If you always wanted to write a novel but never quite found the time (aka motivation), you could do a lot worse than join the annual national novel writing competition at NaNoWriMo.
NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month - founded ten years ago by Chris Baty, is described as a seat of the pants approach to novel writing.
Here's the rather Faustian deal: you agree to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your writing chair for one month and turn out 50,000 words of prose towards a first draft novel. in return you get to eat junk food and be excused from the tasks mere mortals have to contend with each day such as hoovering, tidying and taking out the rubbish (ok, so I wouldn't actually condone the last one).
There are no real winners or losers here; you either finish or you don't and it's perhaps testimony to the real hard graft of the thing when you consider that there is a huge drop out rate each year. In the bigger scheme of novel writing one month doesn't seem that big a deal but as soon as you start out you realise that this is much more of a marathon than a sprint. 50,000 words in one month equates to more than 1000 words a day (okay, so I'm also a maths genius) and for me, that's a tall order. On my very best days I can just about manage 1500, but the thing to remember is that this is a cumulative thing; rather like counting calories, it's the number you arrive at at the end as opposed to the daily totals that count.
Whilst 50,000 words (basically a novella) is probably not going to gain you much truck in the publishing world (unless you're Ian McEwan) it's a great start to a longer work and a fantastic kick up the bum to getting your novel actually written.
Although it's described as a contest there are no real prizes (what did you expect: a medal?) If you do get to your 50,000 word total by the deadline of 30 November each year, however, you get a rather splendid certificate of achievement and a virtual badge of honour plus the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing you actually did it. And if you're serious about being a writer this is the only sort of reward you should be realistically aiming for at the beginning, anyway!
Word totals are verified by automated bots following submission after which time you also get the opportunity to upload your work to the site for feedback and comment from other readers, although I would say be realistic about how good the quality is going to be after a month and don't unknowingly put yourself out there for a public flogging too soon.
To date there are over 71,000 winners of NaNoWriMo, testament to its huge success. Last year alone 1,643,343,993 words were written by its participants. It also receives funding from quite a few relevant American sponsors including Writers Digest and Create Space who, along with the other supporters, offer considerable discounts off their products for NaNoWriMo participants.
Sign up anytime you want. The start date for this and every year's competition is November 1 and the deadline is midnight November 30.
No Plot No Problem, the companion book to the competition, written by its founder, is also available to buy, and whilst it probably won't teach you much about the actual craft of writing is a fun motivational aid to the process and a good read.
In addition the NaNoWriMo site is full of great stuff to keep you informed, including a members' forum area plus articles and interviews on writing, including how to take your novel to the next stage.
So get your pencils sharpened, your cupboard stocked with Pot Noodle, and get ready to write...
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