Tuesday, October 14, 2008


When I was in middle school and high school, I used to do a lot of creative writing. At the time, I stuck to shorter pieces, like short stories, novellas, song lyrics, etc. I even placed in a couple of statewide writing competitions with a pair of short stories. I've always had a "thing" for writing and have dabbled with it off and on in the past ten years.

Well, this year I'm taking the plunge: I've decided to enter the National Novel Writing Month event (NaNoWriMo).

And... I'm sure many of you have never heard of it. From their "What is...?" page:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

That's 50,000 words in 30 days, or about 1,666 words a day. That's a lot of output. But hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Even if you don't actually finish, by the time the clock strikes midnight on Nov. 30th you need to have 50,000 words in the bag. :)

Apparently, the event has been going on for ten years. However, I was just introduced to it by my sister last week. I already had the novel in the planning for a couple weeks prior to that, but this has given me new incentive and enthusiasm to finish it.

What's cool about NaNoWriMo is that it's not a contest, per se. You don't win anything if you're the first or second author to spew out 50,000 words. What you do get is a sense of accomplishment. That's a whole lot of story and words to conjure up from your imagination in the space of a month. If you manage to crank that out in 30 days, you deserve a pat on your back.

Subject Matter: They're very free-form about the subject matter overall. It can be any genre and be about anything. You can write an original piece, a sequel to an existing novel by another author, or even a fan-fiction based off of your favorite TV show. Anything goes. As the FAQ says, "If you think it's a novel, we think it's a novel too."

Pre-planning: The rules do not prevent you from getting yourself organized before Nov. 1st. That's a big advantage that keeps you from diving into it cold turkey. And I'm grateful for that. In the past week, I've already got all 29 chapters fully blocked out and outlined. The story has a definitive beginning, middle, and end, with several arcs. My characters have become real people already, with full biographies and character trait studies. I've also researched the heck out of my setting.

I won't say much about my story at this point, other than it's an alternative history novel set in the early days of World War I in Russia. And, it will have certain steampunk elements; hell, the main setting is an armed airship. So... Russia. War. Steampunk. Airships. Airplanes. Historical Battles. Yeah, very much up my alley. :)

And, no, I'm not looking to have anything published. Sure, it would be nice, but I just want to feel the satisfaction of having put a good story to paper. However, there's a lot of people out there who participated in NaNoWriMo who have gone on to become published authors.

The Tools

If anybody out there is looking to get into writing, there's a lot of helpful books and tools out there. The three I recommend the most are:
  • Keys to Great Writing: Fantastic writing book with an excellent breakdown of all the elements of good storytelling. It features a lot of good exercises that help you get your creative juices flowing.
  • Fiction Writer's Workshop: Another terrific how-to book that's clear and well organized. For instance, if you're struggling with point of view issues, you can just flip to the point of view chapter and refresh yourself.
  • yWriter: An amazing writing program - developed by a successful author - that allows you to fully organize your novel by breaking it down into chapters and scenes. It has a fully realized set of tools for keeping track of your characters, goals, conflicts, items and locations, amongst other things. And... it's free!

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