First, in case you've been living under a rock (or you're someone who follows, or is visiting this blog, not because you want to mine it for amazing little golden wisdom and insight nuggets about writing, but because you know ME personally):
NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It's a bit of a misnomer, but InNoWriMo (International Novel Writing Month) and GloNoWriMo (Global Novel Writing Month) don't roll off the tongue as nicely... scratch that, GloNoWriMo is still kind of awesome! It takes place in the month of November every year and the goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days, or ~1,667 words/~6.67 manuscript pages a day.
You don't have to be some sort of mythical "writer" beast to be able to participate. Writing isn't magical. Stories don't burst forth from our heads fully formed and flapping their leathery wings. Writing is work. It starts with a cool idea, or a character, or a setting, or even as little as a really awesome one-liner. From there it's a building process, one keystroke at a time.
This is my 4th year participating, and I've reached the 50,000 word goal every year. It takes me anywhere from an hour and a bit to three hours to write 1,667 words, mostly because I have a hard time shutting my internal editor out entirely.
I've had varied reactions to doing NaNo this year. Writer folks have all cheered me on and talked about doing it themselves (which is cool), or why they're not doing it (which is also cool). Non-Writer folks have been split. Those who don't know me as well as they should simply ask "why?", especially when they see my recent announcement. Those who know me well know that I LOVE the challenge and dabbling in the community that shared pressure and experience brings.
NaNoWriMo isn't about writing the next Harry Potter. It's about building good habits and reaching the stunning realization that YES, you can write a novel. 50,000 words is a big number. And NaNo is all about showing that it is possible to write that many words in a reasonable amount of time. It's a few hours a day, tops, for a month.
And if you don't reach 50,000 words? Big deal! The real key, the point behind this whole exercise, is to form good writing habits. Sit your ass down in front of a keyboard, find your head-space, shut down Twitter and Facebook, close your web browser, and write. If you can do that consistently for 30 days then word count be damned, you win!
A few caveats for you, my fellow writers:
Crossing that 50,000 word finish line on, or before, or even after the 30th feels fantastic. It's a rush! But even if you've written "The End" you are not done your novel. DO NOT QUERY! DO NOT SELF-PUBLISH! That way lies ruination and heartache!
You see, 50,000 words used to be a novel. These days it's a Novella, with the actual word count of a novel falling somewhere between 60,000 words (literary works, cozy mysteries, contemporary YA, romance, etc.) to 110,000 words, which is roughly the maximum you can get away with for a debut Epic Fantasy or Science Fiction novel.
For the sake of argument, let's say you've typed "The End", be it at the close of your 50,000 word Novella, or your 110,000 word Epic Fantasy. BOOM! That's awesome. Now, before you send it off:
Step away from the keyboard!
Go get a drink, or take your family/friends/self out for dinner. You deserve it! You wrote a NOVEL(LA)!!!! Don't worry, I'll be here when you get back.
Back? Fantastic! Now that you've had time to blow off some of the endorphins that had you rocketing to the moon it's time to get real. What you have on your hands is (almost definitely) not ready to go out. It needs a good revision or two (or 5) to whip it into that sort of shape.
Provided your dinner break earlier wasn't on the scale of days or weeks, you're likely going to need some distance to do it right. Not every writer does, but most of us need to get away from a story and come back to it as a bit of a stranger to be able to sort the gold from the muck. Go work on a different story, or write vignettes, or character studies. Whatever you do though:
I'll see you later, I have to go register GloNoWriMo.org and get some words written.