On that Nano Thing

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. 😉


Yes, it’s that time again. I have an ARC for some lucky person, so listen up. Shannon K. Butcher‘s RAZOR’S EDGE, book two in her new romantic suspense series, doesn’t hit shelves until the beginning of November, but I’m happy to announce that I’m giving away an ARC for the book this week.

Roxanne “Razor” Haught is an expert in stealth security for corporate espionage cases. But now she’s a target. Tanner O’Connell has no intentions of leaving Razor’s side. Despite her objections to having a “babysitter”, his orders as the newest member of the Edge are to watch her back. With a brainwashed assassin after his partner, Tanner cannot afford to let his desire for Razor interfere with his duty. His special ops skills may be all that stand between saving Razor-or losing her forever.

All you need to do is post a comment here on this thread (just one per person, please) between now and Wednesday, October 12th at 5:00pm PT. I will draw a winner randomly from the entrants and announce that person’s name on Thursday. Yes, this is open internationally–I know that’s always a big question–so come one, come all and enter. Good luck!

Literary Linkage

As we hit the downward slope of the week, it seems to be picking up speed. Before we slide off into the weekend, I offer you some fun/informative/interesting links for your perusal. Enjoy!

Bradbury Season — Colleen Mondor of Chasing Ray looks at young adult books that remind her of Ray Bradbury for her October column at Bookslut.

Swedish Poet Wins Nobel PrizeThe Millions, briefly, on 80-year-old Tomas Transtromer.

Saving St. Mark’s — Lorin Stein of The Paris Review on the fight to save this famous New York bookstore.

Soaping Up the Classics — Kim Ukura for Book Riot on the classics through the eyes of a fan of daytime drama.

And last, but certainly not least, a fond farewell to the man who created the tools that continue to serve and inspire many writers–as well as much of the population. RIP, Steve Jobs, and thank you for sharing your genius.


Playing with POV

A few weeks ago, I posted some thoughts about point of view, where I talked about how many first-person narratives were finding their way into my in-box. The interesting thing is that while I see many projects where the POV isn’t working for me–where the voice does not sound distinctive or the choice of POV in general rings false–I see very little in the way of experiments with POV. Most genre novels stick to fairly traditional points of view, depending on what is most typical for similar books. Romance novels tend to alternate between the hero and the heroine, much of the young adult work out there is still in first person, and so on. The experiments come from more literary writing, where playing with different aspects of the writing process seems to be more welcome.

That does not mean you can’t learn a great deal by playing around with point of view for your own project. Even if you will ultimately produce a story that adheres to the traditions of your genre, switching things up can be a great exercise, especially early on in the process. It helps you to find your characters’ voices or determine how deeply you want to delve into a given area of the narrative. Sometimes you’ll discover entirely different avenues you wish to explore, broadening your book and adding layers of interest. Also, certain narrative voices lend themselves to specific books by echoing genres or styles that may no longer be popular but still help set the mood for your reader. Think of the sounds of a fairy tale, of a noir detective story, of a spooky gothic tale–and the voice of the person telling those stories. Playing with point of view, even temporarily, may give you a narrator that conveys the perfect atmosphere.

In an interview over at Writer Unboxed, Erin Morgenstern discusses the POV shifts in her debut novel, THE NIGHT CIRCUS, showing that it’s possible to do something different with a first book if you think it through and it works for your story.