What year(s) did you participate in NaNoWriMo?
Tell us if you won or not, and what you learned from the experience
For the last 6 years I have run a class at the UCLA Extension called Write a Novel in a Month as Part of National Novel Writing Month. To date I’ve had some 200 participants and 84% of them have completed the draft of the novel. By way of comparison, the international completion rate for all the time NaNoWriMo has been in operation is around 16%, so we have done quite well.
The class is 8 weeks long. The first two weeks are preparatory, introducing the NaNoWriMo challenge and developing strategies for writing. The next 5 classes (for the month of November) are “writeshops” where the participants spend the whole 3 hours writing. To anyone who needs or wants it, I offer writing prompts and exercises to generate word count. The final class talks about next steps, revision, agents, publication, and then we have a reading where class members can present a few pages from their just completed drafts of their novels.
What specific advice do you have for someone attempting NaNoWriMo?
Here are three tips for success:
First, find 2 hours a day and commit to writing in those 2 hours for the entire month of November. I’ll bet if you cut out your emailing and postings on Twitter and Facebook, the 2 hours will be immediately available.
Second, tell everyone you know you’re participating in the challenge. Tell old girlfriends or boyfriends that by the end of the month, you’re going to be novelist. Shame is a powerful motivator should you fail. But the possibility of success is equally powerful. Knowing that you’ve told all these people will drive you to succeed.
Last, tape over your backspace key. I mean this literally. Don’t go back, don’t erase, don’t correct, don’t revise — keep writing. There’s no judgment as a result. My students have reported a feeling of complete liberation to write without worrying whether or not the material is “good” or “bad.”
In your opinion who do you think is a good fit to do the challenge and who is is *not* for.
If you have preconceived notions of writing, if you’re very hard on yourself, you’ll have a difficult time with the challenge. But if you can abandon the idea of good and bad writing and just get the word count, if you can spend an entire month accumulating words without judging them, then you’ll succeed.
Sometimes in the classes I’ve found that the writers with the least experience do better than the ones with the most simply because the new writers haven’t fallen into any habits of writing. But anyone can do this whether you’re a working writer, a novelist with many books or someone who has never written anything; I’ve had all of those types in my class and they’ve all succeeded.
Ian Randall Wilson is author of two short story collections (Hunger and Other Stories; Absolute Knowledge: Stories) and the novella, Great Things Are Coming. He also has published a science fiction ebook story called, Sons of Adam. He has been on the fiction faculty at ULCA Extension for a dozen years now. He is also an executive at a major motion picture studio.