As October winds down, new writers across the globe are gearing up for NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month of November. The challenge is to start with a blank page and write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. It boils down to 1667 blood-soaked words every day, and at last count, more than 125,000 wordsmiths are gearing up for it this year.
I love NaNoWriMo! After piddling around for twenty years with outlines, back-stories, and world-building – and barely three chapters of actual novel – NaNoWriMo got my butt into the chair for some serious work. In 2004, I put in 51,000 words on a novel that was something like Pinocchio’s tale but with androids. I never did actually finish off the plot for that story, but by the time I finally gave up, I had more than 65,000 words of a novel. The story has its problems, and it was on target to be a bloated 150,000 words, but damn it, it was more than I had written in any single tale I had ever attempted. It felt good, and it made me the dedicated pantser that I am today.
And NaNoWriMo has done more than clutter my closet with unfinished drafts. My first published book, Beneath the Sky, started with my 2005 NaNoWriMo win. I finished it off in the summer of 2007. My upcoming entry into urban fantasy, Hell Bent, started with my 2010 NaNoWriMo win and was finished off the next September. And Ships of My Fathers, the start of the Father Chessman Saga, was my 2011 NaNoWriMo book, actually completed in December immediately after the rush of my fourth NaNoWriMo win!
I love the camaraderie, the constant updating of my word-count spreadsheet, and even the crazy rush as the week of Thanksgiving rolls around. It takes one of the loneliest tasks in the world and turns it into a party. The success and failures of those around you gives you both inspiration and cautionary tales. So, if you have ever thought about writing a novel, I encourage you dive on in and make NaNoWriMo 2013 your path to wordsmithing glory!
But I also hate NaNoWriMo! Yes, I know… it’s great for getting you moving, for getting a lot of those glumpy words out of the noodle factory between our ears, and for daring you to even make the attempt. It’s not quite Steal Fire From The Gods Month, but sure, it taps into stuff only the immortals can handle. Yep, great stuff… in November.
The real problems show up on December 1.
First of all, you very likely don’t have a novel on December 1. I know that e-books and the liberty of self-publishing are shattering the preconceived notions of proper book length, but the reality is that readers are used to books of certain lengths in different genres. Light romances and quick mysteries might squeeze down to 50,000 words, but most start at 60,000. Sci-fi and urban fantasies like to play in the range of 80,000 to 120,000 words. And then there are a number of weighty tomes across those genres that flop down on the beach with 150,000 to 250,000 words.
Even apart from word-count, did you actually get to the end of the story? Have Bilbo and the dwarves defeated Smaug, or are they just now leaving Rivendale? When I bailed on my 2004 effort (the unnamed Pinocchio tale), I was barely past the 40% mark of where that story was going. On December 1, 2005, Beneath the Sky had just dealt with the pirate attack. That pattern carried through on both Hell Bent and Ships of My Fathers. I was proceeding at the right plot-pace to get to 80-100,000 words, but I simply hadn’t gotten there yet. No one wants to read a book that ends in Act II.
But even once you finish a novel-sized draft – truly, an accomplishment even greater than a NaNoWriMo victory – you’ve only just begun. If your first drafts are anything like mine, what you have is a bucket of words. I say bucket because if this is your first NaNoWriMo, then you will be vomiting forth a fair number of those words, and it shows. I don’t merely mean typos and sloppy grammar. No, I mean that there are fundamental problems with your plot, your characters, your… your… well, your everything. But that’s what editing is for, and NaNoWriMo at least gave you something to edit.
But it is not a ready-to-publish novel. In recent years, I have often heard that most terrible claim, “All right – just need to run the thing through spell-check and then format it for Kindle!” No. No, NO, NO!
So that’s the main thing I hate about NaNoWriMo. It suggests that you have won the race when in truth, you have only gotten off the starting blocks. The race is long, and it’s going to take a lot longer than a month – even one of the ones with thirty-one days.
So, I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year, but not because of the reasons I hate it. Nor am I dead set on never doing NaNoWriMo again in the future. It’s just that I’ve gotten past the point where I need it to be November for me to pile on in and write a new novel. Since 2011 I’ve written two other novels, neither of which were in November. I plugged away with NaNoWriMo intensity – typically shooting for 2500 words per day, not a mere 1667. I think I’ve mastered the process of getting that first draft out of my brain and onto the page.
But what I’m still struggling with is the process of turning that bilious bucket of draft into a publishable novel. Right now I have three novels grinding their way through the editing gears. The furthest along is Hell Bent, but the highest priority is Debts of My Fathers. Shattered, my attempt at a mystery, is going to wait for a while.
And here it is, the closing days of October, and believe me, the adrenaline rush of NaNoWriMo is calling to me, but I’m not going to do it. I certainly don’t need an unfinished draft distracting me in December, and even if I finished it off in November, I don’t need to have a fourth novel cluttering up my editing queue. No, what I need is the month of November to work on the novels that are already written and fighting their way towards publication. I know this sounds lame, but I’ve got to make the grown-up decision and work on edits this November, and that means I don’t have the hours in the day to do NaNoWriMo.
But somewhere down the line, I will find myself gearing up for another draft in late October, and when I do, I will almost certainly put on my NaNo hat again and ride off to do battle with the 1667. In the meantime, I salute those of you heading into the fray this year.