When I posted a few years ago about the upcoming NaNoWriMo, one of my Facebook friends asked me if NaNoWriMo was a new boutique stuffed animal for grandparents to buy. Uh, no.
I was taken aback at first, but, really, National Novel Writing Month would only be familiar to those of us who chose writing as a profession.
Worldwide, writers commit to writing 50,000 words in 30 days during the month of November. NaNoWriMo will be celebrating the 16th year of existence this November.
The first NaNoWriMo began as a friendly challenge among 21 participants in 1999. The next year had 140 participants. Last year more than 300,000 adult writers signed up. And nearly 90,000 youths enrolled. (They’re allowed different goals.) Organizers hope to top a half million participants this year.
Sadly, over the years, those who sign up and those who meet the goal are wildly disparate. Roughly 13% of those who initially sign up actually complete 50K words in 30 days. But in 2013, worldwide, writers wrote almost 4 billion words.
The rules are simple. You can do character sketches, a story treatment, massive outlining, and prodigious research before November. You just can’t start writing connected text of scenes until November 1. Who checks on that? Nobody. If you cheat, who are you cheating? Yourself. I like to be able to honestly say I wrote 50K in 30 days. But no one would know otherwise.
Quality control. Nope. There is none. That’s up to you in the editing and revisions you do in December, January, February … Completion, not perfection, is the November goal. It’s hard to edit nothing, write (sic)?
There is a built in word counter you upload to each day to show you your progress. If you write 1667 words a day for 30 days, you do it–50,010 words! That’s less than 7 pages a day. For me, that is about 2-3 hours of writing. So why don’t more people make it? Well, life happens. Rarely can someone write every day for 30 days straight. There’s Grandma’s birthday party, you get sick, you have to make a business trip. Life happens.
My strategy is to bank words against those inevitable life events. I am so ready to go by November 1 that I typically bang out several thousand words a day for several days straight. Then life happens, but I am okay missing a day or two. My average is still over 1667 words per day. Do I get behind? Oh, yeah. But I know I can catch up. When people don’t catch up, they are non-completers.
Another reason some people don’t complete NaNoWriMo is what happens to writers all the time. They get to the saggy, soggy middle and discover as Gertrude Stein said, “…there’s no there, there.” They have no idea where to go or what to write next. Abandonment ensues. Fortunately for you, Heather Jackson has addressed the mushy middle in several of the Write on Sisters posts.
Some writers lose interest in their stories as they plod away day after day. NaNoWriMo can begin to feel more like an obligation than a joy. More of a check-off on a list than the fulfillment of a desire. Or they discover or decide that the plot was thin, the characters stock, and the story premise banal. When it rains and the fire of desire goes out, you better have some good kindling to restart it.
But to be more positive, I love National Novel Writing Month. A cool thing, among many cool things, is that NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organization so any donations made are tax deductible. NaNoWriMo has been a huge supporter of young writers in and out of school. Famous authors write notes to us as pep talks to keep our commitment strong. And you meet some neat new author friends through the support forums.
Are you signing up for NaNoWriMo? Worst case scenario, you don’t make 50K words in 30 days. You only get 16, 546 words on paper. So? Isn’t that more than you had before November? Celebrate that you now have a novel started that didn’t exist in October. Take your time. Finish it. Enjoy your story. And you can always claim that it all began with NaNoWriMo.
Next week, more on NaNoWriMo and you get to help me pick what I will write in November.
Lessons From the NaNoWriMo Trenches by Robin
Mapping the Mushy MIddle by Heather
The Hero’s Emotional Midpoint by Heather