NaNoWriMo: Thoughts on What it Means

I’ve read my share of NaNoWriMo arguments, dissenters espousing the uselessness of the event — always very happy to point out that 50K does not a novel make, that the end product is not a true novel (let alone in good enough condition to share with the world at large) and, of course, if you really want to be a writer you don’t need an event to get you to do it.

To some extent, I agree with them. I think, in some cases, writers use NaNoWriMo as the be-all end-all, approaching it with the mentality that, if they “win” they would then be A True Writer with a True Book. This is simply not the case. 50K, unless you’re writing for a younger market, is about 1/2 to 2/3 of a novel in most genres. And chances are, once you’re done with that mad dash after November 30, by the end of the event what you’ve got in your hands is not going to be anything near a finished novel. In fact, it’ll probably be less than a Draft Zero. And it’s certainly not something you should even consider querying! (But people do… heavens knows people still do.)

But that’s not to say that the exercise isn’t important. In 2008 I participated in my first NaNoWriMo, after the insistence for years by my husband. I’d never had trouble writing novels, so I didn’t think I needed to do something like NaNoWriMo. I mean, what was the point?

The point was not the actual production of words. The point was producing words on a schedule. 1500 words, do or die. Like a professional writer. Getting on that schedule, proving to myself that I could start a totally different project in the middle of working on my Big Fat Steampunk Epic was truly eye-opening. I didn’t have to be bogged down by one story; I didn’t have to write on whims. I could actually do it, day in and day out. That was always the biggest road block for me.

Last year, I didn’t do NaNoWriMo. The biggest reason? Well, in the year between I’d written so much that was in need of editing that writing another 50K, in anything, just didn’t seem like a good choice.

And as exciting as NaNoWriMo is, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes the timing doesn’t work out right. Especially if you’re no longer in the aspiring writer category — things can get much more complicated.

This year the timing is right. I’ve been saving this idea for a situation just like this. Before the carpal tunnel incidence of early 2010, and all the surgery and crazy stuff this year, I was writing an average of 2K a day. Now, it’s less than that — but I’ve still managed to write one book and sell another this year (Pilgrim of the Sky started out as a 50K draft on my first NaNoWriMo, after all). I really need to get back into the groove, albeit on an ergonomic keyboard and PC of all things.

And even if you can’t do NaNoWriMo to the max, even if 50K is impossible, you should at least join up for the community. Because writing with other writers, well, that’s really one of the benefits of the event: linking up with other writers online and on Twitter and Facebook, and having accountability for what you’re writing. We too often write in the dark, and for many of us, anyway, letting others a window into that process can really be the kick in the pants you need. At least, so it was for me.

And so, as we hit the final day before the craziness starts: good look to all!

  • http://mariadkins.com Mari

    (But people do… heavens knows people still do)

    I got into an argument with a local and the people on her blog’s comments the other day over this. They were trying to figure out why agents and publishers hate the month of November and the beginning of December so much. Surely people couldn’t be stupid enough to submit their NaNo projects…:eye roll: So I told them how wrong they were, where they were wrong, and cited examples, etc, etc. And they told me I was crazy. So I walked away.

    The point was producing words on a schedule

    This is what I try to drill into people’s heads. They don’t listen. Like the people above. No, they say, the point is to write a complete book. They don’t want to hear that a complete book isn’t 50k, either.

    So I’m not hanging out on the local boards, again, and I’m being super-picky about who I choose as a writing buddy – it all works out better if we all have similar goals and ideals so we can support each other better.

    • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

      Yeah, there’s misconceptions all around. I don’t get the people that simply hate the event out of, I don’t know, some need to gripe about something around November. But it can be annoying, and people can take it way out of proportion. And I totally agree: I don’t even bother with the forums, honestly. Between Twitter and Facebook, I have plenty of contacts. :)

      However: everyone writing, and getting people to write? That’s awesome. Heck, my husband is even doing it this year!

      • http://mariadkins.com Mari

        Some people just aren’t happy without something to complain about. ;)

  • http://gryffonx.wordpress.com Erik Stell

    I skipped NaNoWriMo every time since I first learned about it (from something you mentioned in a tweet a couple years ago, in fact). I’ve always had a personal opinion that of the two things I enjoy: writing and drawing, I’m far better at the latter than the former. I gave up writing entirely a few years ago just so I could focus on increasing my skills as an artist.

    Except, it didn’t stop the ideas from coming to me. My “shoebox” is full of random ideas, just begging to be written. For some reason, this year just seemed like the best time for me to give it a shot. Do I think that when I’m done I’ll have something even remotely worth reading (or ever be)? Probably not. My rather rudimentary writing chops pretty much means that in order to get 1660 words worth keeping, I need to write 3-4 times that number. For others it might be less, or possibly more.

    In my opinion, the people who assume that 50K == instant novel, and those who gripe about NaNoWriMo in general are those who take a wholly clinical approach to writing: a means to gain fame or money. Personally, I find more joy in the process of creation rather than dreams of potential rewards

  • Rachel Russell

    I really don’t understand how people can think a first draft NaNoWriMo novel is publish-worthy. Beyond that, I definitely don’t understand what the rush is. Why try to submit it to agents and publishing companies right afterward when your time would be better spend editing and fine-tuning what you’ve written?

    People are silly.