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NaNoWriMo for Students

 “Soon!” comes the rallying cry, “Soon it will be time to once more take up all manner of writing materials and make our marks upon the world in the form of words! Soon the month of November will kindle our hearts with her word-sprints and late-night caffeine-infused hysteria. Soon! Soon NaNoWriMo will be amongst us!”

You see the cry spread wide across your social media, ranging from groups you’re a part of on Facebook to emails from the community. On Twitter, authors both amateur and professional rave about the coming month of creative-writing-driven frenzy. You feel inspired by the cry, and despite a look at your school schedule and the piles of assignments and studying November will ultimately bring forth as the term comes to a close and exams approach, you steel yourself. You decide, perhaps rashly, to create your project. You decide you are doing to try and accomplish the task of starting/completing/rewriting that love-child of caffeine and your inner imagination; November, you conceive, will be your month of noveling.

For those unaware of NaNoWriMo, the abbreviated version of the official title National Novel Writing Month, I hope to enlighten you. NaNoWriMo is a web-based event that runs during the month of November. The goal: write 1667 words per day, or approximately 50000 words by the end of the month. All genres are written, and support is easily found in the forums or in online groups.

But just how logical is NaNoWriMo for a full-time university student, especially if you, like me, also work part-time?

The goal of NaNoWriMo isn’t to create a finished product, but rather to get the words from your head into the page (or screen) without filtering your ideas or editing along the way. Despite this relative freedom, I have attempted and subsequently failed every time I’ve tried to complete NaNoWriMo because of school work. This year, I’ve got a few ideas that I hope will help me—and any other student tackling the challenge—stay on track as the month of November goes on.


Write a little each day, even if you don’t reach the daily goal.

My goal this November is to write for at least an hour a day, but I know as well as others that this may not happen for one reason or another. Therefore, while I hope I can follow through with my goal of an hour of writing time, I’m also going to try and push myself to write at least a little every day even if it means I don’t reach my word goal.

In previous NaNoWriMo events, I’ve struggled to get myself to write if I don’t have a lot of time to do so. My excuse always fell along the lines of “writing even a little bit now won’t change my word count that much” or “I can just write it tomorrow, doing it now won’t make a difference.” The problem is, once you start along this train of thoughts it’s easy to fall into a pattern of having them. Soon it would be a week of not writing, and then two, and soon enough it’d be the end of NaNoWriMo and you will have only written a few thousand words if that.

As soon as you get even a little behind, the thought of being able to finish becomes even harder to imagine, and it’s easy to just decide to give up. My hope is that if I force myself to write at least a little every day, I won’t feel that sense of dread and be able to keep my story and energy moving forward even if it’s only a few hundred words at a time. Plus, sometimes all it takes it allowing yourself to write when you felt unmotivated to do so, and suddenly you’ll find yourself more motivated and be able to reach the daily goal!

Plus, it’s a lot easier to find a few minutes to write sometimes when you’re a student than to cut out a full hour block of time. My schedule has at least twice a week when I have about 40 minutes between two of my classes that I would usually use to look at my phone or otherwise not be productive. If I motivate myself to use that otherwise unproductive time to write, I wouldn’t even be cutting into the time I usually use to study. It is finding those times in the day as a student that you usually wouldn’t be doing schoolwork and making that time into writing time instead that will really help us students succeed in NaNoWriMo 2018.


A Kind of Reverse NaNoWriMo

Reverse NaNoWriMo has the exact same goal as NaNoWriMo, except rather than writing 1667 words per day to get to the 50000 word goal, you start with a larger daily goal at the beginning and gradually reduce your daily goal until by the last day you only have to write one word in order to reach the goal. The idea behind it is to write as many words as you can during the first week or two when you have the most motivation and time, so when eventually life, writers-block, or in the case of us students, assignments begin to pile up you don’t have to be as worried about writing a lot of words.

I don’t plan to follow the “official” Reverse NaNoWriMo, mostly because I don’t think I’d be able to write the huge daily goals of the first two weeks. However, I would like to try and increase my daily word counts to something more manageable like 2000+ words if I can. Then I have a bit of wiggle room closer to the end of the month when essays and studying will be taking up most of my time.

When I won Camp NaNoWriMo (run by the same organization as NaNoWriMo except during April and July and with a multitude of goals other than 50000) April 2016 I did follow the concept of Reserve NaNoWriMo despite not knowing what Reverse NaNoWriMo was at the time. Back then, I wrote almost 13000 of my 65000-word goal during the first weekend of the month, and therefore when the month got busier later on with school work I wasn’t as stressed. I see no reason why applying the principle of Reverse NaNoWriMo to a students writing schedule could do anything but help us stay on track of our writing goals but also make sure we maintain good grades by not putting off our schoolwork.


Make Writing as Important as Schoolwork.

I’m not sure how many other students have the same goal as me, but I hope to someday be an author. With that in mind this year I plan to treat NaNoWriMo as just another course I’m taking, which means giving it priority over other hobbies I have.

My NaNoWriMo projects often get shoved to the back-burner when it comes to schoolwork, which makes sense to a certain extent. However, I’ve decided that because writing is something I really want to do with my life, then why shouldn’t it be labeled as a priority alongside my assignments, readings and studying? Before I’ve always attempted to complete schoolwork first and save my writing for when I had spare time to relax. The problem with that was that as well as having very little time to relax, I also found it much easier to use that designated relaxing time to watch Netflix or read a nice book.

Writing, because it’s something I know I want to do, has to take on the same sort of priority and time constraint that my assignments do. It’s not a relaxing activity to sit down and write to reach a goal by any stretch, so this year I don’t plan to treat it as a fun activity to do when I have time, but rather as another course for which I have to complete my work in. My Netflix account may have to suffer in silence for the month of November—or at least until I reach my daily word goals—but ultimately being a student that wants to write a novel means that I have to use what little time I have for myself and act as though it’s time that’s not mine to waste.


Remember it’s OK to Write Imperfectly

In the past, this has honestly been one of the biggest struggles I’ve faced with writing my project and staying motivated to keep writing. Often we all have grand ideas for our projects and when we start writing we either realize that our concept isn’t as concrete as we thought, or that our story has huge gaps we have no idea how to solve. It’s easy to try and fix our writing as we go along and try to edit as we write, but this is the best way to stop yourself from winning NaNoWriMo.

As much as leaving grammatical errors, incorrect word-choices and plot holes are difficult, the easiest way I’ve found to just get the words down is to remember that I’m not trying to write the final draft. Just like with assignments you’re handing in, you wouldn’t expect your first draft of an assignment to be perfect, nor would you expect your professor to read that first draft. Accepting that the first draft of your novel isn’t going to be perfect is an important step. The first draft is just a space for both you and your characters to explore the story not where the plot necessarily makes sense.

Remembering that you don’t have to make your project perfect is also especially helpful if you don’t have much time for writing because of other assignments. Knowing that there is one piece of writing in your life that doesn’t have to be perfect because you aren’t getting graded on it, nor does anybody have to see it until/if you let them is pretty nice! Having something just for yourself, that’s done purely for yourself is reward enough.

NaNoWriMo is a wonderful experience for those who want to write a novel but are unsure where to start. 50000 words may not be a full-length novel, but sometimes all you need is a little push and drive in order to get your writing started. While it may seem even more intimidating to try and write a novel while also studying full-time and potentially even working, don’t forget that because the reward is essentially just to reach the goal, you can take or give as much as you want.

Even if you don’t reach the 50000-word goal because of the other challenges being a student throws at you, that’s okay. If by the end of November you have 1000, 20000, even 50000 more words than you did before November 1st then I’d say that’s a win, because no matter how many words you write, as long as you write something, you’ll have more than you started with. From there, well, it’s up to you what you do.


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Andera Novak

Western '21

Andera is in her fourth year at King's University College at Western University in the King's Scholar program completing an honours specialization in English Language and Literature and a minor in Creative Writing. In addition to her education, Andera works at Indigo, is the Creative Editor of the King's University College student magazine The Regis, and is a volunteer at a local library. In her spare time, Andera can be found with her nose buried in a book, watching Netflix when she shouldn't be, or spending time with her dogs.
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