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Taking on the #NaNoWriMo challenge? Thinky thoughts and helpful resources

Every year when people start talking about Nanowrimo, I have the same mixed feelings. I love the idea of National Novel Writing Month, which encourages aspiring authors to bite the bullet and blitz out a 50K word manuscript in 30 days, but it does bring out the angry little editor in me when people talk about submitting that NaNoWriMo ms to agents or slamming it up on Amazon without proper care and feeding.

From the NaNoWriMo web site:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.
Here's what I love about this endeavor:

Writers learn by writing. I truly believe there is no other way to learn how to write a novel. Just do it. Yeah, baby. I applaud that approach in writing and in life. I'm up for just about anything that includes "seat-of-the-pants" in the instruction manual.

Daily ass-to-chair application is the foundation of the writing life. Thirty days of due diligence is probably going to entrench the work ethic -- or at least the habit -- and train family and friends to honor writing space and work hours.

The process is demysticated. Yes, I made that up. It's a hybrid of "domesticated" and "made un-mysterious". It takes talent and hard work to write a novel, but it's not magik or brain surgery or nuclear physics. (That said, nuclear physicists and brain surgeons usually have to hire ghost writers for their books.)

On the other hand...

Not "everyone who's thought fleetingly of writing a novel" is a novelist. 
Whenever I hear that old "everyone has a book in them" axe, I can't help but point out: Everyone has a spleen in them, too, but it takes a particular skill set to get it out, and only in rare circumstances is it a good idea to display it on a shelf.

I have fleeting thoughts of pole dancing. I have the basic physical requirements and innate sense of rhythm it takes to pole dance. I have the wherewithal to purchase necessary technology and could probably muster the will to practice pole dancing daily for 30 days, but imagining that's all it takes is an insult to dedicated professional pole dancers who work courageously and sacrifice a lot to make that their livelihood.

I think "painstaking craft" is a good thing.
We need to designate December through April as NitNoEdPro (Nitpicking Novel Editing Process), because the product of the 30-day effort is a rough draft, not a novel. There's a vast difference. That first draft is a major accomplishment. It's a huge step forward, but it's only the first of several huge steps to actually producing a finished book.

Hemingway famously said, "The first draft of anything is shit."

Even if you're way more brilliant than Hemingway, and you manage to hatch golden, ready-to-pub words on the first pass, 50K words is a pretty slender manuscript. Just barely over the novella threshold. Celebrate it as a solid foundation and settle in to flog that thing with a solid structural / developmental edits -- using self-honest self-editing methods or feedback from qualified beta readers -- followed by a competent line edit and a thorough copyediting scrub before you send it off to agents or pull the trigger to self-pub.

It takes a lot of hard work -- and a lot of that pesky obsessing over quality -- to take a rough draft to the bookshelf in a way that honors the story, showcases your talent and respects the reader's time.

Bottom line: NaNoWriMo is a fantastic writing exercise. Go for that 50K! It's a great accomplishment if you see the challenge through. I can definitely see it sparking the beginning of a writing career or breathing life into an aspiring writer who's lost hope. Participants are bound to discover some things about their unique creative process. That said...

I do hope one of those discoveries is that it takes a lot more than 30 days to be a novelist.

If you've decided to rise to the Nanowrimo challenge:
Here's a helpful series from Alexandra Sokoloff's blog.
Here's a little book about my own writing/publishing adventures.
And here's a competent, trustworthy line and copy editor.

And remember the words of Frank Capra: "Do not compromise, for only the valiant can create."


But i am calling it NaBlWriMo for National Blog Writing Month…but i can’t write..i love to
Karen Hankins said…
Whenever I hear that old "everyone has a book in them" axe, I can't help but point out: Everyone has a spleen in them, too, but it takes a particular skill set to get it out, and only in rare circumstances is it a good idea to display it on a shelf.

I love this. Funny and oh so true.
Lark said…
Love the spleen comment! All you have to do is judge a few writing contests to get real clear that a lot of people shouldn't expect to write novels as a career. The advice, "Don't quit your day job" comes to mind.
TJ Bennett said…
Spleen comment! Must repeat on my blog, with proper credit. Off to do so now. *Chortle*

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