Wednesday, October 27, 2010

NaNoWriMo and Me

I'll probably finish this story
Na = National
No = Novel
Wri= Writing
Mo = Month

It happens every November. Multi-thousands of writers, pseudo-writers, hobby writers and never-before writers commit to concentrated effort to produce a 50,000 word novel entirely within the month. That's an average of 1,666.67words per day, or if you figure by page count at 250 words per page, 6.67 pages a day. Doesn't seem like much on the surface, but after the first few pages or week, your brain starts bogging down and it gets just plain hard. A pretty fair number of them succeed.

And whats the reward? You completed a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. You get a funny looking icon you can put on your website. And if you didn't resort to too much gibberish or pasting all your emails into the document, you do have something you might, with great effort be able to revise into a real novel.

In other words, bragging rights. And words on paper/screen.
Or maybe this one

The odd thing about it is, that's just exactly what most writers need now and then. It's kind of a crazy anonymous push in the behind that we pretend is real that gets us motivated. There's a whole world of people out there who thing writers just sit down and type and stories flow from them like water over Niagara Falls. They think we have it easy. We just sit there and type out our fantasies. In fact, somebody collected statistics once that showed 82% of the American adult population thinks they want to write a novel. And they believe they could do it better than most of the professional novelists out there. They just haven't had time yet.

Well, they can't. Unless they actually sit down and do what it takes. Those same stats show that of that 82%, less than 2% actually sit down and start a novel, in their entire lives. And of those, less than 1% complete it. Just imagine, then, how few of those go on to make writing novels a part-time or full-time career. Because writing a novel isn't a breeze. It's exceptionally hard work. And writing a good, sellable novel is even harder.

Most people do have great day dreams and fantasies. But those rarely make good novels because they lack dynamism. They're like strings of still photos, not the forward motion of action leading to consequence, evaluation leading to new action, etc. And the writing itself is something new writers think they can do, but often the clarity of their ideas doesn't make it from their brain to the paper. They see what's missing but the reader doesn't. These new writers are the apprentices, the interns, in a field where the journeymen and masters are still learning their craft, still exploring new challenges, still experience failure of their experiments throughout their careers. The process never stops.
This one's ready to start

What does this have to do with NaNoWriMo? NaNo is really set up for the amateur writer, so why would very experienced writers try to shoe-horn themselves into it? Well, like I said, it's hard, and often very discouraging. As one agent said, "In this field, rejection is the norm". An editor once told me she has piles of manuscripts sitting on her desk at any given time (now those piles are likely to be in her computer, but there are more of them), and she feels lucky if she finds even one manuscript with potential. She estimated she buys 1 in 600 that come across her desk. Those are really bad odds for writers. Often the stories we love the most are the ones we can't sell. We have winning streaks, then suddenly can't sell anything for years. Publishers stop buying exactly what we've just finished and mailed off to them the day it hits their desk. We have to be tough, and we are not. We're not supposed to take it all personally, but what is merely a paper manuscript to a publisher is our soul imprinted on paper. We're reduced to numbers, genres, and it's hard on us.

And follow with this one
But in November, beginning on the first day of the month, we shed some of that discouragement and aim for something different. Last year I started a story that I don't expect ever to sell. It's a story I want to write, that I don't think any editor will want to buy because it doesn't fit well anywhere. It's for me. Me alone. And taking the time to write it lifted my sagging spirits, as does aiming away from the publishing industry. Writing fast with not much care about quality can be very freeing. Write fast, clean up later. For me, that would be a bad habit if I did it regularly. But for NaNo, it perks me up, gets me excited again about creative writing.

Too bad there's no time for this one
Now, the truth: I break the rules. I don't start with a fresh new story on November 1. I'm often very deep into a story, possibly one that got stuck for some reason. I might work on more than one story, especially if I'm writing novellas which are only about 25,000 words long. Or, like last year, I might start, knowing I won't be able to finish for other reasons. And I don't write quite as freely because I don't like cleaning up messes. So I can't go as fast as some writers. But I figure what I'm doing is for me, so I see no reason why I can't make up my own rules. And if I reach the 50,000 words written fresh and new, I figure I won. And whatever I reach, I feel like a distance runner, exhausted but elated. And that's a whole different feeling that can carry me a long way through the next year when I have to face the tougher parts of this strange career.

So this year, in just a few more days, I will begin my own NaNoWriMo, doing it my way. I still haven't decided which book to finish- I could choose from two. Or I could pick one or two of my novellas that I have plotted out and pitch myself in that direction. And I will do my best to make my own goal of 1700-2000 words every day. I'll have dirty hair, unmade beds, lunch of cheese and crackers-- whatever it takes. I'll still feed the cats and kiss hubby, and get birthday presents off to all the November grandkids,all that stuff, sure. But mostly, I'll be a writing demon for 30 days of the year.

Part of me thinks it's too bad there's not more than one November in a year. The other part thinks, "Who are you kidding?"


  1. I'd buy any of those books based on the covers alone. :D

  2. Thanks, Terri! Hey, I'm going to get an answer to you on that question.

  3. I never knew those statistics before but I'm quite fascinated by them. I had a friend who, when I told them I sold my first book to a publisher, told me that she was going to do it too. She even admitted she had never even read a romance book but figured it must be easy to write one. I never knew 82% think that same way!

    I wanted to do Nano but I'm in the middle of something right now. I figured I just wouldn't do it this year but I like what you said about how it's just for you and being able to cheat some of those rules. Very thought provoking post.

  4. The stats aren't necessarily accurate, of course, since they were likely collected on a limited group. But that's just about the percentage I've found to be true, so I've accepted them. Honestly, I don't think I have been a group of non-writers in the last several years where at least one person hasn't said, in these words, "You know, I've always wanted to write a book." What follows is either a reason why they haven't done it, or an offer to allow me to write their life story which is always "fascinating". I understand all of that, since I know we are sharing at least some things in common. The only time I don't like it is when it's a guy and he offers to "help" me with my romance research. In which case, I usually say I have enough experience and he doesn't look qualified.


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I write write write. Sometimes I travel. Then I write some more. And I have a great family who understand that I write write write.