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Posted on Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 9:39 a.m.

November is National Novel Writing Month

By Melissa LR Handa

The Wordy Transition Image.jpg

NaNoWriMo might be the reason why none of your writer friends are picking up their phones this month.

Have you noticed that your favorite coffee shop is a little bit busier than usual, or that your writer friend hasn’t been picking up her phone or answering any of your emails? This may be because November is National Novel Writing Month, more affectionately called “NaNoWriMo.” NaNoWriMo urges its participants to complete a 50,000-word novel (or write 50,000 words towards a larger work) between midnight, Nov. 1 and 11:59 p.m., Nov. 30.

Many NaNoWriMo participants begin planning for the event weeks in advance: meticulously creating plot outlines and detailed character sketches. Prepare all you want; the only rule is that you cannot actually begin writing the novel until the official start of NaNoWriMo.

The program is a springboard for the would-be novelist — he’ll either sink or swim, and if he’s lucky, he’ll come out on the other side of November with a workable manuscript. A workable manuscript, mind you, not a polished one. The key to NaNoWriMo success is to put pen to page and speed away as fast as you can. It’s much more challenging to complete the target 50,000 words if one is sidetracked by typos, spelling errors or gaping plot holes. You should ultimately shine that manuscript until it sparkles, but it would be wise to leave your buffer kit packed away until Dec. 1.

The beauty of NaNoWriMo is that it sets an achievable, albeit ambitious, goal and provides a supportive, understanding community. Many authors’ and publishers’ blogs provide helpful tips throughout the month, urging the fatigued writer, first time and repeat alike, to keep going. The program site itself features forums, articles, writing exercises and even encouraging daily emails. At the end of the month, participants upload their fresh, new novels to the site, subjecting it to the auto word count machine (there is also a word scrambler for the more paranoid — err, cautious — writer). Those who meet the 50k word goal receive an impressive certificate of completion and an enormous sense of satisfaction.

The benefits are summed up nicely in the site’s FAQ section:

NaNoWriMo is all about the magical power of deadlines. Give someone a goal and a goal-minded community, and miracles are bound to happen… The other reason we do NaNoWriMo is because the glow from making big, messy art, and watching others make big, messy art, lasts for a long, long time. The act of sustained creation does bizarre, wonderful things to you. It changes the way you read. And changes, a little bit, your sense of self. We like that.

What do you think? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you done it in years past? Do you have any tricks that keep you going despite having writers’ cramp, brain fog, and a lack of Zs? Is one month enough time to write a salvageable first draft of a novel? Sound off here!

By the way, even though Nov. 1 has come and gone, it’s not too late to jump into the NaNoWriMo frenzy.

Melissa LR Handa is the founder and organizer for the Ann Arbor Classics Book Group and the Lead Books Contributor for Her goal is to make classic literature more accessible to the everyday reader.