Why you should do NaNo

Author’s note: This is a guest blog I posted over at Keystrokes & Wordcounts (new window) … I do think NaNoWriMo can be a great tool for novelists, aspiring and otherwise. Read on to find out why

If you’re a wannabe novelist, there’s no escaping NaNoWriMo—that’s National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated. The premise is simple: Take the month of November and write a 50,000-word novel (or novella, if you think that 50K is too short to be a novel).

It’s a challenge I’ve rarely accepted, but this year I’m going to make an exception.

In the past, I’ve shrugged off NaNo novels as, well, puerile. Useless. A handjob for the unpublished writer’s ego. There was no way, I thought, that anyone can write a novel worth reading in a month’s time. When I was working on my first novel, a good day’s output for me was 1,500 words. And frankly, that’s a Herculean effort compared to some writers.

If you do NaNo, you will NOT have a publishable manuscript by the end on November. The sheer scope of drafting quickly—of cheerfully throwing anything that is NOT story over the side and moving on—makes mistakes in your narrative unavoidable.

Do not do NaNo if you’re expecting to have a complete, finished, and polished manuscript ready to send out to agents by the end of the month. You will be disappointed, and your error- and typo-filled manuscript may drive agents to hang themselves from the ceiling fans in their offices.

What you WILL have is the first draft of something that might be publishable once you’re done. Newsflash: You are never done after the first draft. No, not even you. And you over there—the one with the smirk, who thinks his or her writing is perfect? You, especially. I know you. Hell, I was you, back in the day. No matter how good you think you are, your writing will improve through subsequent drafts and edits.

Something else you’ll have: Confidence. Coming to the page every day, attacking the manuscript like it’s a dragon you’ve sworn to slay, helps you grow as a writer. Those of you who are paralyzed by the thought of putting the wrong word down can breathe easy. NaNo isn’t about perfect manuscripts. It’s about getting that damned story out of your head and onto the page so you can decide whether you have a book to work with.

Instead of National Novel Writing Month, picture November as Writer-as-Shark Month. The manuscript is your sea, and you must move forward relentlessly, swimming through a chum of words, attacking chapters, gulping down great chunks of manuscript in order to feed the beast of hunger in your belly. (Have I taken this metaphor too far yet? I hope not. I never metaphor I didn’t like.)

Someone should shoot me for that joke.

The thought holds up, though: To complete a novel-length manuscript within a month’s time, you have to be relentless. You have to be disciplined. You have to be hard on yourself. Taking a month to say “NOTHING will keep me from writing this story” is a great way to get a first draft completed. If nothing else, it will lend your writing a sense of urgency.

Case in point: Earlier this year, I wrote a YA manuscript called Little Miss Perfect. I was experimenting with  concept very similar to NaNo, called fast-drafting. The premise was that you write between 3,000-5,000 words a day until the manuscript is done. It’s an incredible process that demands you get to the page and do the work no matter what. At the end of the process, I had a first draft that I think may end up being very good. And I did it in ten days. When you write “THE END” at the bottom of your draft, it will feel better than nearly anything you’ve ever done.

If you’re doing NaNo this year, good luck. I’ll be in the trenches with you. On the days when it’s hard, remember there are people out there just like you, struggling to keep moving forward. If you’re not doing NaNo, what the hell are you doing still reading this?


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