Monday, October 29, 2012

NaNoWriMo: When to Participate in National Novel Writing Month—and when not to.

November is inextricably linked to NaNoWriMo in many people’s minds. Perhaps you’re thinking of participating this year.

I’ve never participated, but last year I turned my attention to the idea and gave it considerable consideration. Then, I decided not to participate.

This year, as I approach November, I’m thinking about it afresh, and all the reasons I didn’t participate last year don’t hold in 2012.

Are you thinking of taking up the NaNoWriMo challenge, either officially or unofficially? Here’s a handy check list to see if you should say yes to the challenge, or pass.

1) I want to join the rank of authors who had their NaNoWriMo novels published.
This list includes: Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus (a massive bestseller, and was long listed for the Orange Prize), K. Bennett (nom de plume of James Scott Bell)— The Year of Eating Dangerously about a lawyer who is also a zombie, and Sara Gruen—yes, THAT Sara Gruen.          
            This is a noble goal, and in fact that list of published books that began as NaNoWriMo projects is surprising long. And before someone jumps in and says that these are all well published, expert writers, let me point out that Morgenstern is a debut, so it can happen, right? Sure it can. Is it likely? Ummm, let’s move on.

2) I have a project that I’ve been working on/thinking about for a long while (months or even years)
            Even writers who don’t use outlines put time in up front thinking about characters, situations, and other aspects of the story they hope to write before they begin writing. Planners can spend more than half the time it takes to create a first draft just plotting the novel. If you’re in the planning stage you might want to weigh the pros and cons of jumping into writing now. On the one hand, it might prove to be a creative exercise that helps you cement the direction you want the novel to take. On the other, it might prove to be a distraction. Know if you’re ready to jump into writing. For me, this is nearly a physical knowledge. My mind and body will not work together to type scenes before I’m ready to write. If I try, I only frustrate myself. It might be different for you.

3) I have already started writing and NaNoWriMo will keep me motivated.
            This might seem like a no brainer, but take a moment to think it through first. Is your project sturdy enough to withstand an onslaught of words and ideas that come from NaNoWriMo? Are you able to write without edits for a month straight? Can you plunge ahead happily? Or does the writing feel more like hairline brushstrokes on the page?

4) I don’t have a solid idea for a novel, but I really want to muck around in words for 30 days and see how it feels.
            Jump in.

5) I want to become a great writer, and one way to do that is to write every day.
            Writers write. Yes, daily. Even between projects, writers are always pecking out words, sculpting characters, and jotting down insights, ideas, and effigies. But NaNoWriMo is not a path to becoming a great writer. It’s just a path to becoming someone who can write everyday. It’s a way of opening your mind and pouring words on the page, not a substitute for all the other steps, and the time and effort it takes to be good. As long as you know the difference, you’ll be fine.

6) Competition is good for the writer’s soul. I want to see if I can beat out other writers and hit the goal.
            Some folks are born competitors, and if you’re one, then this reason might be the best one for you. Rise to the challenge, overcome the masses, and finish 50,000 words in 30 days. Huzzah! But many (most?) creative types are not only not competitive they run from the very idea. My suggestion is compete only with yourself—that way you’ll be comparing apples to apples. Set your word count goals for yourself and then try your best to beat them each day.

7) I don’t really care if the novel is good I just want to see if I can do it.
            Jump in.

8) I believe that 50,000 words is standard for a novel.
            Not so much. Romance books can be this length, as well as other genre novels, but for the most part, word counts are well above the 50,000 word mark. So why 50,000? It’s the lowest word count for a novel, and lets face it, if you can plonk down that many words, you truly do have something to say!

9) I believe I can write a terrible first draft that will require a great deal of editing, but that I can work with slowly over several months once NaNoWriMo is over.
            Jump in. Because that’s very, very, very likely what you will produce: a terrible first draft. Maybe not more than an extended novel outline. And that’s a good thing. You will have produced something. Just don’t go into it thinking you’ll be able to write anything publishable. But you will have gotten some ideas down on the page, you’ll experience the thrill, the mind-numbing dullness, the pain, and joy of writing every day. And, with luck, you will have produced something that you can continue to shape, mold, edit, and work on to create a wonderful novel.

Are you thinking about participating in NaNoWriMo? Have you done it in the past? Let us know your thoughts, your experience, and any advice you have for those thinking of jumping in for the first time.


Sandra Stiles said...

I participated last year and I'm still working on edits. I said I wouldn't participate this year. I've been researching for 3 years for my historical fiction. Last week all my ideas came together and I signed up. I have 10 middle school students who have jumped on the bandwagon. For me it is a great way to get the first draft done.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

I did it one year and it nearly killed me. It was weirdly inspiring, though.

Sally Bradley said...

I'm doing it for the first time this year. I've got 50K left on my book, and I know I can write and write without stopping to edit. It also helps that I'm in the last half of the book and I pretty much know what's happening.

I've been averaging around 20K a month with writing for an hour or so every Monday through Friday. So I'm going to try to add another hour or two each weekday and do some Saturday writing as well.

It also help that I just found out my Thanksgiving company may not be coming. :)

Patti Hill said...

Bonnie, I appreciate how you've helped us decide if NaNoWriMo is for us. Not this year for me. I'm in the middle of substantive edits--almost done--and my next story isn't quite formed. In fact, November will be GetThatSuckerStructuredMo for me.

Dina Sleiman said...

My 2011 nanowrimo novel just released. Although, I didn't officially register, so I don't think I'll get added to that list. I actually wrote from the last week of October through the second week of December, then took a few weeks off and edited in January.

And since you ladies previously asked me to let you know when it was available, it's "Love in Three-Quarter Time" with Zondervan and available now in ebook formats. Only $3.99.

Dina Sleiman said...

Oh, and not this year for me, although I do want to get several proposals done during November, which might total close to 50,000. I loved doing it last year, though. I felt like it saved a lot of time since I stayed in the flow of the story.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Dina is my guest blogger today! (plug, plug) Come over to the could win a necklace!

Okay. I kicked around the idea of participating in Nanowrimo as I sipped vanilla almond tea at a trendy coffee shop yesterday. Then this post? Seriously? I'm going to try it. I have everything outlined and several "bare bones" chapters done.

But, do I register? Ugh. That's the big freak out point for me.

I have so many excuses not to (homeschooling my 3, Thanksgiving, Megan Sayer is coming to my house, Facebook needs me to 'like' stuff). But it might just be time for me to be brave and go for it.

Camille Eide said...

Ha - I totally agree with the non-competitive comment, Bonnie.

I'm giving NaNo a shot for the first time. Like Bonnie, I am hesitant to write if I'm not sure what it is I want to put down and am pretty sure my inner editor & me are going to have some very nasty wrestling matches. I'm also worried I'll end up with 50k of sheer crap. IF I make it to 50k. I am hoping to learn something about turning off the editor sometimes and just getting words down. I am so anal. I can take a month rewriting one scene, and am still not sure if that's a good thing or bad. CPs chewed me out once for taking that long. But I ended up with a scene I was satisfied with. Who's to say.

The main reason I'm doing it now is that 1. I am not in the middle of anything, so why not, and 2. I've not worked on a novel this year at all due to my daughter's wedding and being so blasted All-Or-Nothing anal, trying to focus on both would have caused someone an aneurysm. So I'd like to end the year with SOMETHING. The bones of a book to work with, at least. It could backfire, I know. If nothing else, I may have 50k words of my character free-writing in a journal which will help me know her and her voice better. That's worth something. Lord knows I've been known to waste an entire month of writing with far less to show for it. :)

Anal people have a place in this world too. Just don't try to make us unite, it wouldn't be pretty.

Camille Eide said...

PS: My editor just chewed me out for not proofing before posting and made me come back with a correction: " inner editor & I are going to have some very nasty wrestling matches...."

Need I say more.


Bonnie Grove said...

Sandra: Did you register? That's the point I'm tentative about. I'm actually ready to start writing--but!--I know I won't be writing full out until after the first week of November because of a conference hubby and I are running. Or maybe I'm just splitting hairs?

Karen: Nearly killed is bad. Can you tell us more, or are you still waking up screaming?

Sally: High five! 20K a month is an excellent clip already. Cheers!

Bonnie Grove said...

Patti: GetThatSuckerStructuredMo!! You'll start a whole new writing movement. I am beginning to believe that the more we structure up front, the less we cry on the back nine.

Dina: Congrats! And thanks for letting us know about your book release. We wish you heap loads of success!! Happy dance!

Camille: The inner editor is always with me. Sometimes she naps and I can toss words around quickly, but she always wakes up too early and starts rolling her eyes.
For the most part, I've made peace with my inner editor. But I do wonder if it will be an issue if I were to jump into NaNoWriMo.
I am tremendously hard on my writing (people who I've edited know I'm hard, but I'm worse to myself, I promise).

Even after this post, I'm not 100% certain what I will do.

Robert White said...

Good to know I fit the profile.

Once I get a few paying projects out of the way, it's on to the third draft of my NaNoWriMo novel from last year, filling in some of the missing narrative.

Bonnie Grove said...

Susie: I suppose the point of registering is that "I'm committed" act of accountability. I'm waffling over it too, but for different reasons. My strangeness dictates that I'm not much of a "joiner". That when someone suggests a way of doing something, I invariably go off and find another way. Just a personality tick, I guess. I have another couple of days to decide.

Robert: Great dedication to a complex story! Canadian war buffs everywhere will thank you for your determination.

Megan Sayer said...

The more I think about it the more convinced I am that Aussies should do their own Nanowrimo in March or April, when we're all fresh, full of energy and don't have a zillion and fifty end of year commitments.
I'm inspired by everyone else's vision, but seriously, I (and everyone else I know down here) am just hanging on desperately for Summer holidays. Writing of that nature can happen after that.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Nope, not me. Real life is too weird, stranger than fiction and none of the plot lines resolve...yet. God is still working on me.
I wish all who try a peaceful location, fluid ink/responsive keyboard, plenty of caffeine and chocolate and an understanding family.

Bonnie Grove said...

Megan: Summer is good. I always manage more goofing off than writing in summer.

Henrietta: Thanks for the good wishes. I'm still waffling on if I should sign up or not. Can I start late? I know I won't get into it this week.

Marian said...

I haven't written since Spring. I miss it. I signed up. Now I need a story that excites me, a main character who I love and a touchstone to bring me back in when I'm drifting. God help me.

Steve G said...

As I read this post, it reminded me of a marathon. I could put on a pair of shoes and run, but really, if I have not done any training or prep I will probably hit a wall fairly early on or get distracted by a squirrel and cut out early. Not that that isn't an experience, but one really needs to go into a major project with intention and things in place in order to be successful.

I appreciated the reminder that prep is needed for a big project, and that there is more to life than jumping on a band wagon.

Bonnie Grove said...

Sometimes a little bandwagon jumping is fun, but you're right, Steve, jumping on without knowing what you're doing ahead of time can be setting yourself up for failure.
I'm STILL waffling.

Lily Whalen said...

I signed up for the first time this year. I don't plan to attend any of the local events, but I'm thinking it will help me develop the discipline of daily writing and I'm sure I can write 50,000 words of crap that can be edited into something beautiful later :)

Unknown said...

Cheering for you, Susan, and your 50,000 words of redeemable crap.