After two years of doing Academic Writing Month, or AcWriMo, I’ve made a change. This year I’m doing National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. There are a lot of similarities between AcWriMo and NaNoWriMo. Both encourage prioritising writing. Both require self-discipline. Both are a really helpful way to develop your voice. But there are differences.
Here are two differences I’ve found so far:
1. Who decides the targets?
With AcWriMo, you can set your own targets. There’s nobody telling you whether what you’ve chosen is “enough”, or checking whether you’ve achieved it. There are places to declare goals and track your progress (such as Studious Jenn’s excellent accountability spreadsheet.
With NaNoWriMo, the goal is 50,000 words. There are other projects during the year with more flexible targets, but for the main event in November, 50,000 is a pretty non-negotiable goal. That works out to just under 1700 words a day, if you write every day. The NaNoWriMo website allows you to “validate” your word count, meaning you paste what you’ve written into a word count tool. The “stats” section of their website is a powerful motivator, showing you how much you’ve done, and how much you have to do to finish on time.
Which is better? Neither. And I feel the main difference is the driving force behind the two. To me, AcWriMo is a time to prioritise whatever it is that needs to be done with my academic work. And because noone knows my academic work better than me, I get to decide what it is that needs to be done. And for me, NaNoWriMo is a time to achieve something that I might never have done otherwise. The externally-created target is there to show that I *could* write 50,000 words of a novel if I really put my mind to it.
I did a lot of free writing for my PhD, especially during my first AcWriMo. That has been incredibly useful for NaNoWriMo. My AcWriMo free writing was often a way of voicing an inner monologue. Similarly, my novel is written in the first person and at the moment there’s a lot of inner monologue. What AcWriMo hasn’t prepared me for is dialogue. Multiple people speaking to each other. I have been vividly thrown back to my childhood, to school days of writing early literary gems. To days of trying to find as many ways as possible of saying “said”.
“Where is the rabbit?” Sam asked.
“I don’t know,” Alex replied.
“When did you last see the rabbit?” Sam enquired.
“I don’t know,” Alex responded.
My NaNoWriMo writing is feeling a bit like that at the moment. I’m trying to ignore the part of me that’s screaming “you can’t write like that, it’s far too clumsy!” and to just keep going. I know that I’m developing a voice, and that this part of my writing hasn’t had much of an airing since I left school. But it’s an unexpected challenge.
Do you have any tips for making dialogue sound more natural? Do you prefer setting your own targets or having them set externally? Let me know in the comments…