up for NaNoWriMo, you get to read these pep talks by famous authors every week, who tell you how great you are for taking on this project!), Alexander Chee said,

If you can find this writing time before you do the rest of the work you have to do, you’ll find yourself feeling easier with people. You won’t have that awful feeling, like being stuck over the drain at the bottom of the pool.

If you know this feeling, and you haven't found time to be creative this year, I really encourage you to try NaNoWriMo. Best of all, you're in a community of other writers who are also suffering through, losing sleep, and wondering if this is worth it. You're in it together.

We are super lucky to have an amazing events coordinator at the Bud Werner Memorial Library, who brings us candy and NaNo stickers to keep us going. It helps foster a real community of regular people who are also nighttime (or early morning) writers. The kickoff at the library this year is October 29! You likely have someone in your community who does this, too. Contact your local independent bookstore or library to find out, or use the NaNoWriMo community boards to register in your local community.

The world needs your novel, your voice. You're the only one who can tell it. One of my favorite quotes of the year comes from Jen Sincero, who wrote the book You Are a Badass:

Your playing small simply withholds your gifts from the people who were meant to receive them, including you. Can you imagine if your favorite musicians never let themselves make enough money to buy guitars or take lessons or hire producers or buy purple platform boots and tight sparkly pants or pay thousands of dollars for studio time so they could record the songs that saved your ass in high school?​

Don't be that person who withheld their wonderful talents from the world. Get that beautiful new notebook with the really nice paper and a pack of your favorite pens, and go ahead and write.

I'll be documenting my NaNoWriMo madness on Instagram--with inspirational quotes, NaNo write-ins, early morning rituals, late nights. Follow along with me. I'd love to commiserate and celebrate with you!

Free the writer that's trapped inside of you. You--and your writer--deserve it.

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