Every November, wordsmiths around the globe take on the ultimate writing challenge—to crank out a 50,000-word novel in just thirty days. The event is called NaNoWriMo (an acronym for National Novel Writing Month), and last year it drew 431,626 participants. Although the format is meant to encourage quick, seat-of-your-pants writing, the words writers churn out during the annual event aren’t necessarily for naught. So far, over 250 NaNoWriMo novels, including Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, have been published by traditional book publishers.
It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this!
Are you planning to write a novel in November? Although NaNoWriMo challenges writers to write hard and fast without stopping to edit or check grammar, that doesn’t mean you have to set out unprepared. The Grammarly team thought it would be fun to arm you with some writing tips and words of encouragement so you’ll be well prepared for your adventure. During the month of October, we’ll share a series of writing advice articles to get you geared up and ready to tell your tale.
NaNoWriMo Prep: Week 1
How do you get ideas for a story? Cultivate curiosity!
It’s possible that you’re thinking about writing a novel in November and you still haven’t decided what to write about. Now is the perfect time to start planting the seeds of ideas and seeing what will take root. But how do you find those idea seeds? By cultivating curiosity.
Every child’s curiosity has gotten her into trouble at one point or another. It starts by thinking: what would happen if I did X? What would happen if I touched that hot stovetop? What would happen if I set my goldfish free? What would happen if I jumped from the top of the stairs? Would I fly? Fortunately, with age comes common sense—we stop burning our fingers, sending our goldfish to the sewers, and fracturing our tibias trying to feed our curiosity. Unfortunately, those painful lessons—not to mention nagging parents and teachers—cause us not only to stop trying to answer silly questions but to stop asking them in the first place.
This month, start asking silly questions again. (Don’t jump! Answer that “would I fly” question in writing, please.) No one writes well in a vacuum, so challenge yourself to get out and observe humans in their natural (and unnatural) habitats. Go to a park, a concert, a political rally, anywhere you can people-watch, and then start asking questions. That sad-looking man in a business suit sitting on the park bench with a newspaper in one hand and a brown paper bag in the other—what’s his story? Why does he look so sad? Has he suffered a loss? What kind of loss? Was it his job? His wife? Millions of dollars in the stock market? What’s in the brown paper bag? Is it something that will complicate things for him? What would happen if he slept on the park bench tonight?
While you’re out on your field trip, carry a small notebook so you can write down what you observe and ask all the silly questions you want. Note the sounds you hear, the smells, the sights. But most of all, notice people and start asking yourself what their stories might be and what would happen if . . . You don’t have to have real answers—create them!
Be “curioser and curioser.”
“Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English). ―Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Now that you’ve got notes, it’s time to think about whose story you might want to tell. While you were out, which people intrigued you and made you ask the most questions? Make up names for them. Make up pasts. Make up character profiles (here’s a fun worksheet) about their likes and dislikes, their bad habits, and their biggest flaws—the things that will really get them into trouble. All fiction evolves from getting characters into trouble and then testing those characters as they work their way through it to come out on the other side a changed person. (More on this in a future article.)
Does one of the characters you invented stand out and make you eager to learn more? Does one of them keep popping up in your daydreams or keep you lying awake long after you should be asleep? That’s the one you want to write 50,000 words about come November. Let him or her rattle around in your head for a while and become real.