25 Things You Should Know About NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, is held every November. This post, by Chuck Wendig, originally appeared on his terrribleminds site on 10/4/11.

It’s that time of the year, then, that normal everyday men and women get a hankering for the taste of ink and misery, thus choosing to step into the arena to tangle with the NaNoWriMo beast.

Here, then, are 25 of my thoughts regarding this month-long pilgrimage into the mouth of the novel — peruse, digest, then discuss. Feel free to hit the comments [on the original post] and add your own thoughts to the tangle.

[Publetariat Editor’s Note: strong language after the jump]

1. Writing Requires Writing

The oft-repeated refrain, “Writers write,” is as true a sentiment as one can find, and yet so many self-declared writers seem to ignore it just the same. National Novel Writing Month — NaNoWriMo, which sounds like like the more formalized greeting used by Mork when calling home to Ork — demands that writers shit or get off the pot. It says, you’re a writer, so get to scrawling, motherfucker.

2. Writing Requires Finishing

The other giant sucking chest wound that afflicts a great many so-called writers is the inability to finish a single fucking thing. Not a novel, not a script, not a short story. (One wonders how many unfinished manuscripts sit collecting dust like a shelf full of Hummel figurines in an old cat lady’s decrepit Victorian manse.) NaNoWriMo lays down the law: you have a goal and that goal is to finish.

3. Discipline, With A Capital “Do That Shit Every Day, Son”

The way you survive NaNoWriMo is the same way any novelist survives: by spot-welding one’s ass to the office chair every day and putting the words to screen and paper no matter what. Got a headache? Better write. Kid won’t stop crying? Better write. Life is hard and weepy-pissy-sadfaced-panda-noises? Fuck you and write. Covered in killer bees? Maybe today’s not the best day to write. You might want to call somebody. Just don’t pee in fear. Bees can smell fear-urine. Pee is to bees as catnip is to cats.

4. The Magic Number Is 1666

Ahh. The Devil’s vintage. Ahem. Anyway. To hit 50,000 words in one month, you must write at least 1,666 words per day over the 30 day period. I write about 1000 words in an hour, so you’re probably looking at two to three hours worth of work per day. If you choose to not work weekends, you’ll probably need to hit around 2300 words per day. If you’re only working weekends, then ~6000 per day.

5. The Problem With 50,000 Words

Be advised: 50,000 words does not a novel make. It may technically count, but publishers don’t want to hear it. Even in the young adult market I’d say that most novels hover around 60,000 words. You go to a publisher with 50k in hand and call it a novel, they’re going to laugh at you. And whip your naked ass with a towel. And put that shit on YouTube so everybody can have a chortle or three. Someone out there is surely saying, “Yes, but what if I’m self-publishing?” Oh, don’t worry, you intrepid DIY’ers. I’ll get to you.

6. The True Nature Of “Finishing”

For the record, I’m not a fan of referring to one’s sexual climax as “finishing.” It’s so… final. “I have finished. I am complete. Snooze Mode, engaged!” I prefer “arrived.” Sounds so much more festive! As if there’s more on the way! This party’s just getting started! … wait, I’m talking about the wrong type of finishing, aren’t I? Hm. Damn. Ah, yes, NaNoWriMo. Writing 50,000 words is your technical goal — completing a novel in those 50,000 words is not. You can turn in an unfinished novel and be good to go. The only concern there is that 50,000 words serves only as a milestone and come December it again becomes oh-so-easy to settle in with the “I’ve Written Part Of A Novel” crowd. Always remember: the only way through is through.

7. Draft Zero

It helps to look at your NaNoWriMo novel as the zero draft — it has a beginning, it has an ending, it has a whole lot of something in the middle. The puzzle pieces are all on the table and, at the very least, you’ve got an image starting to come together (“is that a dolphin riding side-saddle on a mechanical warhorse through a hail of lasers?”). But the zero draft isn’t done cooking. A proper first draft awaits. A first draft that will see more meat slapped onto those exposed bones, taking your word count into more realistic territory.

8. Quantity Above Quality

Put differently, the end result of any written novel is quality. You’re looking for that thing to shine like a stiletto and be just as sharp. NaNoWriMo doesn’t ask for or judge quality as part of its end goal. To “win” the month, you could theoretically write the phrase “nipple sandwich” 25,000 times and earn yourself a little certificate. Quantity must be spun into quality. You’ve got all the sticks. Now build yourself a house.

9. Beware “Win” Conditions

If you complete NaNoWriMo, I give you permission to feel like a winner. If you don’t, I do not — repeat, awooga, awooga, do not — give you permission to feel like a loser. This is one of the perils of the gamification of novel-writing, the belief that by racking up a certain score (word count) in a pre-set time-frame (one month for everybody), you win. And by not doing this, well, fuck you, put another quarter in the machine, dongface. Which leads me to:

10. We’re Not All Robots Who Follow The Same Pre-Described Program

NaNoWriMo assumes a single way of writing a novel. Part of this equation — “smash brain against keyboard until story bleeds out” — is fairly universal. The rest is not. For every novelist comes a new path cut through the jungle. Some novelists write 1000 words a day. Some 5000 words a day. Some spend more time on planning, others spend a year or more writing. Be advised that NaNoWriMo is not a guaranteed solution, nor is your “failure to thrive” in that program in any way meaningful. I tried it years back and found it just didn’t fit for me. (And yet I remain!) It is not a bellwether of your ability or talent.

 

Read the rest of the post, which contains 15 more things to know about NaNoWriMo, on terribleminds.

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