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Writing Tips and Resources for NaNoWriMo

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 [1]) 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”! [2]

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]

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.” [4] 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.


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