A Recap of National Novel Writing Month - Week 1

By: Erin Aulfinger

October 31, 2015 (0 words written)

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, or NaNo) only comes once a year—if you don’t count Camp NaNo. During the month of November authors all over the world (be they aspiring or published) sit down to pen 50,000 words. If someone wants to reach this goal, they must write an average of 1,333 words per day. Progress can be tracked on nanowrimo.org, the official homepage of the event.

Everyone approaches NaNo differently. For seasoned Wrimos (the official term for a participant), there are specific rules. You must begin a new project, for which you have written nothing other than plots and character charts; using a pre-existing work would be wrong.

Others, often too busy to start anew, pick up something they’d already been working on and push to complete it. I did this last year, but ended up scrapping it and am now beginning a brand new one.

One user has told me they plan on writing two different novels at 50,000 words apiece…at the same time. Others on the “Memphis Wrimos” Facebook group that I’m a part of, planned a “write-in.”   

Write-ins are an integral part of NaNo. If you’ve entered your region, the website will automatically put you in a relevant forum. Regions are run by “municipal liaisons,” or MLs. For Memphis, these MLs are HuskersGirlLaura (HGL) and kitkatt. These two women plan write-ins to take the lonely out of writing. Many take place late at night, but there are “Songbirds” sessions as well, a term meant to compliment “night owl.”   For those who can’t make it to reality’s write-ins, the organization holds virtual versions through YouTube live streaming, and users can create individual ones, as well. The website does its best to make writing a social phenomenon, from these write-ins to forums.

The forums provide users with everything from a place to chat, to help with writer’s block. My favorite forum has been “Appellation Station,” a section devoted to the naming of characters, settings, and books. I used it to name three characters in my novel, yielding such names as Brinn MacArthur, Emerson Bauer, and Molly Frederickson. Some threads are meant to help you understand how a name can be pronounced, or to critique the suggestions of other Wrimos.   

Overall, NaNo is a chance to jumpstart your writing career by getting in the habit of writing on a regular basis and possibly even landing you with a full-length novel at the end of the month. It may seem complicated, but it is a very simple process, especially if you don’t limit yourself.    


November 1, 2015 (747 words written)

When it comes to writing a novel, you often become intimidated. Even though I’ve got my entire plot decided, I still had trouble deciding other things. What was my first line going to be? What about point of view?   

The great thing about NaNo is you can change things up. You can write two different opening paragraphs to choose between later, and since it’s all part of your novel, it goes toward your word count.   

I often find that the best place to start is dialogue. It’s the best way to add backstory, or exposition, and develop my brand new characters. It also makes the document look longer than it is, since every new line of speech must be on a new line of text.   

The official organization also sends out “NaNoMail” regularly, with important information about upcoming events and pep talks from authors.   

One thing I’ve learned this year is who exactly is behind NaNoWriMo. The mysterious “organization” I’ve mentioned so many times up until now is The Office of Letters and Light. Although there is no website for them, they do have a very cute video about the important things they do to increase the world’s interest in creative writing.

   

As a Creative Writing Major, this is pretty important to me. Sometimes you need a little spark of inspiration to get the words flowing, and NaNo helps me do that. When else can I push myself to actually get a novel written?   

This year, I also discovered the NaNoWriMo YouTube Channel, found here. During November, as well as the months of Camp NaNo, they publish videos made by other writers on the platform. Today I watched one by a group of young adult writers named The WordNerds called “The Five Firsts of NaNoWriMo.” Videos like this can help struggling authors to realize that the struggles they face are shared by almost every other Wrimo out there, and even by published authors. 

November 2, 2015 (1,543 words written)

Even when it seems that inspiration isn’t flowing, I often find that looking at the works of others can help me continue writing. Today, for example, I’ve been reading a short story by one of my favorite writers. Author What You See in the Shadows writes fan fiction based on the CW’s show Supernatural, and recently posted the story “Until It Rests In Peace.” Being able to read someone else’s plot ideas and how they’ve created a solid story (in this case, one which won third place in a competition).   

One thing I’ve learned is to incorporate many senses into my writing. Most of the time, I’m tempted to write purely in visual and auditory terms. To break out of this, I may try to write from the point of view of a character with either no access or extreme access to those channels. One of the characters in my book is deaf, while the other can hear the voices of ghosts.   

Another young author who has done something similar is Hannah Sincavage. In her work “Book Covers,” her female protagonist is blind, causing her to experience the world through a beautiful mix of emotion, sound, and touch.   

If it seems that there’s nothing to nix your writer’s block, you may need to change up your routine. I often like to find a prompt generator online, such as the ones found at Writing Exercises. Sincavage uses research to fuel her stories.   

No matter how authors get the creative juices flowing, what matters is that they do: especially when you’ve got a 50,000 word novel to write! 

November 3, 2015 (3,093 words written)

Today, I remembered that there’s something called a “communal character.” This is someone a region creates who an author can use in their novel. It’s a list of traits, some vague, others extremely specific, which compile a single person.   

When using a communal character, you don’t have to implement every trait. Usually the first one is about their name. Others dictate relationship with the protagonist, and still more are about habits. This year’s communal character for the Memphis area can have the following traits:   

  • Their name must start with the little (sic) R. 
  • They like their tea and coffee black and strong. 
  • They're in love with the protagonist, who does not reciprocate. 
  • They will only stir things counter clockwise (Food, beverages, paint, etc.) 
  • They have an accent or manner of speaking that is not common to where the story takes place. 
  • They like to wear long flowing skirts and tuxedos. 
  • They carry a pocketful (or purse full) of change that jingles and tinkles as they walk 
  • If you were to walk into their home you will notice a vast collection of Buddha statues. 
  • He/she is not affiliated with Buddhism. 
  • He/she just likes "the jolly look" and it "makes him/her happy". 
  • They are middle aged or older 
  •  They play the piccolo 
  • They are a Pisces and very aggressive about it ("Pisces Power!") 
  • They have a tattoo. And a different explanation for it depending on who asks. 
  • They can see, and tend to hold conversations with, the invisible friends that others had in their childhood, even though those adults likely do not see them any longer. 
  • They are nonbinary or agender.  
  • Xe uses xe/xir pronouns. (Xe owns a book that xe bought xirself. That book belongs to xir. That is xir book. That book is xirs.) Xe always carries around the same worn, faded book. The contents and title of the book are never revealed.   

I always forget that there’s a communal character, so I often use these to modify an existing one. This year, I have Reagan, who is roughly seventy years old and runs a ghost tour company. She definitely fits into two of the traits already, so it’s easy to toss in a little about how she wears “long flowing skirts” and “carries around the same worn, faded book” all the time.   

Communal characters are a chance to incorporate something new or different into your book. Not everyone would immediately use an agenda character in their novel, or be so specific about the way they stir their drinks. Deciding to use such things can help you utilize other senses, make more detailed scenes, and fabricate more interesting people. 

November 4, 2015 (4,658 words written)

Ideas seem to come to me at the oddest of times. Last night in the shower, I had an epiphany about one of my characters. This morning, I penned a scene designed to showcase the protagonist’s talent. These kinds of moments may not have been a part of my original plot, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be included.   

A plot outline is often a key part of writing. However, the important thing to remember about them is they are more optional than not. If you think about a “plot” in terms of math, it’s the plane a set of numbers is on. How you get from one ordered pair to the next, and how accurate the actual numbers are compared to the estimated, depends on what formula you use.   

For example, I ultimately am going to have a character fall into a coma (evil, I know). This is something I want to happen at the end of my first or second chapter, or even in the beginning of the third. My path to the coma may be completely different from what I initially imagined.   

Starting out, my protagonist was supposed to be a waitress at a diner. Now that I’ve actually written about her, she is a guide for a local tourist attraction. Other things about her have changed, as well, such as her age.   

Plots give your work direction, but nothing can be better than what feels right to you in the moment. Trust your gut: if you want to add in a little moment with a random person on the streets, a flashback, or just want to have fun writing something silly, do it! 

November 5, 2015 (5,652 words written)

Sometimes, there are days when you write less. Those days can feel unproductive, especially if you’ve been averaging over 1,000 words a day and suddenly can only eek out 300. However, you can funnel your creative energy into something else when typing fails you.   

Today, I worked on a Secret Santa gift for a friend. The plans for it had been invading my mind for a good week, so I decided to get to work on it—and finished within a couple of hours. If you’d rather not focus on other creative endeavors, maybe studying for an important test is a better option, or even cleaning up your house.   

Some people end up not writing for a couple days because they’re finding tinder for their work. This could be interviews, research, or even just exploring the internet for cool ideas. While these may not contribute to your actual word count, they can help you reach your goal in good time. Having an idea of where your story is going makes it easier to write. 

November 6, 2015 (7,086 words written)

Let’s be honest: some days we feel entitled to just not write. For me, today is one of those days.    

My birthday is supposed to be spent hanging out with friends and family, celebrating another year. I shouldn’t be holed up in my room madly typing away on my laptop. So instead, I’m carrying it around everywhere so I can write anywhere.   

Doing this if you have the ability is a good idea: inspiration can strike at the oddest moments. Whether you have your actual document, a phone app with a collection of ideas, or even a physical journal you record in, it’s a good place to gather anything from a new scene to a span of dialogue.


Erin Aulfinger is a Freshman studying Creative Writing at Christian Brothers University and a staff writer at the Galleon. 
Posted by Josh Colfer at 11:37 AM

The Galleon is curated and managed by Christian Brothers University, a Memphis-based university founded in the Lasallian tradition (a sect within the Catholic faith). Part of our founding mission is to uphold respect for all persons-regardless of political, religious, or social beliefs. As an institution, we take no stand on political matters; to do so would undermine our commitment to intellectual inquiry and thoughtful response to events taking place in our World by members of the CBU community.

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