I’m sure it happens every year, but I didn’t see it so much last year. What, you ask? The NaNoWriMo mockery.
NaNoWriMo is an annual event for writers and writing-wannabes to throw themselves into writing that Great American Novel. Writers around the world set a goal of writing 50,000 new words in a mere month’s time. Crazy? Kind of. But it can also be fun. With a community of other crazy people playing along with us, we have support and, for me at least, driving competition.
I understand the jokes, in a way. I have no doubt that editors and agents receive a number of NaNo manuscripts that look like they were sent at midnight on November 30th. The majority of writers, however, know that the editing phase of a story takes much more time than the writing phase. Yet, those writers get shafted when they talk of participating in NaNo. Or, at the very least, are subject to a crisis of confidence as the tweets and blogs about the amateurish game of NaNo circulate each year.
If we discount the people who just aren’t doing it right – i.e., not editing, not polishing, and generally not doing what the rest of us are doing all year long – then yes, NaNo can be a good writing exercise. It’s not for everyone. If you’ll get frustrated at falling behind on a roughly 1,700 per day word count requirement, then stop now and don’t start anything new on November 1st. It’s a steep goal, and most writers I know will shoot for 2k per day knowing that something inevitably comes up somewhere along the line, and a full day will pass without a single word being written. It’s not easy. It is stressful.
Is it always junk though? Is it a waste of time for a serious writer?
Let me say it again. Hell no.
First example: Last October, during a week off from the office, I wrote 20k words in a nine-day period. I knew what the story should be and I knew the characters well before I started. I poured it all out, with little to no distractions. It was magical.
That story didn’t get queried in December. Heck, it’s still not being queried. I set it aside and didn’t edit until a few months later. Once I edited, I took a break from it, and then did another revision. I took my time with it. It’s now with beta readers, and will be queried by the end of the year.
Second example: Last year, my NaNo project was called With Abandon. It was about a guy who whored around because he considered relationships too much of a strain on his personal time. I finished about 25k words of it in November, and before the end of that month realized it wasn’t working.
Earlier this year, I played around with that manuscript and figured out what was wrong. With a lot of editing, a demonic twist, and a love interest that has his own dark secrets, With Abandon became Personal Demons: Morgan’s Story. I’m nearly done editing it, and hope to give it to beta readers by the end of the month so I can work on this year’s NaNo without distraction.
They don’t all take that long to prepare for query, but they should all have more time put into their edits than the writing itself. That’s my opinion anyway. Seeing how much I’ve edited, even with my obsessive attitude about a polished manuscript, I doubt many writers would disagree with that statement.
NaNo is just the start of the Great American Novel. It is barely the tip of that infamous iceberg. It is a tool, to inspire focus, and not the end-all for success. Success is built based on what we do in December, and beyond. If a writer stops in November, then the mockery is well-earned, but for most of us, November is merely a stepping stone. It is the speed intervals that runners use to improve their race times, and I am approaching the starting line.
Happy writing, dear writers.
PS I am “piaveleno” on the NaNoWriMo.org website. Drop on by!