Yes, the time has come once again for NaNoWriMo – a month-long writing event during which aspiring writers work at a a mad pace to complete a novel.

I don’t get it.

For those of you not up on your writing lingo, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It occurs each November and participants sign up to write a novel of at least 50,000 words during the 30 days of November.

Why people do NaNoWriMo.

  • Some writers need that push (please continue to push yourself after November if you want to succeed as a writer)
  • Some writers like the challenge (to which I can’t help but ask, “Why aren’t you writing this much anyway?)
  • Some people just want to say they did it. Sort of like runners who want to say they’ve finished a marathon.
  • Some people probably sign up and never log in again.
  • Some people hope to win the prizes. Wait, there’s prizes? Why the hell am I not doing this?

I’m not saying writers shouldn’t do this event, I’m just saying it’s not for me (I push myself plenty hard enough) and I’m also saying that writers need to have reasonable expectations from the event.

My first question: Why November?

In the U.S. November is a crazy time of people making holiday arrangements for Thanksgiving at the end of the month and then, before the Thanksgiving dishes have even been washed, the insanity of Christmas shopping begins (okay, “officially” begins, Xmas crap has been out at the stores since late-August).

And before you get on my case saying “It’s an international event. Writers from around the world participate,” I’ll just add that NaNoWriMo is based in the U.S. Which is why I still ask: Why November? Why not a more mellow month like January – which, by the way has an extra day for these 229,606 (as of today) crazy writers to complete their book. There’s not much going in in January and the super crazy typing would keep people’s fingers warm.

But the timing isn’t my real issue with NaNoWriMo.

My issue is why? To me it seems a little gimmicky. Still, writers love their gimmicks to get themselves writing. This explains the many workbooks and packets that “guarantee” your will complete your novel in 30 days, 6 weeks, 90 days or whatever arbitrary time line the book seller has chosen.

These books are gimmicks and so is NaNoWriMo. Don’t freak out that I wrote that, it’s true. And just because I say that, doesn’t mean I don’t understand why people like to do the event.

I know writers like the camaraderie of NaNoWriMo.

As I mentioned above, over 229,000 people are signed up. But it reminds me of people who sign up for an intense diet program seeking motivation, but in truth are really looking for the sympathy of the other participants when they say “Ugh, I’m SOOO hungry” or the group congratulations when they lose a pound or ten. In the case of NaNoWriMo, writers have other writers to whine to when their fingers are ready to burst from typing or they can’t come up with another paragraph, or to celebrate with them when they completed the first 10,000 words.

Unfortunately, novel writing is a solitary job. If you can’t write without a group of strangers boosting you up, you may want to consider other forms of writing.

I also understand that some writers need the motivation of the event to force themselves to write.

Now, don’t take this the wrong way, but if you want to be a writer, you need to learn to write without this kind of motivation. You need to discipline yourself to write every day (or almost every day) on your own, not because some event is telling you to or because you want the praise of saying you completed NaNoWriMo.

I worry that people have the wrong expectations from an event like this and perhaps expect a bit too much.

If aspiring writers don’t meet this expectation, I worry they will give up on writing altogether saying, “Well, I guess I’m not cut out for it.” Not everyone is cut out to write an average of 1667 words a day. Accept the speed at which you write and don’t expect an event like this to change you.

And I think calling it a NOVEL Writing Month is also a bit misleading.

Participants need to go into this not expecting to write a novel; they need to expect to write a first draft. A very thin first draft. Fifty thousand words is more of a novella, not a novel and you will need to flesh it out and lengthen it to call it a novel.

I know many people say they wrote their first published novel thanks to NaNoWriMo, but they didn’t. They wrote a first draft that was followed up by plenty of editing, rewriting, revising and more editing. (Unless, of course, they cheated and already had a finished project that they posted on the event’s website!)

I wish NaNoWriMo was followed up in December with the Flesh Out Your First Draft Writing Month, then in January by the Revisions to the Second Draft Month, February could be the Ignore Your Novel for a Month Month (to clear your head and look at it with fresh eyes), March would be Polishing the Third Draft Month, and, well, you get the idea.

My point is that turning your work from November into a true novel is going to take many more months of work. If you don’t already have the discipline in your writing life to write daily (or almost daily), you will never see your NaNoWriMo work turn into a complete novel. And, if you worry about writing the “perfect” novel in 30 days, you will not complete the 50,000 words needed to be considered a NaNoWriMo success (again, unless you cheat)

My advice DURING NaNoWriMo…

  • Write as fast as you absolutely can. Ignore spelling errors. ignore grammar errors, ignore character inconsistencies – just get the words out.
  • Do not worry about perfection or poetry. If you get stuck on how to describe that sunset just right, skip it and make a note to yourself to come back to it. You do not have time to quibble over details.
  • Abbreviate your character names. If your character is Elizabeth, make her Eliz. If your character is Xanacanthu, make him Xan. This will greatly speed up your writing. When you revise, just use the Find and Replace function to add in the full names.
  • Work on only the bare bones of your story. If you’re thinking of three or four subplots, consider leaving them out or shrinking them down. You’ll end with way too much material to cover in 30 days. Stick to the main story line and perhaps one subplot. Your goal is to get the story out, not make it perfect or complex.
  • Get up from your computer at least once an hour or you will turn into a blob with eyestrain.

My advice AFTER NaNoWriMo….

  • Finish your novel. This means, either completing the story or adding in the subplots.
  • Deepen your characters and perfect those setting descriptions.
  • Accept that you have many more months of work ahead of you.
  • Give yourself a break after you get the first draft done – at least a week. Then, read over your draft and see what needs beefed up, cut out, rewritten or revised. Repeat for the second draft, third draft and as many times as you need.
  • Complete your book. Completing NaNoWriMo isn’t enough to call yourself a novelist. Get that book done and get it out to the world. Then, you may consider yourself a NaNoWriMo success.

Good luck to you all!

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo. Why or why not?