It has been brought to my attention I’ve been casually mentioning NaNoWriMo all over the place for most of the year, but some readers might not have the faintest idea what I’m referring to.  Read on for an explanation.

NaNoWriMo is the short way of saying National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every November and is essentially the reason behind 12 Books in 12 Months.

It started with a group of friends in America and is now a global challenge whose rules are pretty simple – write 50,000 words of a novel in one month.  Hmm, sounds familiar…

If you sign up for the website (which is free) they send you lots of very sensible pep talks throughout November to help you keep going, and you can also use it to network with other writers near you, either on forums or in person. 

For instance, there’s a NaNoBeans writing group in Edinburgh who have write-ins twice a week where you can go along to a coffee shop and sit and muddle through your story with like-minded people.  Last year I interviewed some of them about the experience for The Edinburgh Reporter:

So, now that you’re thinking about doing this, a word of advice.  Go in with some kind of plan! 

I know that sounds ridiculous coming from someone who posts on her blog at the start of every month bemoaning the fact she’s done no research and has no idea what she’s doing, but a teeny bit of planning really helps.

In 2010 I completed NaNo (by which I mean hit 50k – the book still isn’t finished) with what would accurately be described as a deranged outline. 

Basically I came up with 30 different cliff hangers to end each chapter, and every day I worked towards one of those.  I posted every chapter on my personal blog too, although I’m not sure any readers were tenacious enough to stick it out till the end.  I hope not actually, because I don’t think I ever wrote the last part…

Anyway, that was quite a vague outline but it was still enough to help plan roughly what I wanted to do every day. Compared with 2009, where I jumped in head first and got stuck at 15k, this brief plan made a huge difference.

Clearly I really enjoyed NaNo – enough to make every month of 2011 a Novel Writing Month – and I can’t recommend it highly enough.  It’s particularly good if you are a writer frightened of doing it wrong.

Everyone experiences doubt at some time, and if you get it as a writer there’s a high chance it’ll stop you putting anything on the page.  The number of writers I’ve met that get totally hung up on things like the first word before they’ve got any semblance of the story is disconcertingly large.

With NaNo, the fact you’re working to this mad deadline means you have no time to worry whether you should describe the dress as puce, or the colour of dried rosehips, or gauzy – or maybe you should strip it right back and not describe the dress at all…?

With NaNo, you have no time to edit – in fact it’s against the rules, because editing invariably leads to cutting, and cutting does not 50k in 30 days make.  If you’re the sort of person that worries about every word you set down this can be daunting; but it’s also very freeing.  You can stop analysing and wondering whether you’re any good and just get lost in telling the story.

The idea is, it’s better to have 50k of nonsense to go back and edit in December than a blank page of nothing, which I think is an excellent mantra.

A blank page has a tendency to make you think you’ve got no ideas and can’t do it and had better go and watch Diagnosis Murder, maybe eat another biscuit.  Or, if you work full time, you might be able to ignore your blank page (and repress those feelings of literary inadequacy) because you’re impossibly busy (checking Facebook and counting down the seconds till home time / your next cup of tea). 

Hey, maybe you genuinely have a very full on job, a set of new-born twins, or repetitive strain injury.  People always have reasons why they can’t do things.  NaNoWriMo is there to say oi, this is a mere thirty days out of your life – stop putting it off.  If you want to write, write.

By the end of November there’s a high chance your story will have gone off in a totally different direction than your original outline (my melodramatic Mills and Boon parody ended up with distinct overtones of fantasy and sci-fi).  There will have been days where you wound up writing any old crap to reach your daily target.  However, the feeling of accomplishment at the end is fantastic.  And frankly, it doesn’t matter if some of it was crap – nobody ever has to see it (unless you give it to them, in which case you have only yourself to blame).  

Having said all that, I’m not sure whether to sign up this year, because November is meant to be Graphic Novel month.  I had planned to draw as I go too, so there’s no earthly way I’ll manage to write 50k as well.  There’s no real need, either, unless I want to recreate From Hell.

However, it has been mooted that I switch November with December – the literary novel – because 50k is probably only about half of one of those bad boys.  Plus, December is a time for fun and merriment (and drawing silly pictures?), so it might be good to get the weightiest of the twelve tomes out of the way before then.

This is something I would really like your comments on, dear internet.  Should I swap the months and sign up for NaNoWriMo with the rest of you?  Or should I stick to my original arbitrary genre-to-month plan?  It might be worth pointing out at this stage that I haven’t planned what to do with either of them yet…

Also, for an excellent set of tips on NaNo, I recommend this post by Chuck Wendig of Terrible Minds.