November approaches at speed, and with it comes the annual National Novel Writing Month. The title is a misnomer if ever there was one, since National actually encompasses the globe and 50,000 words (the target) does not an adult novel make. However, it’s the idea which is important, not the chosen name.

This will be my fourth Nano, having participated every year since 2005. The first year was a real eye-opener … ever the slacker, my usual approach to writing is to think lots and do little. During the frenzied month of November ’05 I learnt to do lots and think little.

Did I get a useable novel out of it? Nope. I ended up with 50,000 words of mismatched scenes, snatches of dialogue, dead ends and irrelevancies. Did that matter? Nope again, because my recently-published fourth novel, Hal Spacejock: No Free Lunch, owes much of its plot and characters to a couple of my NaNoWriMo efforts.

I manage to put together about 150,000 words every year for each of my 80-90,000 word novels, and thanks to that overflow I get to discard the weaker stuff and keep the best bits. However, I’m a lazy writer most of the time, not being the sort of person who refuses to do anything until his daily 1000 or 2000 words are done and dusted. In fact, unless I have a strict deadline I could happily not write anything for years on end, always intending to get to it ‘soon’.

So, what better way to stock up on raw material than to bash out 50,000 words of pure brainstorm every November? That’s why I recommend Nano … it’s for people like me who enjoy writing but perhaps have many other things in their lives they’re just as happy to waste time on.

If you’ve never attempted Nano and are one of those people who just never seems to finish (or start) writing that novel, I encourage you to give it a go. I’ve set up an article on my website with NanoWrimo tips and a handy progress sheet, and of course my own (free) yWriter software includes several Nano-friendly features such as a progress bar and automated backups.

Registration for Nano starts on the 1st of October – set a reminder and I hope to see you there!

(If you’ve participated in Nano before, successfully or not, perhaps you could leave a comment telling us about your experience? Was it worthwhile? Too easy? Too hard?)

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  1. 1. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    And so we are not divorced :) I have to admit, I looked at the nano site and quailed at having to figure out how to use it. I feel a bit like a luddite about it. Sigh.

  2. 2. Simon Haynes

    Come October there’ll be a link from the Nano front page to the signup one. Just register like you would with any other site, and then you can start editing your profile.

    Each day in November you log in and update your wordcount on the profile. If you participate in the forums your word count will be displayed with your username. If you donate to the Nano cause you get a halo on your username too.

    Hope that helps! Email me after the beginning of October if you get stuck.

  3. 3. Anna the Piper

    I did Nano in 2003 and found it a valuable experience for two reasons:

    1) It taught me what writing on a deadline can be like, and

    2) It taught me to get over the idea that I had to have every word be perfect the first time around.

    I finished the story the following January. After several revisions, it’s become a novel that’s gotten interesting responses when I’ve sent it around. :)

    Most importantly, Nano got me in the habit of writing every day within reason. That’s let me finish two more novels since. I have tried “unofficial” Nano participation since then and hope to give it another full crack at some point!

  4. 4. Ian

    Hi Simon,

    I’m a four-time Nano survivor (and victor). Back in July on a slow blog day I posted my own list of survival tips here. My first three nanobooks were complete manuscripts on their own. I got extremely sick the last week of November in 2007. I hit my 50k word mark, called myself done, and recorded it. Over the next six months I added another 64k words to the story and wound up with a pretty decent first draft.

    @Diana – don’t get worried about the site – they’re overhauling it for the next two weeks. It’ll be shiny and new come October 1.


  5. 5. Marie Brennan

    I have to admit that, while I think there are certain categories of people for whom NaNoWriMo is useful (people who have trouble making themselves sit down and do it, people who overthink and therefore never get a word down, etc), I’m ambivalent about its value for many others.

    I only know a few authors who can keep up that kind of pace for thirty days straight and produce quality work, and they’re all professionals with a good chunk of experience under their belts. Most people are going to turn out 50K of story that needs massive overhauling, and I’m inclined to think, why not go slower and produce a better first draft? Probably lots of people do — they just aim to be writing all thirty days of November, and don’t sweat the word count. (Let alone sweating the idea that you should produce a complete 50K novel, which would be short even for YA.) In general, I imagine quite a lot of people modify NaNo to suit their purposes, and more power to them. But the terms as laid out seem way too likely to a) result in something not terribly usable in most genres and b) burn people out on this whole thing in general.

    So, yeah. I’m the NaNo Grinch, and I admit it. I won’t say it isn’t useful to anybody, and I won’t say there aren’t valuable things to be learned from it (since there’s a comment above me that would prove that wrong right now). I guess what my feeling boils down to is, maybe partial success at the NaNo thing is more useful than full success.

  6. 6. Simon Haynes

    This year my approach will be different, since I’ve not written my annual Hal novel yet. I’ve plotted it out and intend to sit down and write it properly during November.

    Re the not terribly useful comment, my first drafts are always a fractured mess anyway, so I don’t see that as a problem. I develop a novel through 20-30 heavy rewrites and a lot of revising, so it’s more important to me to have lots of source material than to write something approaching finished quality from the get-go. I just don’t work that way.

  7. 7. Marie Brennan

    20-30 rewrites? You’re a madman.

  8. 8. glenda larke

    Isn’t he just? But then he kinda suits Hal Spacejock…

  9. 9. Bill W

    I tried out NaNoWriMo in 2005 after spotting “No Plot, No Problem” in a bookstore and buying it on a whim. I had been one of those readers that often said to themselves, “I bet I could write better than this”. Chris’ book and Nano gave me the encouragement, incentive, and goal I needed to put that into action. Sure, the first attempt was crap and drivel and probably not even worth a rewrite. But I made it to 50K and discovered that I could actually write a few decent scenes, even if they didn’t yet create an interesting story. And besides, it was my crap and drivel.

    I’ve done NaNo every year since and even tried the Script Frenzy events to see if I had better luck writing a screenplay. I’ve already got an idea for this year’s NaNo, and plan to get a real outline done before Nov 1, so I can hit the ground running this time. If nothing else, I’ve learned that I enjoy writing and that it’s possible to do it every day.

  10. 10. greg

    I started NaNoWriMo each of the last two years. The first time I only got about 12000 words before getting bogged down. You can see the result at Last year I had some computer difficulties in November that kept me from working regularly on it. I’m going to try again this year and hopefully I’ll get closer to, if not all the way to 50,000 words.

    I definitely fall into the category of people who always puts writing off until later. I’m going to have to swear off reading for a month though, because I find that I’m more willing to pick up any number of books laying around my apartment than I am to sit and write.

  11. 11. Simon Haynes

    “You’re a madman.”

    My editor and publisher seem to share your opinion. I prefer the somewhat more kindly ‘perfectionist’ ;-)

  12. 12. Bran Fan

    I have done the Nano thing, and got 50k of garbage. I have also done a modified nano, where I wrote 30k in 30 days. I wasn’t planning on “finishing” anything, I just wanted to get through a good amount of act two of the novel in progress. That was a more managable goal and I wrote some of my best scenes that time.

  13. 13. Jaime

    For those who need the discipline but abhor the insane pace of NaNoWriMo, there is a community on LJ called novel_in_90 that has been going strong for over a year. There are 662 members at present and it runs year round. Not all members are active at any one time, but they can join any session at any time. The community is open to anyone with an LJ account.

    The goal there is to write 750 words a day, every single day, for a 90 day session. When one session ends another starts. That nets you at least 67,500 words after 90 days, more if you go over the daily goal. Members taking part in any particular session report their daily word count to the community as a whole. First draft, second draft, what ever you’re working on is fair game.

    This has been a successful model for a lot of community members. The majority of them end up with either a finished novel draft or a sizable chunk of one. Many people report that working this way led them to their first finished novel.

    It’s an alternative in any case.

  14. 14. Simon Haynes

    750 per day sounds like the perfect count. 500 is too little, 1000 sounds like a lot but 750 is just goldilocks. When the dust settles I may use that process to do the other half of my novel.

  15. 15. Marie Brennan

    I should have thought to plug Ni90 myself; I’ve hung out there a few times, when the novel I was working on happened to coincide with a round. It’s a bit slower than my standard pace (which is 1K a day), but nobody says you have to stop at 750, and it’s a good, steady working model. IMHO, it’s a more accurate representation of what being a novelist is usually like — unless you’re Simon, apparently! — so if your goal is to find out whether you could do this for a job, Novel in 90 is worth looking into.

  16. 16. Mike Brotherton

    Novel in 90 sounds ambitious, but realistic to me. I’ve drafted novels in 9 months and six months previously, and can see three months when everything is humming. I’m like Marie more generall, a “NaNo grinch” that thinks it isn’t for everyone and shouldn’t be enthusiastically recommended without a lot more caveats setting appropriate expectations.

    I’d also like to see a group focused on a novel a year, with a weekly goal of 2000 words. Some people are binge writers, weekend word warriors, and the daily thing is next to impossible with work, commuting, and other obligations.

    And damn it, November rarely works for me anyway. This year I’ll have some international travel and a major work deadline in the middle of the month. So suck it, NaNoWriMo! I’m eating turkey and falling asleep this year.

  17. 17. Kristi

    I’m the NaNo Municipal Liaison for my city, so I feel obligated to crank out my 50k year after year. I’ve done it – and won, barely – every year since 2002. Looking forward to #7 this year!

    Of the resulting slushpile, I’d say at least two have the potential to really turn into something publishable, another one is a great story, but set in someone else’s universe, so not at all publishable, and the remaining 4 stay in the “meh” folder. One was an exercise in exorcising personal demons, another was a complete throw-away, and the other two? Well, maybe they’ve got some good ideas, but they’re also some of my most painfully “newbie” writing.

    Oh, how I love NaNo. November can’t get here fast enough! This year it’s blood magic, dinking around with Norse legends, and a dash of fluffy chick-lit romance. Whee!

  18. 18. Ian

    I didn’t know about the Novel in 90, but I did something similar to that called the Hundred Day Novel, with a goal of an 80k word book in a hundred days. It came together very well, working at half the pace of nanowrimo, and the book eventually was a semifinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel award competition.

  19. 19. Joe Iriarte

    I’m with Mike–though I wouldn’t go quite so far as to call myself a Nano Grinch. I think Nano is great for people who need the message they’re pushing: Not to let your inner editor reduce your output to zilch. Not to always talk about writing without doing it. But I don’t think everyone works the same way or struggles with the same problems. For one thing, not everyone is crippled by his or her internal critic. I have found that when I give myself permission to write crap, crap is what I write, and it tends to be unsalvageable crap at that. So that particular message isn’t the right one for me. On the other hand, the idea of sharing a motivating event with hundreds of other people is.

    So far in 2008 I have written about 140,000 words. Sitting down in front of the computer and Just Doing It is not a problem for me. On the other hand, I have failed at NaNoWriMo for the last three years. 50,000 words in a month has not yet proved reasonable for me, but I have no problem with output in the bigger scheme of things. I plan to do Nano again this year. I’ll probably fail at it again, but for me, it will be more about kick-starting my next project than about really caring whether I get 50,000 words written. I may only get 20,000 words, but that’s okay: I’ll still finish whatever novel I begin before summer.

    Obviously I’m not putting down Nano, since I’m doing it myself. But like Mike said, I think NaNoWriMo gets pushed a lot as something every aspiring writer needs to do, and no caveats are given. I belong to a writing group where we’re being very aggressively encouraged to do this, and I think it’s silly, because NaNoWriMo is bound to be a good and useful exercise for some people, and not for others. More specifically, the paradigm of turning off your internal editor is a useful one for some, but an actively harmful one for others.

    In the group I belong to, two or three of us are serious about wanting to make money at writing, and the rest of us are just kind of casual hobbyists. Some of the hobbyists get a lot of satisfaction out of “winning” NaNoWriMo–as if writing 50,000 words were really the end goal in itself. (One of them even debated narcing on people she knew had begun writing before November–lady, you care about this too much.) For me the end goal is not a feeling of accomplishment or the realization that I can string together 50,000 words. I’ve already got that. The goal is publication. The aspects of NaNoWriMo that move me closer to that goal are the ones I’ll take, and the ones that don’t I’ll discard.

  20. 20. Simon Haynes

    One of the things I like about Nano is that it sometimes generates a bit of mainstream press. The rest of the time writing is just something authors do between appearances and book launches.

    Also, the idea of all those human minds tuned to one massive creative effort is quite a buzz.

  21. 21. Kelly McCullough

    I find it an interesting phenomena and if it ever happens to coincide with me hitting the second half of a book I’d love to participate as that’s about my normal pace for closing out a novel. It the opening where I’m slow with the first 30-60 k taking anywhere from three months to six.

  22. 22. Terie Garrison

    I wrote the first drafts of books 3 and 4 of my YA fantasy series (The DragonSpawn Cycle) for NaNo (2004 and 2006, respectively). In both cases, most of what I wrote in NaNo is in the published books; in the latter case, my editor accepted the mansucript as written, and we made only a few small changes during copyedit. I tell you, that was (and, gosh, two years later still is) totally SURREAL!

    I think the fact that I’m a tech writer in my day job helps, since I get paid a Really Good Salary to write well fast.

  23. 23. Chris Branch

    The other thing I find to be good about NaNoWriMo is that for those of us (all of us?) who have many other obligations, what with job, family, etc., this gives us an excuse each year to say “just for this one month, writing takes top priority”. Yeah, making it the top priority all year would be fantastic, but it’s just not feasible for some.

    So anyway I’ve done it five times – the first was just a 50K first effort, but the others are 85K – 100K completed drafts.

  24. 24. Simon Haynes

    Good point, and I find the same thing. I feel the tension when I’m trying to write and there are jobs around the house needing to be done, or family dos I have to attend despite being late on a deadline. I usually give in and set the writing aside in the interests of harmony. And because those jobs niggle me, too. I’m not blaming my wife & kids for this.

    In November, the jobs stay undone and the dos don’t. Everyone knows I’m doing real writin’ and they accept they’re just going to have to wait until December.

Author Information

Simon Haynes

Simon is the author of the Hal Spacejock series, featuring intergalactic loser Hal and his junky sidekick, Clunk. His website contains a number of articles on writing and publishing, and he's also the programmer of several freeware apps including yBook, BookDB and yWriter. In his spare time(!) he helps to run Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Visit site.



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