IS NANOWRIMO THE RIGHT WAY?
National Novel Writing Month started up in 1999. At the time it sounded like a good idea for writers just starting out and needing a motivational boost to finish a novel. Or start one. Too many people have a great idea and bang out a marvelous first chapter. Then the hard work of writing begins and the pace slows down. They might get 10,000 or 15,000 words. But then a miracle (or not) happens and they get the best idea ever, abandon the first project, and start the new great idea. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. So making the commitment to a challenge of 50,000 words in thirty days seemed like the thing to do, to force themselves to finish something.
I didn’t even consider joining the movement at the beginning. I had page proofs for one book—everything in the house comes to a screeching halt for the seven to ten days I have to mark up and return the pages to the publisher—another book in the final editing stages, research for the next project, and a short story due for an anthology before the end of the month. Add in the disruption of a convention weekend and Thanksgiving, and I was not in a position to sit down and spew out 50,000 words.
When I have a chance at a normal routine of creating a first draft, I regularly churn out 25,000 words in a month. I rarely need the push to finish a project on time. Thirty-eight books, under a variety of pen names, plus enough short fiction to fill three collections, in 21 years speak for themselves.
Every year I see more and more established writers joining NaNoWriMo. They are looking toward jumpstarting a new project. Most of them earn that little “You’re A Winner!” logo. They don’t win anything other than the sense of accomplishment and bragging rights to their peers. And a first draft, the skeleton of a story to work with.
You can register at the web site and record your daily progress. This feels like an obligation, another incentive to keep going. You can also form writing circles on the site, or have the software find other participants in your geographical area for writing meet ups. Reporting failure to people face-to-face can be humiliating if you let it. That provides more incentive to apply butt to chair and hands to keyboard, and reach your writing goal.
How many of my colleagues publish what they create during NaNoWriMo? Most do, after multiple rounds of revisions. I know very few published authors who are one-draft writers. And 50,000 words is a short novel. Very short. Most traditional publishers are looking for 80,000-100,000 words, or more for an adult novel. Young Adult works can be shorter. I’ve been known to turn in 225,000 word manuscripts in my Merlin’s Descendants series and still feel that I needed more.
So, that 50,000 words completed in the thirty days of November are a draft, not a completed and polished novel ready for submission to New York. Or even worthy of self-publication. It’s likely full of typos, run-on or awkward sentences, incomplete scenes, shallow characterization, and plot holes you can fly a dragon through.
But you do have a draft, something to work with. And you did it. You completed a draft. You didn’t abandon the book for another neat idea and never finish anything. You are now in the top 10% of your peer group. And you have until next November to get organized for the next NaNoWriMo.
So, with or without the commitment to NaNoWriMo, apply butt to chair and hands to keyboard and finish the book, in the genre of your choice. But finish it. I have found that you will learn more about your characters and plot by finishing a rough draft than by any amount of fiddling with the beginning.
In the following chapters I will lead you through my process for finishing a book. Yours may vary. You may find my ideas useful. It’s more important that you write your book than follow my procedure.