In a couple weeks the mad frenzy known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) will begin. During this month, during these 30 short days, writers are encouraged to write a novel. All I have to say is please don’t.
Now before you start throwing tirades at me saying NaNoWriMo is the most wonderful writing event on earth, keep reading to understand my point.
Writing a Book Takes Time
I would have no issue if NaNoWriMo would just change their name to National First Draft Writing Month. It’s not as catchy, but it establishes a more realistic mind set for the event.
For those with superb time management skills, a first draft is possible within 30 days. You cannot write a “book” in 30 days unless you’re some kind of planning genius, you possess a supernatural writing talent that should be studied by scientists, or you live on Venus where one day equals 243 Earth days (in which case you may be taking a tad too long to write your book).
A book requires draft after draft of revision, fine tuning, subjection to test readers, more revision and more fine tuning. Each draft takes several weeks, sometimes months, not a mad rush over a 30-day span.
The Problem With Rushing
Not to be cynical, but I’m going to make a generalization that the majority of NaNoWriMo participants are not going to find representation or be traditionally published (if you can find a statistic otherwise, please share it). Some participants may never write again beyond those 30 days, but many will turn their work into a self-published novel.
Telling folks they can write a novel in 30 days sets up an unrealistic expectation that writing is easy, that writing should be rushed, that books should be written and published as quickly as possible.
Those expectations are flat out wrong and are also detrimental to indie authors ever gaining respect.
Bookstores, reviewers and the general public already have a negative image of self-published novels. Much of that negativity stems from books that are thrown together just so the writer can get his words out there and into buyers’ hands. Rushing equals all the things that make self-published novels horrible: poor editing, horrid covers, wonky formatting, and less than stellar writing.
Why the Rush?
If you think your book is so great that you’ll sell a thousand copies in the first week, then you will….but please delay that first week until your book has been honed and polished to a perfect gem. Your book should be able to rival, no, not rival, BE BETTER THAN what is coming off the traditional publishers’ presses. That is the only way indie authors are ever going to be taken seriously.
The Experts Weigh In (And Agree With Me)
In a recent article from Publishers Weekly, several successful indie authors were asked what they would tell newbies to the self-publishing world. A striking majority begged other self-publishers to take their time with their books. While it doesn’t give any major insights, it is a good article reminding writers that quality work requires more than 30 days of scribbling.
This Does Not Give You An Excuse to Procrastinate
While you need to take time crafting your words, procrastination is not allowed. Writing a novel, while fun and exciting, is a long and tough process that can easily be put aside. After all, it’s not like you, the indie author, have any sort of deadline from the publisher, do you?
No? Well you should! You’ll just call them “goals” instead of “deadlines.”
I don’t encourage setting a publication date goal. Too many things come up in life, too many issues can come up in your drafting that can either make you miss that goal (leading to feeling bad about yourself) or rushing to meet that goal (leading to a crap book).
Instead, set draft goals. Give yourself X number of weeks for research and outlining. Once the planning stage is done, give yourself X number of weeks (or 30 days, if you must) to write the first draft. Each time you come to the end of one step in your project, set the goal for the next step’s completion.
Allowing yourself this time not only leads to a book you can be proud of, but also teaches you how long each step takes – information you can use when planning out your next novel.
Oh, and when you meet your goals, don’t forget to find some way to reward yourself.
14 thoughts on “The Key to Writing: Take Your Time”
I appreciate your critical evaluation of NaNoWriMo. One thing I will say is, I’m not sure who these people are who think that they will emerge on December 1st with a finished manuscript, because that is ridiculous. I’m sure there are plenty of those people out there, but I’ve been lucky enough to avoid them so far. Personally, I like the idea for NaNoWriMo, because it is a great chance to network with other writers, and I will admit, I know I need this push to get my first ever first draft down without stopping to self-edit every other sentence.
Also, thank you for encouraging independently published authors to take their time. I agree with you wholeheartedly that too many indies rush into publishing and make the rest of the community look bad (which is really unfortunate when you consider how many shoddy traditionally published books there are and how they don’t reflect poorly on that industry as a whole). After doing so much research into the process of independent publishing, it is clear that is a serious venture that should be entered into with as much (or even more) care as attempts to traditionally publish.
Thanks for your comment Kate. I do agree NaNoWriMo can be a great push for writers who may need that extra incentive to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). I do wonder though what motivation you (and the others) will find once the month is over; you may want to think about those goals I mentioned and try to come up with ideas for rewards now to keep yourself motivated. I think to be a writer, to get that first book completed, you need your own personal tenacity and to be able to motivate yourself without a group of others behind you. Then again, I have been known to be stubbornly independent and to not play well with others :)). Also, avoid the self-edit in the first draft. Don’t even look at what you’ve written the day before. Just write like a madwoman to conquer that first beast!
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I can’t say what motivates others after NaNoWriMo is over. For me, it’s very personal. Writing is my career goal, and it is what I studied in university and plan to study in graduate school. So, my motivation is to get out of my cubicle and cultivate multiple streams of income from creative pursuits that I actually enjoy. I know what you mean, though. If one gets too accustomed to relying on others or big events like this one, it makes it almost impossible to self-motivate when the support leaves and the event is over.
Sounds like some terrific motivation. Good luck with all your creative endeavors!
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Completely agree with you on Nano-write-off. To me it’s a waste of 30 days people could have spent writing two well-crafted 3,000 word chapters at 200 words a day. But if they have fun doing it, and I believe that they do otherwise they wouldn’t do it, then good luck to them; we’re all writers at heart and I wish them inspiration. I think there is room for prompted free-writing in the creative process, in fact I’d probably struggle to generate ideas without using such techniques myself, but a month-long exercise is beyond extreme, in my (less than humble) opinion.
Oh, and just to warn you, spell-check sometimes misses the ‘occasional’ word preceding cat sweaters…[I won’t be offended if you want to block this post from going live on your site; nobody likes a smart-ass pointing out stuff, even if they are trying to be helpful.]
Good luck with the book
I swear that word is my nemesis! Thanks for the heads up and thanks for sharing. Another slightly US-centric issue I have with nano is November is often a crazy month for people with Thanksgiving and family. Add in the stress of cranking out 50,000 words and I wonder how many heads explode by Nov. 30.
Reblogged this on Mary Blowers, Author and commented:
Here’s another opinion on NaNoWriMo. Interesting perspective. Do you plan to attempt it?
Thanks for the reblog, Mary. I’m already knee deep into a third raft of a book so I won’t be running the NaNo race.
Reblogged this on elaine j jackson and commented:
Couldn’t have said it better myself!
Thanks for the reblog, Elaine!
It’s always weird seeing people talk negatively about NaNo. I remember a few years back when it seemed every corner of the internet praised it. It’s hard to read things like this, although I do somewhat agree with what you’re saying.
I don’t think NaNoWriMo itself is to blame, though. The people who take advantage of it and try to self-publish their novels without using an ounce of common sense/artistry, sure. But not the challenge or the people running the challenge itself. The challenge wants you to rush out a first draft without editing simply because it wants to get more people writing. It doesn’t actively promote writing a crappy first draft and then submitting it to publishers. It’s just a means to getting the words down first and worrying later. And I think it’s a great idea; a national challenge that gives you an excuse to put life “on hold” and complete something that has either been niggling away at you for a while, or has only just come to you and demands a lot of your time.
Writing a first draft over the long-term can be destructive for some people (like me, actually). People who don’t have a fixed goal at the end that cannot be at all changed can lose momentum and never finish the thing. If you have a fixed wordcount goal and many, many other people coming along with you for the ride – well, it’s a lot easier to keep up momentum and finally churn that story out. Making your own deadlines and goals isn’t always as easy as it sounds, especially when you have other commitments or an unpredictable lifestyle. As well as the 30 days of writing momentum, some people even come out of November with the urge to keep writing as they did into December. For some people, it’s experiencing the encouragement, the challenge, and the dedication that helps them find it for their own personal goals and deadlines. If that makes sense.
I do believe that if someone completes their project within the 30 days then they have a novel. Not a publishable one, and not a finished one. The first draft of a novel. If it has a beginning, a middle and an end, then it’s a novel. Not a good one, and more like the bare bones of one. But still a novel. That’s more than a lot of people achieve. There are more writers who don’t finish their first drafts than there are bad self-published “authors” on Amazon. I think NaNo is amazing for helping with that.
But I do enjoy reading perspectives like yours – because it truly does feel like the challenge has been made to appear idyllic for the past 6 or so years it’s been more mainstream. I agree with you that maybe the wording should be changed to prevent people from believing their finished novel is publishable. And I agree that some authors take it too far and in the wrong direction. But there are some who see the challenge as a lot of fun; as a way to get that momentum and the motivation to finish a project; as an excuse. The community is amazing and encouraging, and the forum is a terrific resource for novel-writing any time of the year. So I don’t think the challenge is bad. In fact, I think it’s done more good than bad, personally!
Thanks for sharing this 🙂
Wow, thanks for the comment. I didn’t mean to sound negative about NaNo, certainly some people do need the group motivation to get a draft out of their brain. Still, if you are going to be a writer, if you are going to see your work move beyond a first draft, you need to find your own internal motivation. But then again, I’ve never been known to play well with others!
I would love NaNo and support it as much as you do if, upon sign up, NaNo sent a form email outlining the amount of work the writer will have to undertake once November is over. As I’ve always said, writing is easy, it’s the revision that’s the real work.
Oh definitely! Hence why I totally don’t see myself as a proper writer these days – I can get down a first draft if I really try but then trying to edit and revise it all always seems to fail.
And that would be good for them to include, but then again it may sour the initial challenge and put some people off having fun. As far as I know they do pay reference to the editing once the month is over, but otherwise you have to go on the forums and speak to all the “hardcore” (hehe) writers who use the forum for editing and revision for the rest of the year.
If it’s any consolation, I have about six first (and possibly “only”) drafts sitting in my manuscript cupboard. And another thing about being a writer, you gotta be tough (critics, rejections, etc.), so perhaps learning the awful truth from the get go would be a good start. Thanks for your comment!
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