This past Monday, Nanowrimo launched their new, updated website in preparation for the start of November, which is drawing frighteningly near. For the uninitiated, Nanowrimo (Na-No-Wri-Mo) stands for National Novel Writing Month, a fun and somewhat crazy attempt made by thousands each year to write a complete novel in 30 days. The goal is to start on November 1 and plow through until November 30, writing diligently each day, piling on words, until you cross the finish line with a 50,000-word manuscript. This is not about quality, mind you, merely quantity. You’re out to produce the ultimate crappy first draft, to just get it all down there on the page without battling over diction or pacing or characterization. Get it all out, don’t stop to edit (or, heaven forbid, prune), because this particular contest is not about prizes or publication, but simply about proving you can finish.
Now, there are, of course, some things you should keep in mind. 50,000 words is not really a full-length novel, unless you’re writing for young adults. Chances are good that a completed Nano manuscript is going to need some fleshing out. Or else you’ll hit that 50,000th word and keep on writing into December. At the end of the day, you should aim for more like 75,000 to 90,000 words (a little more for fantasy, where world-building takes up space).
Also, I mean it when I say Nano books are crappy first drafts. First being the operative word there. Nano manuscripts are just the kicking off point. They need love and attention far beyond November 30th if you consider them a serious work-in-progress as opposed to something fun produced in the spirit of joining the Nanowrimo party. This means there should be no submitting of Nano projects during December (or even January…) as soon as the word count is varified. Because what Nano considers done, agents consider scary.
All that said, however, I think Nano is a fabulous institution. For new writers who are struggling to finish a project, it gives permission to stop worrying about the beauty of prose or believability of plot and just write. Just pour it all out onto the page and worry about what it sounds like later. You know it won’t be great, because the process isn’t designed to produce great. What it will be, however, is something other than the empty, white page. And reading over what’s been written come December, most writers will be surprised to discover that even in a crappy first draft, there can be some really wonderful moments/pages/scenes/chapters on which to build a better book. What Nano does is it shuts up that internal editor. There’s no time to listen to that nagging voice inside as it points out you should use a different word, when you need to churn out nearly 1,700 words each day. So tell your editor to take a nice long vacation, and keep on writing.
For more practiced writers, even those who have published, Nano can also be a useful enterprise. I’ve known plenty of authors who use November to produce a down-and-dirty draft of a new idea, something that might veer from their traditional style or contracted work, or just the next project on their plate. Writing fast can shake things up, resulting in new ideas, either for the book at hand or something else down the line.
After years of annual write-offs, Nanowrimo has led to a number of writers publishing their Nano books. Sara Gruen started WATER FOR ELEPHANTS on Nano, and Erin Morgenstern’s THE NIGHT CIRCUS was also a Nano project. (I know there are many more — non-circus-related titles, even! — but the redesigned site seems to have done away with the list.) No doubt, those authors would be the first to say that those first Nano drafts were just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s encouraging to see how much can be built off a frenzied foundation.
Beyond that, Nano is fun in its insanity. There’s a sense of community that builds up between the forums on the website and the various planned gatherings over the course of the month — local area write-ins held at bookstores and libraries and coffee shops around the world. People compare word counts and insane plot devices and make new friends in the process. It may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but for those who do embrace it, it can be a terrific experience.
So, as November creeps closer and you all start working on Nano notes and stocking up on coffee, I wish you the best of luck. And just remember, revisions are a wonderful thing. 😉