Literary success is about so much more than talent and a dash of luck. An author needs discipline, motivation and the ability to maintain momentum. But writerly stamina can take a long time to develop. If only there was a way to expedite the process. That’s where National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo – a ‘fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing’ – comes in.
From 1 November, thousands of participants from across the globe began to pen the first draft of their novels on the www.nanowrimo.org website. Anyone can take part in this literary journey, from nervous novices to worldly wordsmiths. The site also acts as a wonderful resource, offering articles on writer’s block for example, as well as information on local writing groups participating in the programme.
Members, or WriMos as they’re also known, work towards the goal of writing 50,000 words by 11.59pm on 30 November. Despite the awkward nickname, NaNoWriMo is creative writing on a large scale. In 2013 there were more than 310, 000 participants in 595 regions on six continents. The fact that it’s in its 16th year is proof of the project’s immense popularity.
‘NaNoWriMo is an unbeatable way to write the first draft of a novel because it’s such a powerful antidote to that horrible foe of creativity: self-doubt,’ says Grant Faulkner, the project’s executive director. Writer’s block is very often brought about by our very own inner-critic. The impending deadline encourages participants to jump over this hurdle.
The novel Water for Elephants, a favourite of Sheila’s, was written by former WriMo Sara Gruen. In 2011, the story was adapted into a major Hollywood motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon and Curtis Brown client Robert Pattinson.
No author is an island and, as such, there are a whole host of established writers-turned-mentors on board to help you keep the momentum going. Each ‘pep talker’ will send encouraging letters to participants’ NaNoMail Inbox every week throughout November. This year some of the coaches include Jim Butcher, Kami Garcia and Chuck Wendig.
There is a long list of contenders who have gone on to have their drafts published as a result of the project. Terri Brown, a former WriMo and pep-talker, found the experience to be of exceptional value. Having enjoyed ‘the concept, the camaraderie and the challenge’, two of her three drafts – Born of Illusion and the Somerset Abbey Series – went on to be published by Balzer & Bray and Gallery Books.
Alex Christofi, literary agent at Conville & Walsh, understands the value of NaNoWriMo but believes that writers need to be realistic. ‘The two most difficult things about writing a novel are having something utterly original and spellbinding to say, and saying it,’ he says. ‘NaNoWriMo is not going to help you with the first, but it may help with the second. It won’t come out perfect first time, but it’s important to force yourself to start, to get words down on a page, to keep hold of whatever momentum you find, and to finish it.’
‘NaNoWriMo turns people who talk about writing into people who actually DO it,’ says Curtis Brown Creative managing director Anna Davis. ‘You’re unlikely to end up with a polished, finished typescript by the end of the month – but you might just have a complete first draft, and that’s a brilliant start. Hopefully you’ll also be feeling more confident and very motivated to go on writing and really hone that novel.’
Like it or not, NaNoWriMo is set to be an international hit this November. Are you brave enough to accept the challenge?
As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our selective three- and six-month novel-writing courses offer dedicated modules on submitting your novel to literary agents – and include sessions on writing a synopsis and preparing a covering letter. Click for more information or to apply for our creative writing courses.