by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
Have you ever participated in National Novel Writing Month? A friend and I took part for the first time last year, and this year we recruited two more. I learned a lot from the first go-round. This time, I hope to approach the challenge with more wisdom and strategy – and that includes looking for help.
Maybe you don’t know what I’m talking about. National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, happens every November. You can read about its history and purpose at www.nanowrimo.org. Essentially, the goal is for an individual to complete a 50,000-word novel (about the length of The Great Gatsby ) during the month of November – for no other reason than personal fulfillment. And if the nickname “NaNoWriMo” weren’t so catchy, they might rename it International Novel Writing Month: in 2017, there were “468,104 participants on six continents”! 
That’s great news for first-time Wrimos (yeah, that’s what we’re called) and veterans alike. The NaNoWriMo community connects through message boards on the organization’s website, as well as through social media and in-person meet-ups. By fostering camaraderie, inspiration, and accountability, these groups provide support for novelists during the 30-day challenge.
But sometimes even the most accomplished writer needs concrete resources to fall back on. During NaNoWriMo, flagging creativity is especially bad news. So bookmark this post, fellow Wrimos, for I’ve done my best to scrounge up some fun resources and practical ideas that are guaranteed* to help you reach that 50,000 word goal.
1) Don’t feel excluded if you don’t have Microsoft Word. Plenty of word processors do the job for free, such as OpenOffice and LibreOffice. Apple’s free offering is called Pages. Windows users may also like Atomic Scribbler; it’s designed with novelists in mind.
2) All writers have a preferred writing “soundtrack,” be it absolute silence, a curated playlist, the sounds of nature, or the bustle of a coffee shop. If the latter applies to you, but you’re not willing to increase your latte budget, try an app like Coffitivity. It “recreates the ambient sounds of a cafe to boost your creativity and help you work better.” 
3) Keep track of those great ideas that strike at inconvenient moments. Carry a notebook that fits in your pocket or purse, or use the built-in note and voice memo apps on your phone. For more in-depth note taking, Wrimos often suggest Evernote and OneNote. Both let users keep track of ideas in many forms – text, audio, photos, drawings, etc. – and access them on other devices.
4) With only a month to write, web-based app Sprinter helps make the most of your limited time. With distraction-free design, it gives you “a 15-minute goal which is meant to get [you] quickly started and stay engaged despite being surrounded by the Internet.”  You can also adjust the length of the timer. For Wrimos without the luxury of large chunks of free time (hello, parents of young children!), fifteen minutes of focused writing could make all the difference.
5) Glean wisdom from those who have already been where you want to go. The NaNoWriMo forums feature tons of practical tips on technology, time management, technique, and more, all from Wrimos who know what you’re going through.
6) Yes, research is important; but to “win” NaNoWriMo, you can’t obsess over details. November’s not for editing! Using symbols and keywords in your draft, such as “[[RESEARCH]],” so you can easily find them during revision. Keep a separate notebook or file of things you need to research, too.
Bookmark sites like Refdesk.com (“Fact Checker for the Internet”), WritetoDone (“Unmissable Articles on Writing”), and OEDb’s 150 Writing Resources (“…to help you write better, faster, and more persuasively”). Come back to them after the rush of November is over.
7) Almost everyone writes on a computer or tablet these days. Tablets in particular have gotten less expensive, and computers are pretty readily available. (The Franklin branch of the WCPL system even has new laptops for patrons to use while in the library.) With internet access, writers can quickly access a wealth of information to make their stories more authentic. But all that connectivity comes at a high cost: distraction. (“Wikipedia wormholes” are a real thing, y’all.)
Sure, you could switch to pen and paper. Lots of Wrimos do, and they love the experience. I myself have opted for an outmoded piece of tech: the AlphaSmart 3000. I love its full-size keyboard, Y2K-era translucent plastic styling, long battery life, and USB connectivity. “That would make me crazy,” said one friend when I showed off my acquisition. And yeah, maybe I’ll get some odd looks when I schlep it to the pub for a writing session. But, for me, it’s a happy medium between writing by hand and typing on a laptop.
If you’re not willing to go to such anachronistic lengths to avoid temptation, though, there are computer-friendly options designed to minimize distraction. My favorite is Calmly Writer Online. Put it in full-screen mode, and you’ve got a blank page with a nice typeface and bookish margins. (You can access the menu by clicking on a subtle lotus icon.) It instantly soothes and sharpens focus.
8) And don’t forget your local library! Whether you need to brush up on your “elements of style,” learn more about writing within your genre of choice, or find a mentor in legends like Ursula K. Le Guin (Steering the Craft) or Steven King (On Writing : a memoir of the craft), if you browse the 800s in Non-Fiction, you won’t leave empty-handed.
What are your favorite writing resources? Share them in the comments below. Then read some fun NaNoWriMo facts from our 2015 post, and go deep into the writing process – from gathering inspiration, to free self-publishing resources the library provides – from my previous NaNoWriMo post. Good luck, Wrimos!
* Guarantee not guaranteed by this blogger, the WCPL, or anyone else for that matter. In fact, we’ll be proud of you whether you finish or not.
By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
NaNoWriMo: a silly word with quite an impact. It’s short for National Novel Writing Month. That’s exactly what it sounds like: on November 1, thousands of writers across the globe – representing all skill levels and genres – embark upon the task of writing a 50,000-word novel by the end of the month. It’s a worldwide network of strangers working towards a common, yet deeply individual, goal.
Maybe that idea stirs the coals of a latent creative passion in your soul. Perhaps November isn’t the month for you to start, but you’d like to know what writing resources are available. Whatever your situation, your library can help you achieve your writing goals.
First, a few words on National Novel Writing Month. 2017 marks the 18th year of this “fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.” Their mission statement says, “National Novel Writing Month believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.” A little accountability goes a long way when it comes to starting, and completing, your novel. It can be as private a process as you like, but knowing that you have a daily word count to achieve might be just the impetus you need. Learn more, and sign up, at www.nanowrimo.org.
Before You Start
Writers are avid readers. So read! Read everything you can by your favorite authors. Figure out why you find them so irresistible. Is it the setting, the characters, the humor, the dialogue? Is it the fantastical atmosphere, the well-researched facts, the philosophizing?
Go deep, and branch out. Ask teachers, friends, and librarians which authors they enjoy, and why. Do Google searches for “books like [insert your favorite here].” Check out genre collections on Goodreads.com. Scour lists of literary prizewinners, and bestsellers. Spend an afternoon at your library, and pick something intriguing that’s outside of your preferred genre.
There’s a world of great writing out there, but don’t let the options overwhelm you. Above all, read for curiosity’s sake and for pleasure. In doing so, you will internalize the subtleties that distinguish compelling writing from something you don’t aspire to.
Resources for Writers
Once you have a sense of the writer you’d like to be, where do you start? Again, the library is your great friend here. Below, I’ll list of some of the books we have on our shelves, dealing with the art and craft of writing. They cover everything from the finer points of vocabulary and grammar, to genre writing specifics, to publishing tips, to the collected wisdom of respected writers – and everything in between!
Explore these vast offerings for yourself by visiting the non-fiction department, and browsing the shelves starting at call number 808. You’ll find valuable advice, no matter your objective.
Helpful Library Books
- Baty, Chris (founder of NaNoWriMo). No Plot? No Problem!: a low-stress, high-velocity guide to writing a novel in 30 days.
- Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
- Card, Orson Scott. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.
- Clark, Roy Peter. Help! For Writers: 210 solutions to the problems every writer faces.
- Cohen, Kerry. The Truth of Memoir: how to write about yourself and others with honesty, emotion, and integrity.
- Edwards, Jane. Travel Writing in Fiction and Fact.
- Field, Syd. Screenplay: the foundations of screenwriting.
- Gioia, Diana, and R. S. Gwynn, editors. The Art of the Short Story: 52 great authors, their best short fiction, and their insights on writing.
- Gutkind, Lee. The Art of Creative Nonfiction: writing and selling the literature of reality.
- Hanley, Victoria. Wild Ink: how to write fiction for young adults.
- Johnson, Charles. The Way of the Writer: reflections on the art and craft of storytelling.
- King, Stephen. On Writing: a memoir of the craft.
- Lerner, Betsy. The Forest for the Trees: an editor’s advice to writers.
- Percy, Benjamin. Thrill Me: essays on fiction.
(With thanks to my writer friend, Joshua Cook. His top recommendations are underlined.)
Starting to Write
Do you feel equipped to start writing yet? Great! What are you going to write about? Your personal observations and experiences are all you need to get started. Inspiration for all styles of writing will crop up in the most ordinary or unexpected places. For example, writersdigest.com says George Orwell “watched as a young boy steered a massive cart horse along a narrow path, and … was struck by an unusual thought: What if animals realized their own strength?” That idle thought grew into his novel, Animal Farm.
Creative inspiration works in surprising ways. Be open to new ways of viewing your daily life.
Start writing, keep writing, and don’t give up. Some days might feel like a slog: as the saying goes, “Crawl, but don’t quit.” It’s easier to maintain momentum than to keep stopping and restarting!
Everyone can benefit from an outside opinion. Check in with a loved one every now and then to see if what you’re writing is coherent and relatable.
Find a friend who enjoys proofreading and editing, and see if they can help you towards the finish line. (Note: proofreading and editing are essential services. Be prepared to offer some kind of compensation, even if your friend is not a professional.)
Eventually, you’ll have a finished work you’re happy with. Now to decide what to do with it! If you want to self-publish, the library is once again at your service.
On Williamson County Public Library’s homepage, under eLibrary, there’s a link called “SELF-e for Authors.” SELF-e, provided by Library Journal, “is a discovery platform designed to expose your ebook(s) to more readers via public libraries locally and nationwide.” Find out more at http://self-e.libraryjournal.com/author-faqs/.
You’ll also find “Pressbooks Self-Publishing” under eLibrary. It’s a great formatting tool to get your book ready for digital and physical publishing. Both of these services are available to you, free, with your WCPL library card number.
We hope you feel empowered to start writing, knowing that your library is here to help you along the way! Enjoy NaNoWriMo. Maybe we’ll see your finished work in our collection someday soon.
- National Novel Writing Month, www.nanowrimo.org
- George Orwell anecdote, www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/the-ideas-that-inspired-the-hobbit-animal-farm-8-other-famous-books
- Williamson County Public Library eLibrary page, http://lib.williamson-tn.org/e_library