Navigating NaNoWriMo: How To Be a Novelist in November
Posted by Taylor Pipes on October 31, 2016. Originally published on the Evernote blog.
The air is getting chillier. The leaves are falling. Pumpkins and gourds are the decor du jour, ghouls, goblins, and other creatures seek to spook us. Maybe you look at these things and think of Halloween. But some of us see inspiration for the novels we will write in November.
Beginning November 1, half a million people worldwide will take part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a writing challenge like no other. Grant Faulkner, executive director of NaNoWriMo joined Forrest Bryant from the Evernote team (a seven-time NaNo-participant) to share advice and tips for writers in a Facebook Live event on October 26.
Of course, Evernote is no stranger to literary endeavors. We’ve proudly sponsored NaNoWriMo for the last three years, as a way to support one of our most vibrant user communities. As the place where you collect all the thoughts, ideas, and information that matters, Evernote is perfectly suited to organize a novel or any other large writing project.
The beauty of NaNoWriMo is illustrated by how it began. In 1999, founder Chris Baty asked twenty of his friends to join his attempt to write a novel in just 30 days. Together, they met in coffee shops after work and forged a community that kept each other motivated and accountable for pursuing a seemingly impossible goal.
Today, that mission remains the same. Although it largely revolves around a solitary pursuit of storycraft and word count, National Novel Writing Month is also a global community of writers of all ages and experience levels who share in the spirit of creativity.
Finding guidance and support
When you take the plunge, rest assured you will have plenty of support. Here are just a few ways you can get help and an extra dose of motivation in November:
Writing prompts: Around the clock, the folks at NaNoWriMo send out writing prompts on a special Twitter account (@NaNoWordSprints) that can help get your creative energy flowing in 15-minute bursts. Writing prompts are also a big part of in-person writing meetups, too.
Twitter hashtags: The community makes sure to tweet about writing all month. That’s probably why the #NaNoWriMo, #NaNo, and #AmWriting hashtags are guaranteed to be trending — and those tweets are a great source of advice that can help keep you going.
NaNoWriMo Forum: Ask questions and help out others on the NaNoWriMo Forums. With over a million topics published throughout the month, every imaginable topic under the sun will be discussed. And we have a thread devoted just to Evernote. Be sure to look out for members of our team who will be answering your questions.
Community write-ins: From events at libraries to informal gatherings at coffee shops and pubs, in-person “write-ins” are a great way to meet your fellow NaNo novelists. If you’re in the San Francisco area, watch for a write-in right here at Evernote HQ in mid-November.
What will YOU write?
One of the most creative parts of your novel writing journey is figuring out what the story is. The seeds of a good story can be almost anything: a real-life situation, a dream, an interesting character, or even a title. The Coen Brothers, directors of movies like Fargo and Raising Arizona famously begin writing most of their movies based on a single image that has inspired them.
No Plot? No Problem.
Whether you have intricate outlines, hundreds of pages of world-building, and detailed notes on characters, or you’re setting out with nothing but a bundle of nervous energy, National Novel Writing Month accommodates all writers’ styles.
“Plotters” are those people who organize and outline their stories ahead of time. They know exactly where they’re going and how their characters will get there. Evernote is perfect for gathering all of that material together.
On the other side are people who write “by the seat of their pants,” affectionately known as “pantsers” (we are not making this up). Pantsers find outlines constraining. They prefer to let their imaginations run wild, figuring everything out as they go along. And that’s fine, too.
The path to every novel is as unique as the person who writes it. No matter who you are, you’ll fit in just fine.
Five tips for getting through November in one piece
1. Manage your time (and your expectations)
November is already upon us, so you may not be able to craft a lengthy outline at this point, but you can still sit down for an hour or two and take some notes on where your story will go. And once you’ve started, figuring out how you will succeed through the month means thinking about how you manage your time.
“I recommend people go on a time hunt and detail over the next few days how much time you spend [on nonessential things],” Grant advises, noting that for many of us, hours are consumed by trivia every day. That’s time that can be reclaimed for writing, even if it’s just a few sentences here and there. “Figure out where the nooks and crannies of your time are,” he says.
2. Rough it
Starting any writing project can be an intimidating prospect. As Joyce Carol Oates once famously said:
“[Writing a first draft] is like pushing a peanut with your nose across a very dirty floor.”
No wonder so many people give up before they ever begin. Grant recommends not worrying about the quality of your draft, or getting hung up on comparisons with your favorite books or literary luminaries. “People think of their favorite writers like J.K. Rowling and they want their book to match that, but there’s a huge chasm,” he says. “Just dive in, let the imagination roam and frolic.”
In 30 days, you are probably not going to create a masterpiece. But you will create something totally new and uniquely your own. The perfect way to do that? Don’t let yourself get bogged down. Stay engaged by throwing fresh perils at your characters. Use writing prompts or challenges from friends to find new ideas, and see where the journey takes you.
Save the editing for December (or better yet, next year, when you can come back to your story with fresh eyes). Once you’ve freed yourself from the burden of perfection, you’ll be amazed at where your writing goes.
3. Use the write tools for you
If you’re the kind of writer that researches and writes completely within Evernote — then, we absolutely love you. (Look for a blog post from Forrest later this week detailing his all-Evernote system). The reality is that many writers embrace a handful of tools. Some will keep research in Evernote and do the actual drafting in another app, or drop a Word doc or Google Drive link into a note to keep everything together. The important thing is to find a writing tool (or group of tools) that fits your style and solves your biggest writing needs. When you find it, stick with what works.
4. Tag your notes
If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that Evernote tags inspire vocal, passionate discussions about how people organize their information. For NaNoWriMo, tags are extremely helpful.
“If I have a draft that is being done in a series of notes, where each note is one chapter, I would tag it with all the characters who appear in that chapter,” says Forrest. “Then if I want to know what someone’s trail is through the story, I can search for that tag.”
Even better, go to tag lists, drag that tag to your sidebar (Super Evernote Power Tip®) to create a shortcut, and all of the notes using that tag show up with a click.
For more tips on using tags creatively, be sure to check out this article.
5. Never stop writing
“We believe everyone has a story to tell and everyone’s story matters,” Grant says.
“This is my seventh year doing NaNoWriMo,” Forrest adds. “I can attest: it’s not as scary as it sounds. 50,000 sounds like a big number, but it’s not War and Peace. It’s actually a pretty short novel.” Forrest summed up more of his advice for surviving the month in an article for NaNoWriMo’s official Medium channel last year.
For more tips about actually writing your novel, be sure to check out Signature’s Ultimate Guide to Writing Advice, produced in collaboration with our friends at Penguin Random House. Twelve top authors like Andy Weir and David Levithan provide their tips for everything from writing first sentences to coming up with that elusive title.
Now, just write it and get it done.
Evernote is a proud sponsor of National Novel Writing Month this November. If you’re up to the challenge, sign up for free at nanowrimo.org/sign_up, then visit Evernote on the NaNoWriMo forum and let us know how your novel is coming along! We’ll post more tips and strategies to our blog throughout November.