NaNoWriMo – Is it for you?

It’s the last week in October, and many writers’ thoughts are inevitably turning to the annual novel-writing event, NaNoWriMo. What started as a modest venture in San Francisco Bay in 1999 with 21 participants has grown into a global phenomenon with millions participating. As a first-timer in 2015, I’d like to offer my views to those about to try it this year.

The idea is simple. You start by registering online at:

https://nanowrimo.org/sign_up.

Then, beginning any time after midnight on 31 October, you aim to write an average of 1667 words per day for 30 days. If you stick to it, by 23.59 on 30 November, you will have either the first draft of a book of 50,000 words or the first 50,000 words of a longer work.

 

The Biggest Plus

The biggest advantage of NaNoWriMo is undoubtedly the self-discipline it brings. Many people have never forced themselves to channel their energy in this way. You know precisely from day one what is required and when, and there’s something curiously liberating about having the burden of procedural decisions lifted from your shoulders. The idea that many thousands are making the same effort as you, at the same time, with the same goal, is hugely motivating. If they can do it, so can you.

 

You’re Not Alone

If you google NaNoWriMo + your town, you’ll find other enthusiasts not far away. There is a huge amount of support and encouragement online. If you’re lucky, you may also find a group that meets in the flesh, and you could find yourself tapping away at a laptop in a village hall or a library with flasks of coffee and soggy sandwiches. You’ll probably make a few friends there, though conversation will be limited if you’re to notch up 1667 words.

If you stick to the task, you’ll be declared a “winner” at the end, with the appropriate certificate. (It’s all self-regulating, and your word is taken on trust.) So you can claim you wrote a book in a month. How many people can say that? It’s an achievement to be proud of.

 

Do you end up with a novel?

There is nothing to lose by doing NaNoWriMo, but it’s as well to keep your feet on the ground about what you win. Definitions of “novel” are notorious for their elasticity, but by any definition, a word count of 50,000 lies right at the lower limit. Of the many articles dealing with length, the best one I have seen is by literary agent Chuck Sambuchino:

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/word-count-for-novels-and-childrens-books-the-definitive-post

The golden mean is 80,000 – 100,000 words, though you’ll usually get away with 70,000. If you’re self-publishing, it doesn’t matter, and you may prefer the length of a novella anyway, but bear in mind that many traditional publishers don’t consider 50,000 words as a work of publishable length. Remember too that, once you’ve cut out the verbiage of your frenzied writing in November, you’ll be left with 45,000 words if you’re lucky.

 

Quantity or Quality?

Now I’ll come clean: I didn’t finish. NaNoWriMo is not for me. I never came to terms with the philosophy of quantity over quality: let your imagination run wild, splurge it all out, and worry about editing later. I like the idea of editing, reworking, honing a piece at the end of a day, while everything is fresh in my mind, and then editing again the next morning. Instead of 1667 words for 30 days, I aim for 1000 words for 70 days. You still need self-discipline, but there is less pressure, and the emphasis stays on quality. Nevertheless, I’m glad I took part in NaNoWriMo. It taught me a lot about myself, my writing style, and my priorities. It’s probably best suited to those who think and write quickly, but everyone gains something.

 

Shock – Horror

Now comes the slightly bitter aftertaste. Two weeks in, I realised I wasn’t going to hit 1667 words per day, nor did I wish to any longer. Emails from the NaNoWriMo website kept arriving, and as they were no longer relevant for me, I decided to unsubscribe. You’d think that would be straightforward. It isn’t. They don’t want you to leave. In the end, the only way I could stop the emails coming was to enter a 102-digit code. I’ll repeat that: a code with one hundred and two digits! Now, can someone please write a novel about NaNoWriMo?

Good luck to all who enter!

 

 

 

 

 

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5 Responses to NaNoWriMo – Is it for you?

  1. Hi Geoff,
    Great article!
    I love NaNo for a number of reasons, but mainly because I struggle with self-discipline and I find it hugely motivating, what with that pretty graph and everything 🙂
    This year, my target is to finish the novella I have already started, so I won’t get anywhere near 50k, but if I finish the first draft, I’ll be happy.
    Interesting what you say about traditional publishers and word counts. I’m so glad I self-publish! The market I write for much prefers a series of smaller books rather than something as much as 80k (or so the statistics tell us).
    Good luck with your endeavours! xx

    • Hi Liz, Many thanks for your useful comment. I agree entirely that NaNoWriMo’s power to motivate is one of its most compelling attractions: the number of participants these days is ample evidence of that.
      Good luck with the novella! From what you say, I’m confident you’ll crack it. Is it another in the same series as Siren Spirit?
      Yes, series of smaller books are the way to go. I’m already planning my next blog about size/length – from book level right down to word and even syllable level.

  2. Great article, Geoff. I love the whole NaNo concept: I have no problem with quantity over quality; in fact I would be the first to admit that my first draft is always drivel. But I do have difficulty making myself apply bum to chair and fingers to keyboard on occasion. The whole thing about targets and challenging myself (and others) works really well for me and I’m intending to finish the first draft of novel #3 this year. But I can see that it wouldn’t suit everyone. Have you tried 100K in 100 days, which runs from 1st January. That’s a bit more leisurely (although it doesn’t always feel like it). Good luck to everyone taking part and happy writing to the rest of you. Elizabeth.

    • Hi Elizabeth (Have we stopped calling you Kate now?! Which do you prefer?)
      I agree with all you say about targets and challenges: NaNoWriMo is great for that. I didn’t know about the 100K in 100 days, so thanks for mentioning it. Although that’s more my pace, I don’t want to write a novel of 100,000 words. I’ll either target 70,000 – 90,000 or split works into novellas. That would be a big decision – see Liz’s comment above. My feeling is that books in all genres are shrinking, probably because of people’s diminishing attention spans, though you’ll always find exceptions to prove the rule. Good luck with the third novel!

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