Welcome to National Novel Writing Month

Image courtesy of Felixco, Inc. / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Felixco, Inc. / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Think you can write 50,000 words in a month?

No, they can’t be the same words repeated over and over again, Bart Simpson. But a bona fide novel? What’s so hard? After all, you must have survived at least one 2,000-word term paper all-nighter… pounding Red Bull and chewing on your hair while your roommate snored away… stumbling up to class the next day looking like you spent the night trapped in a bunker with a rabid raccoon.

All you’d have to do to participate in National Novel Writing Month is repeat that daily from today until November 30. Heck, you’d even have five days to spare. Psht. Child’s play.

Hold up there, Hemingway.

National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) can be a great little extra for those who have been wanting to write a novel but never got around to it. For some, it provides a sense of community. For others, it’s just nice to have a deadline. It’s a gimmick, yes, but gimmicks can be effective when used correctly. Let me repeat that: when used correctly.

The most important thing to remember about NaNoWriMo is that come 11:59 p.m. November 30, if you’ve managed to type those six little stars and “The End” on your final page, you deserve a pat on the back. Congratulations. Kudos. Cheers. But make no mistake. What you have is not a novel. What you have is a first draft.

According to my handy little “Progress Tracker” sticky, I wrote the first draft of Desperately Ever After from April 24 to June 5, 2011. It was my second novel (the first, which took eight months, is sitting in a drawer somewhere waiting to be revived) and the grand total came to 71,000 words. This was supersonic fast for me… but there are several things I should point out:

1- I did not write it during November. I wrote it during a perfect storm of hermit-li-ness, when my husband was studying for his CFA exam and my puppy was in the I-just-want-to-sleep-all-day-and-pee phase.

2- I probably had a good 10,000 words worth of tidbits before I even started counting, because…

3- …the characters and ideas for this book had been fermenting in my head since high school. That’s more than a decade of experiences and feelings and interactions that I could jot down and connect at random times to the plots and people in my book. Even if I didn’t officially start writing until 2011, that sort of foundation matters.

4- It was a FIRST DRAFT. This is by far the most important part, and the greatest downfall for a lot of NaNoWriMo writers. I would absolutely die if publishers actually saw the file I saved on June 5, 2011.

Since then, there have been eight (EIGHT!) significant revisions and one rewrite. Full characters have been removed, added, or fleshed out. Entire plot lines have either evaporated or been pushed to later books in the series. Brand new conflicts have emerged. And most importantly, I am PROUD of what I have now. Two years ago, I was proud that I finished the first draft, but I knew it was only a start. A pencil sketch. I had no idea how much I was holding these characters back until I gave them the time to grow.

The point to take away from this is by all means, participate in National Novel Writing Month. Start your long-postponed journey toward penning the great American novel. But remember that it’s just the start. Do NOT mass e-mail literary agents on December 1 about “the fantastic, unparalleled masterpiece I just wrote in a piddly 30 days! Just imagine what I can do in 60!”

Exactly. Just imagine what you can do in 60. Or 90. Or two years, four months, and 27 soul-twisting days.

For more information on National Novel Writing Month, click here.

What do you think about NaNoWriMo?

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2 Comments

Filed under Writing Process

2 responses to “Welcome to National Novel Writing Month

  1. wehed2000

    Thanks Laura! An interesting article and a great metaphor for so many of “life’s endeavors” in an age of instant gratification.

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