A book in 30 days?

Tomorrow, writers all over the globe will commence the annual NaNoWriMo challenge to write 50,000 words in just 30 days.

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, takes place every year throughout the month of November and sees writers attempt the daily goal of writing 1,667 words of their novels.  For those of you shuddering at the memories of your dreaded school days, yes, that’s a little over a standard English essay every single day for one whole month.

“There’s a website for it and you log your daily word count and stuff, to monitor your progress,” explains writer Orla Butler.  

Orla is participating in the NaNoWriMo for the second time this year, having successfully written 50,000 words during her first NaNo attempt in 2019.

“There are also different Facebook groups and Discord servers where you can talk to people and get a bit of motivation there because you know that other people are trying to hit the same goal as you.”

NaNoWriMo is one of the few major events which will not only survive 2020, but is expected to thrive.  Like cockroaches in the apocalypse, NaNo will scuttle over the corpses of the Olympics, the Eurovision and Wimbledon, and into 2021 without injury.

We’re now ten days into Lockdown 2.0 and the remainder of level 5 will coincide perfectly with the 30-day creative challenge.

A number of NaNo novels have even made it onto the bookshop shelves, including Sara Gruen’s Water For Elephants, Hugh Howey’s Wool and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.  However, NaNo advocates and participants encourage everyone to take part in this challenge, even if there is no intention to publish or forge a career as an author.

Kristina Horner, a writer, YouTuber and podcaster, insists that NaNoWriMo isn’t about expertise.  “I’m not an artist but I doodled in all the margins of my notebooks at school.  I’m not a fashionista but I wear clothes.  I’m not a chef but I cook myself food.  You have ideas in your head regardless of whether or not you consider yourself to be a writer.  Those ideas deserve to be written down, even if you’re the only person who will ever read them.”

Kristina succinctly captures the idea that NaNoWriMo is not a time for perfection; it’s a time for progress.  

One might assume that this is an event which takes place exclusively in isolation.  One would be mistaken.

Although the actual writing takes place on an individual basis (which makes it a very fitting challenge for 2020), the social aspect of NaNoWriMo is significant.

Writers all around the world take to the internet to cheer each other on across many platforms, from the NaNoWriMo website to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

“There was an Irish Discord server the first year I did [NaNoWriMo] and on Sundays they would do ‘word sprints’,” Orla tells me.  “So somebody would set off a timer and you had to write as many words as you could in ten minutes and it was like a leaderboard kinda thing to see who could get the most words in.  So it was kinda like a game and the community behind it was really interesting.”

According to the NaNoWriMo website, those who use the writing buddy feature on the site are three times more likely to meet their NaNoWriMo goals as those who go at it alone, so the community aspect is hugely important.

In pre-Covid times, there were even physical ‘write-in’ events to bring NaNo offline.  The former Accents café and Starbucks in Stephen’s Green have both been host to NaNoWriMo events where writers from all over Dublin (and further afield) would come, drink coffee, work on their novels and network with other writers who were undertaking the same lofty 50,000 word goal. 

This is the only element of NaNoWriMo that has been taken down by Covid, but fear not: these same write-ins will take place from the comfort of our own homes, with participants meeting in the virtual realm.  Discord to the rescue!  (And no charge on coffee refills.)

To join in, go to NaNoWriMo.org > community > home region > events and click your link of choice!  

If Discord isn’t your thing, you can also follow @NaNoWriMo and @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter to join in on word sprints, which Orla mentioned earlier.

Author and YouTuber John Green astutely says that, “NaNoWriMo forces you to be disciplined and it gives you permission to suck, which are two of the things you most need if you’re going to be a novelist.  The other thing you need is an adequate supply of snacks.”  Green brings us right back to those free coffee refills. 

This year, NaNoWriMo joins the isolation birthday club and turns 21 during this level 5 lockdown, but the celebrations will last all month and all over the internet.  Writing might not be everyone’s slice of cake, but what better time for a month-long distraction?

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