Thursday, December 3, 2009

National Novel Writing Month

Seeing as it is early december, I think my first specialized post will be on the wonders that is National Novel Writing Month, commonly referred to as NaNoWriMo. Always performed in November, the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words during the month. This is roughly 1,667 words per day.

The 1,667 words per day may not sound like a lot. However, unless you are into the habit of writing, it is a challenge. It is a challenge that I suggest every new writer tries to attempt at least once, as it is a very unique experience.

Having participated in NaNoWriMo several times, I can confidently say that many of the people who attempt this sacrifice a great deal of their regular life to accomplishing this lofty goal. I think this is a fantastic thing, especially for those who have never written a novel and wish to learn how.

However, NaNoWriMo is not all sunshine and cookies. Like all things, it is designed for certain audiences. While many people will get something out of participating, November is truly a hats off towards those who have always wanted to write a novel but have never had the courage to sit down and do it. With that said, below you will find all sorts of things I like and dislike about NaNoWriMo. These are my opinion. The salt pile is that-a-way, ladies and gentleman. Take some at leisure.

What I like!

1: The Community

The most powerful part of NaNoWriMo is definitely the community for me. It is the one time in the year where you can find thousands of writers converging into one place sharing something precious to each and every one of them. Ideas pour out from the fount of enthusaistic minds. People with knowledge are available to answer even the most mundane of questions. The forums are an excellent source for those who are new to the craft and need a little bit of help. The downside? People go home after December 1st and the place typically turns into a haunted house for much of the year.

2: The Need for Speed

NaNoWriMo is about writing fast, writing a lot, and meeting deadlines. These are awesome traits for a promising novelist, and a great way to get a view into the life of a professional author. Quality means nothing to the average NaNoWriMo participant, and that is how it should be. There is one simple rule for those participating: Edits are for December.

3: Quantity over Quality

Getting the words onto paper is vital for a novelist, and NaNoWriMo excels at making that happen. If you want a book, this is really one of the best ways to make it happen. Believe in yourself and go. Edits, after all, are for December. This is much like point #2, but it is important to specify that Quality is a homeless mutant freak for most participants in NaNoWriMo. If the horse is not dead and beaten yet, allow me to ensure that it is. Quantity. Over. Quality. This is a double-edged sword, however.

4: Proof of Life

In kidnappings and hostage situations, Proof of Life is a basic. In NaNoWriMo, it is the reward. If you win at the end of the month, you will be at your computer staring at a manuscript that belongs entirely to you. This is your Proof of Life as a writer. For someone who has never finished a story but wants to, this is even more rewarding that seeing your own novel on a bookshelf in some store. The first time you cross that threshold and can say "I did it" is truly a moment that will be cherished for years to come. While I did not complete my first novel during NaNoWriMo, I still remember the moment quite clearly when I could say, "I wrote a book."

For many, that moment comes in NaNoWriMo, when a month of slaving has bloomed into a beautiful flower.

What I dislike!

1: Quantity over Quality

Huh? Wasn't this in the list of what I liked? How does that work? As I mentioned, it is a double-edged sword. The concept of Quantity over Quality for a new writer is so important. I am a firm believer of the concept that it takes one million bad words to write a good word. This means that practice and dedication are what will help you succeed. Talent will only take you so far. It is perseverance that will make the difference in the long run. For established writers, Quantity over Quality can have a serious negative impact: it can lower overall writing quality. For a professional, this can be devastating. It is for this reason that it is strongly suggested that a professional writer _not_ participate in NaNoWriMo. It is hard enough to let loose as an amateur, and it can cost a contract for a freelancer. If you are someone who depends on your deadlines and writing quality to survive and get paid, this is not something you should participate in.

On the other hand, if you want to challenge yourself as a professional, paid writer, you can attempt NaNoWriMo as a Quantity AND Quality endeavor. This is a great way to force yourself to draft high quality material. Just do not expect to fully jump into the community, as everyone except you will be doing Quantity over Quality. Just remember, don't fall behind on your contracts. Not getting paid really sucks.

2: The TGIO mentality.

While it is very reasonable to say "Oh, Thank God it is over", many people say that, throw the manuscript into a closet, and that is that. The journey ends. Some people do not even finish their story, but stop writing after 50,001 words. I have always viewed NaNoWriMo as a gateway to the writing world. Writing once a year during NaNoWriMo only does not make you a writer. Even if you do not finish in November, it would be nice to see many more people go on with their story until the true conclusion of the tale. Just because November has ended does not mean the writing can not continue.

Now, granted, every person's situation is different. If that is all you want from the experience, more power to you.

3: The Formation of Bad Habits

This really should be point #1 in this section. It is very easy to develop bad habits during November, ranging from poor eating, disrupted sleep cycles and writing habits we'd rather not have occur. If you plan on participating in NaNoWriMo... take some time to sleep and eat well. You do not want to make yourself sick! (I should not have to feel compelled to say this, but after seeing just what some people do to themselves during the month, I feel I have to.)

4: Watching other's word counts

Part of the glory of NaNoWriMo is watching your word count go up. That is half the fun! However, there are those who can just write so much so quickly that it is very easy to get distressed and discouraged. Do yourself a favor and don't focus on the word counts of others.

Final Comments!

For me, NaNoWriMo has always been a great experience, win or lose. As my professional career as a freelancer has developed, I have had to take care with how I approach NaNoWriMo. However, if you are in the position to do it with no boundaries, it is a liberating experience. It is also an enabling one, where you know that you are not the only one going "I will do this!".

NaNoWriMo is open to all genres of writing. If you are interested and this little blog post hasn't scared you away, there is a fancy FAQ available that will answer most of the questions that you may have on the month.

Also, ignore the name. It isn't National, but International. InNoWriMo just didn't sound as nice. Yes, you can participate, even if you aren't sure which Nation it is for! (Don't worry, I'm sometimes not so sure myself.)

If you choose to participate, good luck!

1 comment:

  1. I thought this was a great analysis of NaNoWriMo. I'm glad I got the opportunity to "meet" you through NaNo. Here's to many more years of success for us both!