NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an annual challenge where you attempt to write a whole “novel” in November. 50,000 words. That requires an average of 1667 (actually 1666.666…) words (5-6 pages) a day for 30 days. Then, at the end, you have a rough draft of a book.
Now, to be sure, that draft is pure rubbish. And probably too short, unless you’re writing middle grade. Even YA is usually 60,000+ words. So it has to be heavily revised and greatly expanded upon. But the main point is that you have something substantial to work on. It can be regarded as a very long synopsis with some actual scene writing. Most writers need that first draft to start the hard part of writing. Recognition of the value of that draft is clear in that it even has a nickname: “shitty first draft.”
Anyway, NaNo’s really hard. Each year tens of thousands sign up (in 2010 it topped 200,000 and last year there were 384,126 participants). And each year a small fraction of those people actually “win” (i.e. write at least 50,000 words). Last year it was less than 9%. The website allows you to track your word count and interact with other participants on forums. It even helps people coordinate to interact in real life (such as in “write-ins” where people get together to write).
But I’ve found NaNo both helpful and fun. I never participate on the forums, but it’s fun to watch my friends’ word counts go up. I’ve done it four years in row now (winning each time) and am about to start my fifth one. I used to have trouble getting myself to actually write. NaNo sort of trained me to write every day. Outside of November, I don’t write quite so much, but I do spend at least a couple hours doing writing-related work almost every day, with more on weekends. NaNo’s also good to break the habit most amateur writers have of constantly going back to the beginning to fix what they’ve realized needs to be changed—thus never making it past the first third of the book or so… You have to just forge ahead, no matter what you realize you’ll have to go back and change (after you get to the end of that first draft).
I’m scrambling to get ready, tweaking my 40-page synopsis (really, a scene-by-scene breakdown) after some feedback from my critique group. It’s going to be another YA novel, though I’m also trying to get a draft of a different novel ready for a beta reader since I won’t have time in November and she’s ready to read. And on top of that, I have two blogs that I post weekly to, so I’m trying to get some reviews ready for those (which means I’m trying to read a bunch, too). Just a few days left to get it all ready. I’m excited to start the new YA novel, which is going to be somewhat autobiographical, but also nervous because some of it’s going to be hard to write. However, people say writing about unpleasant memories can be therapeutic, so we’ll see.