It’s that time of year again! November rolls around, and normal, everyday men and women hunch over bits of writing with a thirst for ink and misery, thus choosing to step into the arena to tangle with the NaNoWriMo beast. Here, then, are 25 thoughts regarding this month-long pilgrimage into the mouth of the novel — peruse, digest, then discuss.
1. Writing Requires Writing!
The oft-repeated refrain, “Writers write,” is as true a sentiment as one can find, and yet so many self-declared writers seem to ignore it just the same. National Novel Writing Month — NaNoWriMo, demands that writings let go of their inner editor, and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard!). It says your a writer, so get to writing!
2. Writing Requires Finishing!
Most writers seem to have one thing in common; they have a difficulty to finish. Many a writer has started a poem, or a short story, or script, or maybe even a novel, and left it hanging in the middle.But that’s one of the great things about NaNo, you have scheduled word counts that help you along the way! NaNoWriMo lays down the law: you have a goal and that goal is to finish
3. Discipline With a Capitol “Get Shit DONE!”
The way you survive NaNoWriMo is the same way any novelist survives: by planting yourself to the office chair every day and putting the words to print no matter what. Have a test tomorrow? Better write. Got a headache? Better write. Kid won’t stop crying? Better write. Tired as fuck from a hard day of work/school? Better write.
4. The Magic Number is 1,666
Depending on what site your getting your information from, you should either be writing 1,667 words a day, or 1,666. I myself tend to write 1,666. Ahh. The Devil’s vintage. Ahem. Anyway. To hit 50,000 words in one month, you must write at least 1,666 words per day over the 30 day period. I write about 1000 words in an hour, so you’re probably looking at two to three hours worth of work per day. If you choose to not work weekends, you’ll probably need to hit around 2300 words per day. If you’re only working weekends, then ~6000 per day.
5. The Problem With 50,000 Words:
Be advised: 50,000 words does not a novel make. It may technically count, but publishers don’t want to hear it. Even in the young adult market I’d say that most novels hover around 60,000 words. You go to a publisher with 50k in hand and call it a novel, they’re going to laugh at you.
6. The True Nature of Finishing:
Ah, yes, NaNoWriMo. Writing 50,000 words is your technical goal — completing a novel in those 50,000 words is not. You can turn in an unfinished novel and be good to go. The only concern there is that 50,000 words serves only as a milestone and come December it again becomes oh-so-easy to settle in with the “I’ve Written Part Of A Novel” crowd. Always remember: the only way through is through.
7. Draft Zero.
It helps to look at your NaNoWriMo novel as the zero draft — it has a beginning, it has an ending, it has a whole lot of something in the middle. But the zero draft isn’t done cooking. A proper first draft awaits. A first draft that will see more meat slapped onto those exposed bones, taking your word count into more realistic territory.
8. Quantity Over Quality.
Put differently, the end result of any written novel is quality. You’re looking for that thing to shine like a stiletto and be just as sharp. NaNoWriMo doesn’t ask for or judge quality as part of its end goal. Quantity must be spun into quality. You’ve got all the sticks. Now build yourself a house.
9. Beware “Win Conditions”
If you complete NaNoWriMo, you have absolute rein over bragging rights. If you don’t, I do not have permission to feel like a loser. You’ve tried to accomplish the incredible task of writing a novel, and that already proves that you’ve done more than others. Which leads me to:
10. Not All Writers Are The Same:
NaNoWriMo assumes a single way of writing a novel. Part of this equation — “smash brain against keyboard until story bleeds out” — is fairly universal. The rest is not. For every novelist comes a new path cut through the jungle. Some novelists write 1,000 words a day. Some 5,000 words a day. Some spend more time on planning, others spend a year or more writing. Be advised that NaNoWriMo is not a guaranteed solution, nor is your “failure to thrive” in that program in any way meaningful. I tried it years back and found it just didn’t fit for me. (And yet I remain!) It is not a bellwether of your ability or talent.
11. November Is A Crazy Month:
November. The month of Thanksgiving. The month where people start shopping for Christmas. Not a great month to pick to get stuff done. Just be aware that November presents its own unique challenges to novelists of any stripe, much less those doing a combat landing during NaNoWriMo. Know this going in.
12. The Perfect Is The Enemy Of The Good:
NaNoWriMo gets one lesson right: writing can at times be like a sprint and you can’t hover over every day’s worth of writing, picking ticks and mites from its hair — you will always find more ticks, more mites. The desire for perfection is like a pit of wet coal silt: it will grab your boots like iron hands and never let you go.
13. You Have Total Permission to Temporarily Suck:
The point is, you’re not aiming to be a bad writer, but you must allow yourself permission to embrace imperfection. You’re not trying to write irreparable fiction, you’re trying to make a go at a flawed story whose bones are good but whose components may need rebuilding. Imperfect is not the same as impossible.
Take October. Name it “National Story Planning Month.” Whatever you’re going to do in November, you don’t have to go in blind. You’ve no requirement, after all, to suddenly leap out of bed on November 1st, crack open your head with an ice ax, and let the story come pouring from the cleft. Spontaneous generation is a myth in science as it is in creative spheres. Plan. Prep. Take a month.
December then becomes “National Edit Your Shit Month.” Or, if you need a month away from it, maybe you come back to it in January — but the point is, always come back to it. If you want to do this novel writing thing then you must come to terms with the fact that rewriting is part of a novel’s life-cycle. Repeat the mantra: Writing is when I make the words.
In 2009, NaNo had 167,150 participants, and 32,178 “winners.” That’s a pretty good rate, just shy of 20% completion. The numbers get a bit more telling when you look at the number of published novels that have come out of the entire ten-year program, and that number appears to be below 200 books. Out of the 500,000 or so total participants of NaNo over the years, that’s a very minor 0.04%. This isn’t an indictment against NaNoWriMo but is, however, an illustrative number just the same: it’s harder than the Devil’s dangle-rod in a cobalt-tungsten condom to get published these days.
17. Why Some Authors Dismiss NaNoWriMo:
Professional authors — perhaps unfairly — sometimes look at the program with a dismissive sniff or a condescending eye roll. Look at it from their perspective: NaNo participants might seem on par with tourists. Professional authors live here all year.
18. Why Some Agents and Editors Despise NaNoWriMo:
If the story holds true, agents and editors receive a flush of slush from NaNoWriMo in the months following November. A heaping midden pile of bad prose which, for the record, only serves to block the door for everybody else with its stinky robustness. You may say, “But I’m not going to do that.” Of course you’re not, but somebody probably is.
19. Fuck The Police:
NaNoWriMo has a lot of rules: you’re supposed to “start fresh,” you’re not really meant to work on non-fiction, blah blah blah. This is all just made-up stuff. It’s not government mandated. Do what you like. Even better: do what the story needs. Hell with the rules. Fuck the police. Write. Write endlessly. Don’t be constrained by this program. It’s just a springboard: use it to launch your way to awesomeness. Anything you don’t like about it, toss it out the window. The only thing that matters is you and your writing.
20. November Is Just The Beginning:
f you get to the end of the month with a manuscript — finished or not — in hand, celebrate. Do a little dance. Eat a microwaved pizza, do a shot of tequila, take off your pants and burn them in the fireplace. And then think, “Tomorrow, I’ve got more to do.” Because this is just the start. I don’t mean that to sound punishing — if it sounds punishing, you shouldn’t be a writer. It should be fucking liberating. It should fill your heart with a flutter of eager wings: “Holy shit! I can do this tomorrow, too! I can do this in December and January and any day of the goddamn week I so choose.” Don’t stop on November 30th. You want to do this thing, do this thing. Your energy and effort can turn NaNoWriMo from a month-long gimmick to a life-long love and possibly even a career. Let this foster in you a love of storytelling made real through discipline — and don’t let that love or that discipline wither on the vine come December 1st.