NaNoWriMo started this month without me.
That’s National Novel Writing Month, a community-driven exercise in fast writing. The whole objective is to produce a steaming 50,000-word pile of hot garbage in a month.
Some writers love it while others hate it. The emphasis is on putting words down on paper, roughly 1,667 per day, with quality taking a back seat to output.
In other words, fairly standard first-draft material. As in bad. As in all-you-can-eat $1.99 seafood buffet kind of bad.
That doesn’t matter, though. You’re throwing your thoughts down as fast as they come, and that’s good practice for a writer. First drafts are usually done with the door closed, and maybe eyes closed too.
I get a kick out of writers who go into NaNoWriMo as if it’s some sort of challenge. And it is. If you’re not used to writing you’ll find this akin to a death march. It’s hard work, but it gets easier as you develop the habit of writing every day.
Since I started charting my output on August 14, here’s what I’m logging:
- In August I laid down 27,301 words in that partial month. That’s 18 days. Projecting it out over 31 days, that’s 47,018. Close, but just missing it.
- September: 57,551. Average: 1,918 words per day.
- October: 50,233. Average: 1,620 words per day.
My high output since I started charting was 4,317 on August 31, and I had two other 4,000+ word days. Six days I threw down more than 3,000 words. These still pale against my all-time high word-count day of more than 8,000. I think I was quite manic at the time, but that’s another story. But trust me, I wasn’t worth a darn for a day after that. Shoulders hurt, back hurt, neck hurt, everything hurt.
For those two and a half months, plus the first few days of November I have 138,042 words down. Now, these word counts don’t include the day-to-day Web writing that supports me, nor does it include blog posts. This is all the evening writing that goes into a couple of fiction works in various stages of completion.
So, yeah, I can pull it off.
I entered once before, and nailed it. That was a few years ago, and the whole thing is ready to publish. Second and third drafts completed. Only reason I’m waiting is because the timing is not quite right. I’m being strategic here; want to get a few other things out before publishing this work.
I won’t be in NaNoWriMo this year. My two fiction works are past the first-draft phase. One is in second draft and the other sits in the post-first-draft crock pot for 40 days and 40 nights. That’s enough projects for me right now. I’d rather not mess with another first draft what with this heavy editing; the earliest I can really attack a new project is in February, after Part One of B.I.C. Cartel hits Amazon.
For people like me, Rochelle Melander of The Write Now! Coach suggests rolling your own NaNoWriMo. Who says it has to be in November? Sure, it won’t be as social, but it’ll work. Shoot, with a U-Build-It version you can set your own goals, write any genre or even do your second draft.
I like NaNoWriMo’s emphasis on writing quickly. You don’t have time to agonize over every word; you’re just throwing them down. It’s good practice for first drafts, which are great if you don’t mind jamming out a whole bunch of barely comprehensible words. All good writing starts with really bad stuff anyway.
Forget editing on the fly at this point; just get the words out.
Here’s the thing, though. I’ve heard of people finishing their 50,000 words and submitting the work right away. Hoping an agent or publisher will love it, or self-pubbing the thing through Amazon. Except first drafts read exactly like first drafts. If you’re a pantser you’re taking the narrative wherever it goes and there’s not a whole lot of thought about the characters. Even plotters have a rough time getting a readable first draft, but the odds are a little better.
Here’s what Joe Bunting of The Write Practice says about it:
“It’s silly for you to submit your NaNoWriMo novel to an agent or publisher on December 1. Please don’t do it. This is a shortcut and your novel is worth more than that.”
In my own first drafts I’ll have some parts that are fully formed. Others are nothing but skeletal notes. But none of it is publishable.
Another aspect of NaNoWriMo is the social one. Most towns have a so-called write-in, where people get together to pound stuff out as a group and talk about writing. The NaNoWriMo site also has forums where you can talk about writing some more.
Me, I’d rather write than talk about it. I may post my word count on Twitter, but that’s about all.
Then you have the people who only write during NaNoWriMo. Which is fine if you’re a hobbyist, but a pro is out there every day. I mean both are writers, but a professional has a whole different attitude about the process and the result.
That said, there’s plenty of support along the way. Besides the NaNoWriMo site, writer Mur Lafferty is putting out a series of short podcasts to walk you through the process. Even if you’re not participating, these are good to check out anyway.
Anyway, if you like the idea of NaNoWriMo, you can still get in. Go for it. It’s a learning experience. You find out how to tell your internal editor to put a sock in it. You develop the habit — hopefully — of writing every day. You learn what first drafts really look like, and if you have the cojones for it you’ll edit that mess.
OK, so what do you do with that steaming pile of literary excrement? I take a page from Stephen King here, and it’s become my practice. Set it aside for a period of time. He suggests six weeks, which is right in line with my 40 days and 40 nights. Then take it out, read it, scribble all over it with a red pen (or however you do that on the computer) and take your time with the rewrite. Call it 40 days for that too. The third draft is where you polish it up for publication.
But if you have a story in your head, don’t tell me about it. Go to the NaNoWriMo website, create an account and start work. Get it out of your head and onto paper where it belongs.
Who says it has to be good?
# # #
What say you? Are you going for NaNoWriMo this year? Can you slam down all that verbiage in a month? Please share in the comments.
* * *
LATE ADD: A couple of conversations on Twitter:
* * *
… and this one’s great …