November is National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo. Around the world, more than 300,000 authors will attempt the impossible: to write an entire book in a single month.
If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, here’s a little background.
NaNoWriMo is not really a writing contest, but an event. You might say it’s a contest… with yourself. The object is to write a fresh 50,000-word book in the month of November and have a completed first draft by 11:59 p.m. on November 30th.
Most people think this is impossible; and for most people, it is impossible, purely because they defeat themselves. In reality, there are two obstacles that confront every author:
1) Getting started
2) Sticking with it
The hardest part about any long-term goal is staying the course. A lot of authors begin with a lot of enthusiasm but put their cherished manuscript aside when they become bored with it, stumble across a writing hurdle or simply have other priorities. It’s easy to become self-critical, get overwhelmed or simply lose heart.
NaNoWriMo’s approach is to encourage writers’ enthusiasm, determination and creativity by giving the project a hard deadline.
The question is, if writing 50,000 words in a month is so impossible, why has this event been going on for 15 years? Clearly someone is getting somewhere with it. Maybe it’s just the caffeine buzz that keeps this thing going. Maybe it’s the camaraderie. Maybe it’s momentum.
In reality, more than 250 novels written during NaNoWriMo have been published by traditional publishers, including Harper Collins. A lot more than that have been self-published, turning skilled executives and high achievers into motivational speakers.
Business Books, Screenplays and Comics – Oh My!
This brings us to another salient point: novels aren’t the only form that writers are pursuing in this month-long verbal slog. Poetry, prose, non-fiction, screenplays and even graphic novels have been harvested as the fruit of this annual rite.
Some would-be authors get stalled because they’re afraid that others will judge their first attempts harshly. Others get stymied because the material they want to write goes against the grain of their personal or professional reputation. For instance, can you imagine an economist writing about his imaginary life on the pro tennis circuit? Or an out-of-work hospital administrator writing about starting a vineyard in southern Oregon? It could happen.
This kind of self-consciousness has kept untold books from seeing the light of day.
While NaNoWriMo’s brutal schedule can help to keep your writing on track, the venue itself is completely private – as private as you want it to be. It’s like Facebook for word nerds. No one has to see the material you’ve written. All you need to do is check in from time to time and report on your progress for the benefit of your writing friends within the platform.
Completing your first draft is all that counts. Grammar, punctuation and quality are all immaterial at this point. The whole point is camaraderie for a very loner kind of activity.
Even with this level of acceptance, if you’re a bit squeamish about writing your book, try using a pen name. Having a nom de plume has come in handy for established writers and newbies alike. Just ask J.K. Rowling or Stephen King.
Most people with busy lives balk at the idea of knocking out a book manuscript in a month. However a lot of the authors I publish have the capacity to produce a quality first draft in just one week, with the bulk of the writing accomplished in a 3-week period. How does that break down? Well, if you are writing 50,000 words in 21 days, that equates to 2,500 words/day. That is about the equivalent of writing 4 long emails…something that many of us do many times a day already!
Are there a few cheats involved? Well… maybe. We in the publishing business prefer to call them shortcuts. If you’re short on time and want to compress your success, author Liv Montgomery offers at least a dozen unique strategies in her audio program “Draft Your Book In A Day.” I’ve used some of these techniques myself, and they’re surprisingly easy to apply.
Of Post-It Notes, Corporate Pensions and Ellis Island
Maybe you’re the kind of person who has scraps of paper lying around, Post-It notes jotted with plot ideas or character developments. Maybe you’ve got a self-help book outlined but you never quite got it off the ground. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to tell the story of how your ancestors arrived in this country. Whatever it is, the odds are high that you have a book inside you – something that the world needs to read.
If you’ve always wanted to start or finish a book, try capitalizing on the spirit of National Novel Writing Month. Who knows? The book you write could be just the one the world has been waiting for.
If you do take the challenge, your December just might look a whole lot different. Are you ready?
Bryan Heathman is the President of Made for Success Publishing. Bryan works with best-selling authors in the role of publisher and marketer, including the late Zig Ziglar, Chris Widener and John C. Maxwell. Bryan is the author of Conversion Marketing, a marketing book that condenses knowledge on website conversion from 7-years running an online ad agency. Bryan’s Fortune 500 experience includes running high impact marketing campaigns for Microsoft, Eastman Kodak and Xerox.