DidYouNaNo?

I’ve always said that NaNoWriMo isn’t for me.  (For those of you still in the dark, NaNoWriMo is fun Internet shorthand for National Novel Writing Month – thousands of brave authors designate November as the month when they’re going to draft a 50,000-word novel, from start to finish.)

My concerns about NaNo are legion.  Most commercial novels (outside of category romance) are closer to 100,000 words than 50,000 words.  Merely getting 50,000 words onto paper (or, more realistically, a computer file) is no guarantee that a single one of those words is publishable.  Even if the 50,000-word chunk is good, it requires polishing and editing before it can be marketed.  Too many people have made too much money bilking NaNo writers, selling “how to write 50,000-word novel” books or “coaching services” for the month.  NaNo cheapens the hard work that hundreds of genre novelists invest in their non-NaNo novels, every year.  (“What?!?  It took you three months to write that?  I hear that really dedicated people can write a novel in thirty days!”)  The entire NaNo culture feels like a cross between a stunt (“Watch me leap from tall cliffs without a net!”) and a pep rally (“Leap!  Leap!”)

And then, I went and wrote a 50,000-word novel in the last couple of weeks of November.

I really wasn’t doing NaNo.  I didn’t sign up with the official site.  I didn’t set up progress bars.  I didn’t even start until around November 12.

But I was working in a genre new to me, one where published works are traditionally 50,000 words.  And I had a break in my writing schedule that started after Veterans Day and ended on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  And I had a plot idea that was complex enough to carry a novel but simple enough not to go beyond the mandated length.

I’m fortunate – I’m a quick writer.  I completed a couple of 5000-word days.  I had one great 7300-word day.  I had one incredible 11,000-word day, when my husband was out of town, and I was able to write until one in the morning, without interruption.

I used a new-to-me technique, doing no revision as I drafted.  (I did go back and leave notes to myself in the first few chapters, pointing me toward revisions I’ll need to incorporate.  Most of those revisions involve character motivations that transformed as the story evolved.)

I’m working on another project now, one that will take me until the end of this week.  Then, I’ll have a couple of weeks when I can revise my November novel.  (You’ll note – I’m still not calling it my NaNo novel….)  After that, I’ll see if I can sell the thing.

So?  How about you?  Did you participate in NaNoWriMo?  Why or why not?  Will you do NaNoWriMo in the future?

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  1. 1. Anna the Piper

    I gave Nano a shot this year, but didn’t make it; I only got to about 13,000 words.

    But I’ve already done Nano successfully–and I wound up selling that novel, after the obligatory several rounds of polishing. I’ve written two other novels since. So I don’t really need to take another crack at it.

    Mostly this year I did it because for all its various flaws, Nanowrimo does have a nice sense of community and headlong abandon about it, and I did need the kick in the pants to get the sequel to the book I sold started. :)

  2. 2. Tyson

    Nanowrimo is wonderful for those of us who need a lot of moral support to keep writing. It comes with a community of people who are almost exclusively amateurs with no hopes of being published. It focuses strictly on the joys of writing, and not the commercial aspects of it. People can embrace the fact that they frankly suck at writing but like doing it anyway. It’s also very useful for shutting up that inner editor who is so unhelpful when it comes to advancing word count. Nano doesn’t including editing, which is a good thing. It helps you get that big lump of raw word material that you need to later shape into something useful, if you choose.

    I participated last year and wrote 61K words. I taked on another 5K in Dec to finish off the story (don’t tell anyone). I ended up liking the story enough that I decided to revise and expand it into a full size novel, which I’ve been working on since March. I don’t think that would have happened if I hadn’t tackled Nano. I’m not published yet but I hope to be someday. Even if I never am, I’m sure I’ll participate in more Nano events in the future.

  3. 3. Tyson

    “Nano doesn’t including editing,” ha, is that irony?

  4. 4. Kate

    I did NaNo for the first time this year and won. To me, it’s about community and support. I worked on the first draft of a new novel. Is it finished? Not even close. Was it a great experience? Yes, absolutely. It doesn’t cheapen writers who work for three months on their drafts – it will take me twice as long, at least, to make this one submittable. Anyone doing NaNo who thinks “really dedicated people” should be able to turn out a respectable piece of work in a month was blind to the realities of the world before NaNo came along.

    NaNo never pretends that the 50k people write in a month will be brilliant material. Not everyone doing NaNo is doing it to be published (it’s really true) and those who are should already have done their homework about word count, editing, etc. It’s just for fun and creative bonding! I’ll definitely do it again if I’m about to start a new novel come November. I’m not going to plan my world around it, but I did have fun.

  5. 5. NewGuyDave

    I’m on the fourth revision of my first novel, and had no time for NaNo. Not that I’d do it anyway. It doesn’t fit into how I want to write.

    Pumping out 50,000 words of crap for me means I’ll have to re-write the majority of those words, which is basically a waste of time. So I’ll plod along at my own pace (104,000 in four months to draft my first novel) and try to limit revisions.

    Don’t get me wrong, writing 50,000 words is impressive even if done in longer than a month. Finishing a story of any length is something to be proud of. The NaNo community sounds like a great resource for people who need encouragement or a kick in the pants to sit down and write. If it helps people, then great. It’s just not for me.

    Besides, 50,000 words is a novella, not a novel. :P

  6. 6. ElizaWyatt

    NaNo is good for me. This is my third time participating and my third win.

    Trust us; the serious in NaNo know that it’s really half a novel. We know it’s a first draft. It’s still a great way to pound out the beginning of a book.

    Before I started participating in NaNoWriMo, I had a horrible time finishing my projects; I would get fussy about the characters and the details. Getting the shape and composition of a plot is more important than brilliant writing in the early stages, and NaNo gives you the material to work with.

  7. 7. glenda larke

    At the beginning of November I was one third of the way through a contracted 180,000 word novel, part 3 of a trilogy. I joined NaNoWriMo to help with flagging output – and it worked. I am now 55,000 words further along, two-thirds of the way through my book and much closer to the deadline.

    It was fun. I made some local writing friends along the way. As long as participants know what it’s all about, I think it a great idea. I’ll bet all those who thought “anyone can write a novel” before they started, now have a pretty good idea of just how hard it is.

    For more about my NaNoWriMo, I blogged about it here:
    http://ripping-ozzie-reads.blogspot.com/2009/11/guest-post-glenda-larke-and-nanowrimo.html

  8. 8. Anna

    Yes, I participated in Nano this year – I really thought it was great! I’ve wanted to do it or several years, and this year I reminded myself frequently that I was doing it. I signed up last March. I think it’s a cool, fun thing; the point isn’t to write good stuff, it’s just to write. Inevitably something in there will be worth looking it. Even if it’s just one sentence. And you don’t have to finish at 50,000; you can let it balloon out (which is what I did) to a much bigger story. I’m at 60,000 words now, but it’s not finished. It’ll probably take another thirty or fifty thousand to finish it.

  9. 9. L Zoel

    I’ve done nanowrimo a couple of times now. Not hoping to write 50,000 quality words in a month, instead I just wrote some backstory that will hopefully help my real novel (100,000 words so far, about 2 years of on-and-off writing) a little more interesting.

  10. 10. kristi

    I’m fresh off NaNoWriMo #8, and have “won” every year I’ve participated. Maybe I’m the exception to the rule, but I don’t think that what I write during November is any better or worse than what I write the rest of the year. I don’t think my NaNo novels need more editing or revision than any other things I write. Often, they’re more cohesive just because of the intensity of cranking it all out in one month.
    When I don’t have that 30-day deadline, I tend to meander and plod, and write a bunch of dreadful filler.
    NaNo is wonderful for people who just want to get words on a page, and it certainly encourages random plot lines and stream of consciousness rambling, but I think many Wrimos manage to avoid the “this novel is absolute crap” trap, too.
    My hackles go up every time I read a non-NaNo participant lamenting the crap that others produce during November, or cheapening the 50,000 word accomplishment by implying that it’s not a real novel yet. Sure, most works need to get beyond 75k before they’re considered novel length, but any Wrimo worth his or her salt knows that already. Few people actually stop @ 50k and think they’re done :)
    Some of us can draft quickly and eloquently, and great things can come of a NaNo manuscript.

  11. 11. Elias McClellan

    Yeah, I meander and plod too. I meander out of bed at 5am, walk the obligatory 2 miles (to keep the big-H at bay) and I’m at work at 6:30, where I write, read, and revise for the next 1.5 hours before a day of plodding through the work that pays my bills. Unless I’m in court that day and then I get a little extra-time to recover from the mind-numbing experience.

    Then I meander home at 5pm, cook dinner and introduce myself to the wife (she’s started a business this year) who’s day has been every bit as leasurely as mine. We manage to eat together before we plod through the latest project for our adoption. We meander into a coma around 9-ish. On the weekends, we plod-off to our second-gigs to pay for the adoption. I’m a meandering limo-driver and the wife plods through home-healthcare.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not slamming what ever NaNoWriMo is (thought seriously, could there be a more asinine tag?) or is not. Nor do I question the work produced. It’s just all I can do to squeeze out an hour or so 4 or 5 days a week. Then I meander through anywhere from 250 to a scorching 2000 words, or plod through none as I attempt to untangle some knot I’ve wrote myself into.

    I’ve read of this one or that one who only wrote short-fiction because they had responsibilities that kept them from a novel. And I don’t know if I buy that bit, having always subscribed to the line, ‘we fat that which fat’s ourselves.’ But I do think this exercise in mental masturbation is selling the genuine time and effort necessary to writing a novel, way too short.

  12. 12. Doug Hulick

    I don’t do NaNo because I don’t have the time to set a majority of a month aside to dump words out at a rate that his two to three times my normal pace. Nor do I have the interest.

    I write most days, twelve months a year. I’m more worried about that progress and word count than I am about what I do during a 30 day span in November.

    If NaNo helps people kick-start themselves into writing, all the better. Different things work for different people, and I am not about to say what should or should not work for others. But if it’s a once a year kind of thing for you, then while I commend your dedication for the duration (and it does take dedication), I have to observe that writing is more about the marathon than it is about the sprint; and I think Nano glorifies the sprint.

  13. 13. D. Moonfire

    I think NaNoWriMo is great because it gets someone started on writing. Whenever my co-workers tell me “I could never write a novel”, I suggest November since there is a support structure.

    For me, I get focused on the wrong goal. I already know I can write 50k words in a month. But, I end up focusing on just writing 50k words and, well, it came out as complete crap. But, I couldn’t push past that 50k because that ended up my goal.

    Goals are important in my thoughts. But, I found that if I set the goal too short, I really struggle when I pass it.

  14. 14. Merc

    I didn’t participate this year (have the previous five, however) as I’ve come to the conclusion that, for me, it’s more stress right now than it’s worth. I also never touch the drafts (half finished or not) when I’m done so it’s really not that productive.

    I did write, without trying that hard, over 40k during the month. (Due to RL, I didn’t even expect to get half that.) The difference was it was on a variety of projects but I was much happier with the output than I am with NaNo novels.

    I found it helpful the first two years because it taught me I COULD write and produce a draft in a short period. I leaned to FINISH something. By now I know I can finish and write quickly if I want, but I’m more satisfied with a slower pace and working my own way, so while I enjoy the community aspect, it’s no longer that useful for me.

    Not dissing NaNo, it just no longer works for me. So no, probably will not doing it again. ;)

    ~Merc

  15. 15. Mindy Klasky

    ::calling into the abyss::

    Hey, folks! Thanks for posting so many different perspectives on NaNo – I was especially heartened to read about so many participants understanding that the challenge is just the first part of the process!

    I would have written back sooner – in fact, I’d *intended* on responding to individual comments – but my computer life was hobbled by a switch in ISPs… I’m back on line now, though, and look forward to more comments on this and future months’ posts!

  16. 16. heteromeles

    I’m not a published novelist, but this is the second year I’ve done Nano, and I may well do it again.

    However, I cheat.

    In 2008, I did 50,000 words in the approved Nano way. Over half of it was was background material for a really interesting SF world I’d been toying with. The story stunk as written, but I thought the basic plot would be fun to write.

    In early ’09, I got a job at a company that had a rather draconian intellectual property rule. Basically, as a salaried employee, they wanted to own the results of any creative activity, period. I pointed out that they didn’t own my garden, and they made the heroic sacrifice of limiting their claims to everything I did that might make money. I didn’t touch that novel while I was working for them. The economy got them this fall, and I’m unemployed again.

    So I Nano’ed the same story in 2009. That’s cheat #1. Cheat #2, I outlined it as well as writing it. Did you know that outline words still count as words for NaNo? It made the creation process a lot easier. On November 30, I had 7500 word outline, ca. 10,000 words additional background (entirely worldbuilding), and the rest was the start of a really neat 120,000-150,000 word story I’m working on now.

    I don’t particularly like the Nanowrimo strategy of “no plot, no problem” because (IMHO) you end up with 50,000 words of haggis from which you need extract the meat and put in some plot bones. For me, I found it went far easier to have a plot to write to, even though it mutated constantly as I figured out the characters, setting, and plot.

    The other thing I’d point out is that Word 2007 has one advantage: the strikeout font is right there on the tool bar. This is handy in Nano, because rather than deleting the crap you discard, you simply strike it out, and you do not lose on wordcount by editing and rewriting. After Nano, I found out that I had ~2000 word struck out in the text. Not bad. That’s about the only advantage I see to Word 2007, BTW.

    Assuming I’m free next fall, I’ll probably do Nano again to launch another novel. And yes, I’m planning to cheat again. Cheating on Nanowrimo is fun!

  17. 17. Mindy Klasky

    Het – Thanks for the post. Interesting, about your employer’s IP policy. I worked around a similar policy for years. I may write about that next month!

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Author Information

Mindy Klasky

Mindy Klasky is the author of eleven novels, including WHEN GOOD WISHES GO BAD and HOW NOT TO MAKE A WISH in the As You Wish Series. She also wrote GIRL'S GUIDE TO WITCHCRAFT, SORCERY AND THE SINGLE GIRL, and MAGIC AND THE MODERN GIRL, about a librarian who finds out she's a witch. Mindy also wrote the award-winning, best-selling Glasswrights series and the stand-alone fantasy novel, SEASON OF SACRIFICE. Visit site.

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