The Blagger's Guide To...National Novel Writing Month

Can't grow a tash? Write a novel instead

*For about half the population, this month is Movember, when fortunately hirsute men (as well as a few lucky ladies) grow moustaches to raise money for prostate cancer.

But what if you don't have a moustache in you? Do you have a novel instead, just waiting to grow? Fortunately, it is not too late to join in with National Novel Writing Month (catchily known as NaNoWriMo), and hammer out your magnum opus while your other half focuses on that tash.

*NaNoWriMo began in San Francisco, with 21 participants. By 2010, there were 200,500 people involved around the world. The aim is to write a 50,000-word novel, starting on 1 November and finishing no later than 30 November. That should come to about 175 pages – which is about as long as Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach.

*There is help. Last week, the project signed up its 480th affiliated library ... in Iceland. More than 500 regional volunteers in 90 countries will be holding write-ins in coffee shops, bookshops and libraries. And that's just in real life; on the official website, writers can contact each other for practical and moral support. Recent questions on the discussions forum seek advice on subjects as diverse as: "What's it like being tall?"; "Death by drinking too much water?"; "Italian flirting phrases"; and "What are some ways to accidentally kill someone?"

*Though publishers and agents are now besieged by manuscripts on 1 December, many of them are keen to see NaNoWriMo novels. Ninety books that started as NaNoWriMo projects have been produced by mainstream publishing houses, including the New York Times bestsellers The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Sarah Gruen's Water for Elephants. In the UK, Elizabeth Haynes's Into the Darkest Corner and Julia Crouch's Cuckoo both started life in NaNoWriMo.

*Julia Crouch recommends setting yourself mini-goals and rewarding them with treats. "For example: after 200 words, I'll have a bit of cake. Or cup of tea. Or (only if writing in the evening, please) a glass of wine. Look at how much money you're saving by not going out! I see this as a good excuse to buy a nice bottle of champagne for the 50,000th word."

*Too busy to write a novel? Think again, says Crouch. "If I could do it in 2008, when I had a full time job, three kids, a husband who was away for the whole month of November, and I was paying daily visits to a 100-year-old friend, then I think it's fair to say almost anyone can. You've just got to look at how much time you waste. Insomnia? Embrace the extra writing time. Lunchbreak? Pah. Kids all whiney? Set them down to write a story too, alongside you." She recommends the writers' tool Scrivener (which, conveniently, is offering a free, 30-day trial at literatureandlatte.com) and software such as Freedom and Antisocial (macfreedom.com and anti-social.cc) which block you for a prearranged period from websites that would otherwise distract you.

*Finally, adds Crouch: "If you are serious about being published, do everyone a favour and spend at least another eight months editing your initial 50,000 words so that it makes some sort of sense to someone other than yourself."

*Find out more, and start your masterpiece now, at nanowrimo.org

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