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:
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:
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!