Nanowrimo – A Writers Workshop by Wendy Van Camp

Alphasmart Neo and Samsonite Shuttle Case

National Novel Writing Month starts on November 1st every year. People from all over the world gather in coffeehouses, libraries, and other public locations to write 50 thousand words of the rough draft of a novel in 30 days. It is a time of writing madness. You set aside the regular activities of your life and focus on getting words on the page.

Practice Makes Perfect

The first few times that I attempted Nanowrimo, I was lucky to write 10 thousand words. I did not have the habit of writing every day, and I did not write an outline for my story ahead of time. In 2010, that changed for me. For the first time, a story woke up and “spoke” to me. No, this was not the sign of mental illness. One of the common traits that authors share is a connection to their subconscious mind where their “muse” works behind the scenes to create art. For the first time in years, my writing “muse” activated. I could not refuse to write this story even if I wanted to. Something within me pushed me forward as my story grew richer.

That year, I wanted to take part in the write-ins of my area for the first time. I was at a loss of how to participate. I did not own a laptop and did not have the funds to buy one at that time. As I read the forums at nanowrimo.org, I stumbled upon a thread about a machine called an alphasmart 3000. It is a digital typewriter designed for classrooms to teach keyboarding. The alphasmart has no internet connections, a tiny screen where you could only see a few lines at a time, and a large full-sized keyboard. I could download any text that I typed into the word processor of my choice. The best part is that I could purchase a used Alphasmart for around $25 including shipping. I bought one on eBay. It allowed me to leave my desktop behind and find the freedom to write in any location that I choose.

I also discovered Chris Baty’s book, “No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days“. In it, he describes his method of writing a rough draft. He believes in the adage: write quickly, edit slowly. What Baty recommends is to write with abandon. Do not erase what you write, let your mind go free and write everything that comes to you as fast as possible. Put out as much word count during each writing session as you can. Once your 30 days are up, take a deep breath and then go back and edit your words to clean up the passages, but not before. His book also offers inspiration to all new authors to develop good writing habits.

At the write-ins that year, I absorbed a great deal of information about the craft of writing. Before Nanowrimo, I thought you wrote a book and sent it in to a publisher and there it ended. Instead, I learned that the rough draft is only the start of the process. You also sel-edit your work, hire proofreaders to double check your manuscript for typos and content, and finally choose how to publish your book.

That November became a writing workshop for me. I asked an endless number of questions at the write-ins. My “instructors” were all a bunch of techie college students who were more connected to their smartphones than the surrounding people. They made me feel old before my time, but I absorbed the information and did not take their youth personally. In the end, I pushed forward and made the 50-thousand-word goal for the first time.

Why Participate in Nanowrimo?

If you are a new aspiring author, Nanowrimo will provide you with a support group of people who will cheer you on as you write your book. During Nanowrimo, discussions revolve around all the new software and tools that are available to writers. You will learn new techniques.

As the years have gone by, I have become a published author and poet. I sell short stories and poetry in magazines, following a tradition publishing path. However, my books tend to be independently published. I credit Nanowrimo with giving me my start. I have since upgraded to an Alphasmart Neo for drafting and use Scrivener as my writing program of choice to organize my novel projects.

I set aside October for planning a new long project, either a novella or a book. This includes brainstorming plot points, writing outlines and creating character sheets. During November, I clear my calendar and plan to spend at least two to three hours a day working on my rough draft, minus the Thanksgiving Day holiday. Sometimes I write with the wrimo groups, sometimes I write on my own. Nanowrimo is there to bolster me when I grow tired, to push me to keep on working. I like to use their energy. It is like coasting with full sails with a trade wind toward your goal. It makes those larger projects easier to complete.

To learn more information about Nanowrimo, visit Nanowrimo.org. There is a wealth of information about the program on the website. It is free to join and the writing information is available year round. If writing in November is not good timing for you, there are other months set aside with a similar format where you can gain a helpful push for your word count. The important thing is to write. Sit in your chair, use your writing machine of choice, and get the words flowing.

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