Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Some musings on NaNoWriMo

Since I've been asked at least once a day for the past week whether or not I'm doing NaNoWriMo, it seemed like as good of time as any to post on it. I posted on this topic last year, and I still encourage you to remember that there are alternatives if you want an activity that will challenge you as a writer.

Here's the short answer: I'm not doing NaNo. Mainly because my daily minimum word count is pretty close to the 1667 words per day NaNo requires already. I am a writer. Writing things is my job. I don't get paid if I don't write the words. (And since I'm a writer at the early part of my career, the ratio of words I write but don't get paid for to words I do get paid for is still fairly high. Certainly high enough that I'm not about to start another project without a better reason than "all the cool kids are doing it.")

But since at least some of the people who have asked me if I am doing NaNo are actually asking whether I think it's a good idea for them to do so, here is my longer answer, in the form of musings.

I think anything that challenges people to try something new, something they thought was maybe too hard, or maybe a little bit scary is a good thing. If you want to write a novel, and participating in NaNo is the boost (or the kick in the ass) you need in order to do that, well, why are you asking me what I think? Sign up, and write. Make your word count. Finish, and be proud of yourself.

The other thing I like about NaNo is the word count requirement is a good way to help people turn off their internal editor. It vaccinates against writeritis. There just isn't time to think, not if you want 50,000 words in 30 days. Sometimes it's necessary to stop worrying about the writing, and just tell the story.

Here's what I don't like about NaNo: 50,000 words is not, in most genres, a publishable novel. In fantasy, the genre I write in, 50,000 words is approximately half a novel (standard manuscript length is 100K, plus or minus ten percent.) Maybe you already know this - I didn't, when I started writing - and are planning to use November to get the skeleton of your story down, and then hang muscle and skin on the bones later. Maybe you don't care about professionally publishing, and just want to have the experience of telling a story. 

But if you do have professional publication as a goal, you will have to add in those 50,000 or so words before that becomes an option. You will have to seriously revise the 50,000 or so words you did write during NaNo, because turning off the internal editor might result in the completed skeleton of a story, but it can also result in some really rubbish prose. You'll need to do these things before you query agents, because once an agent has turned down a project, even if it's just because your word count was too low, you don't get to query that agent with that project again.

Still, if you really want to write a novel, don't ask me if you're ready. Don't ask that question of anyone but yourself. When the answer is yes, and you're wondering how to do it, well, do whatever it takes to put your pen in your hand or your fingers on the keyboard every day, and write. And good luck.


  1. This is good advice, Kat. I think NaNo works for some people; it worked very well for several of my friends. For me, it would give me something akin to test anxiety. I don't know why. But I do think that every person decides when they're ready by doing what needs to be done -- and that is writing.

    The first novel I completed (not wrote -- there were many false starts) turned out not to be the literary masterpiece I envisioned. But I learned from it. Then, I wrote a second one. I learned from writing that, too. I'm shopping it around. Maybe it isn't a literary masterpiece either, but I'm not impartial. I feel accomplished just having written it.

  2. Finishing a manuscript is an accomplishment. Congratulations. Good luck finding it a home.

  3. You are always encouraging. Thank you for that. :-)

  4. NaNo is my celebration of writing. It doesn't matter to me that I've written 50,000 words in the October, I love the carnival atmosphere, the gleeful squeals of writers splashing each other with words under the warm glow of a shared deadline. It's basically my Novelling Christmas where everyone gets off my back and accepts I'm not going to do anything but write as hard as I can for a month.

    Gah, the thought of sending an agent a query with a half to two-thirds completed first draft gives me shivers! (I write romances so I generally aim at about 75,000)

    I think also a lot of it depends on how you write. If I agonise over every word, my flow sucks. I write better getting it all down and then tinkering out the errors. Each to their own :-)

  5. Julia - Novelling Christmas made me grin. It sounds delightful. Good luck with yours.

  6. Interesting post, thanks! I've been wanting to do NaNo for a couple of years, but for some reason it never coincided with with a particularly productive mood. Somehow, fall always used to be revise-and-tinker time. But this year I'm going to do it! Mainly it's for the reason Julia mentioned above: It's really a celebration of writing. Sure, I might be writing all year, but it's fun to make it "official" once in a while.

    While reading your post it also occurred to me that the "spirit of NaNoWriMo" is already part of my writing modus (more or less) operandi in that I tend to write in bursts of a couple of weeks, mostly without editing (oh, the shame & giggles during revision). It just feels good to write that way. I think this past year I even said to myself that august was "my own personal Novel Writing Month" because I was determined to finish the draft no matter what.

    I agree that it's unrealistic to produce anything publishable during NaNoWriMo, and the real work starts with revision and continues year round, but I always enjoy doing the so-called "discovery drafts" the most...

  7. Thanks for this- it confirms what I hoped NaNoWriMo would be. I've completed some short stories, but my internal editor tends to be crippling. I'm doing NaNoWriMo to teach myself how to hurtle through the first draft and complete a story without picking over it too much.

  8. Steffi - "the shame and giggles during revision" is right - I have those even *with* my internal editor turned on. I'd be interested to hear how you find the NaNo experience when November is over.

    Joey - Best of luck to you. And have fun!