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In Defense of NaNoWriMo


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Over on FB, a friend of mine said he didn't see the merit of NaNoWriMo. This is how I answered him.

 

Let's get these out of the way up front:

  • NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, is a bit of a stunt, right? You're trying to write a completely arbitrary wordcount to try to prove... what?
  • November is a terrible month for this - it's the month which includes Thanksgiving (with all the family things that implies), and only has 30 days instead of 31. (When you're writing to achieve 50k words, that matters.)
  • Shawn Coyne says he doesn't endorse writing groups because you've got a group of amateurs telling each other what's wrong with their novels. NaNo is similarly suspect because you're intentionally writing so fast there's little chance you'll come out of the month with a workable novel.

 

With all that said, there is absolute value in competing in NaNoWriMo.

 

Attempting and finishing NaNo was a rite-of-passage for me, 'an event marking an important stage in someone's life.' For my existence as a writer, there's BN (Before NaNo) and PN (Post NaNo).

 

NaNoWriMo changed my writing life. BN, I'd never finished anything longer than a short story and I seriously doubted I had what it takes. I'd never attempted anything of that length. If I'm completely honest, I was a dabbler, a dreamer, a dawdler. In 2004, I decided it was time to put up or shut up, and my future as a writer hung in the balance.

 

Two weeks before it started, I pitched a year's worth of prep because I'd run out of enthusiasm for my premise and arrived on November 1st with a singular image in my head: what if you had the Peter Pan pirate ship which floated in the sky over the ocean and a Fireflyesque crew? I gave the manuscript a pulpy title: "The Adventures of the Sky Pirate." I hit the beginning of the month with that mental image and that title and I dove in. I hit every predicted moment like clockwork including the dreaded Week 3 wall of doom. I worked the system, I kept the faith, and my breakthrough literally startled me in my chair. I was to the place where I was rewriting elements of the pirate's code to make word count when a character I later called The Riven appeared on the scene and tore through my crew with a vengeance. It took all of them to knock him overboard and cost them twelve dead. He came out of nowhere, broke the creative logjam, and energized my writing. I finished the month flying high and ended the novel on a cliffhanger, my protagonist falling through the air after a final fiery battle against The Riven destroyed his ship mid-air and scattered his crew. I crossed the 50k word line with a day to spare.

 

I can't adequately convey how life-changing that moment was. The heavens parted, the angels sang. I thought "I can DO this," and my brain rewired itself. Before that moment, I'd thought of myself as a reader, a fan, a wannabe. After that moment, I thought of myself as a WRITER.

 

Do I compete every year? No. That first year was critical as a breakthrough but I didn't need to do it again the following year. I spent the following nine years writing short stories to work on my scenes, my dialogue, my feel for the ebb and flow of story.

 

And then I returned in 2014 to see if I could do it again and wrote the first draft of what would become "The Blue Golem." I'm finishing that novel up for publication.

 

Will I ever do NaNo again? I think I have to in 2024, just for grins. For those who are about to NaNo, I salute you!
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7 minutes ago, Johne said:

For those who are about to NaNo, I salute you!

Why thank you *returns the salute*

 

For myself, the merit of NaNoWriMo is the discipline and the deadlines. I'm one of those who will drift, getting words down, yes, but I could be faster. Deadlines, hard deadlines, get me working. That's what NaNoWriMo is for me - the motivation to get the job done and the story written. 

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I have signed up for it because I keep procrastinating over getting down to write my next piece of work. I am hoping this will focus me.

 

I am just nervous of writing the piece because it involves writing about a community I am still researching but I have decided, after now getting the plot strengthened out, that I should get on with writing the 1st draft and then go back and sort out all the practical stuff like what the kitchen looks like, and what kind of buggy one character drive. 

 

I usually get nervous before starting a new piece of work, but this is getting ridiculously so desperate measures are needed.🤣

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I've never been a fan of NaNoWriMo for myself, but I do recognize it's helpful for a lot of writers.

 

However, the one thing I don't like about it is what usually happens in December: A flood of newly self-published material that really needed a lot more time in development/editing. 😒

 

 

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1 hour ago, Shamrock said:

I have signed up for it because I keep procrastinating over getting down to write my next piece of work. I am hoping this will focus me.

 

Here's the secret to 'winning' NaNoWriMo:
First, pray. And then word count, word count, word count.

The primary focus here is busting through a large block of writing. It's not about writing well, it's about writing words, and a lot of them, in a short but doable amount of time.

You'll need buy-in from your family. When I do NaNo, we go through the drive-thru a lot. I don't do the laundry as thoroughly as I might. I don't sit and watch, like, anything with Linda during November. (Except football - we always make time to watch the Packers together.)


And I personally make a strong determination to set aside a day off each way. The first year, I ended up resting on Saturday and writing afresh on Sunday afternoon. Last time I rested on Sunday. It's different for everybody but I found I had more energy to write six days if I knew I had one day to completely let my mind rest. That gave me the creative energy and lively curiosity needed to pound through six days of creative labor. 

And while it's good to have a daily goal for words, don't beat yourself up if you don't hit it. I used some of the word counter tools from nanowrimo.org to track my writing, and enjoyed watching my word count go up. I made good friends in the forums there, and got help when I was stuck on a question about how to do this-or-that. 

Remember, it's not about writing a good novel, it's about word count. That's why I didn't use an idea that was dear to me. I came up with something pulpy with a lot of characters to bounce dialogue off of and the stories kind of wrote themselves. The first novel was easier - I had nine characters with quirky personalities and I just sort of let them talk. You'd be amazed at how much word count you can accomplish just by listening to a large cast talk among themselves. Last time I just had one character and it was a bit harder to do off-the-cuff. However, I solved that crisis by putting my protag in the middle of ever-increasing adventure situations: he's trapped in a slave mine underground, he has to fight sabre-toothed tigers, he's searching for a kidnapped friend. 

Finally, I think it helps to know your Content genre. While my Marketing Genre was Fantasy / Noir, if I had known I was writing a Thriller, I wouldn't have tried to write an Epic Action climax. If you know what story elements usually appear in your Content Genre, you can make of list of what you should include. For a Thriller, it goes like this:

  1. An Inciting crime
  2. A MacGuffin
  3. Red herrings
  4. A Speech in Praise of the Villain
  5. The stakes must become personal for the hero. If he fails to stop the villain, he will suffer severe consequences. The hero must become the victim.
  6. There must be a hero at the mercy of the villain scene.
  7. False ending. There must be two endings.
  8. (clock) - many times there will be a ticking clock for added urgency

Knowing these things up front can be a tremendous boon as you're writing. Here's a place where you can find your story conventions and obligatory scenes:
https://storygrid.com/which-genre-am-i-writing-in/

Use all the tricks in the book. For example, use TK where you don't have a name for something and move on: "She planned to meet him at TK but he was late." These are details which are nice to know but which you can fill in later. Set aside anything that's bogging you down. Your subconscious will give you helpful hints later, like when you're working or in the middle of a good night's sleep. ;)

Winning NaNo literally rewired my brain. Punching through and crossing the 50k word line showed me I had the instincts, I had the chops, I had the raw mental fortitude and lively curiosity necessary to be a writer of novel-length stories. Everything else after that is a matter of practice and research and butt-in-chair hard work. Knowing I had the raw ability changed how I thought about myself, shattered forever the 'imposter syndrome,' and started me on the path I'm currently on which will end with a published debut next year. You can do this.  

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3 minutes ago, Johne said:

The primary focus here is busting through a large block of writing. It's not about writing well, it's about writing words, and a lot of them, in a short but doable amount of time.

 

Yeap, that is the plan. Sort the nuggets from the rubbish later.😁

 

4 minutes ago, Johne said:

When I do NaNo, we go through the drive-thru a lot

 

Luckily I was suppose to be away this week but it is looking unlikely thanks to another lockdown so plenty of homemade ready meals (originally for son)👍

 

6 minutes ago, Johne said:

while it's good to have a daily goal for words, don't beat yourself up if you don't hit it.

 

Yes, that is going to happen - work needs doing.

 

7 minutes ago, Johne said:

You'd be amazed at how much word count you can accomplish just by listening to a large cast talk among themselves.

 

I will remember that one. Thanks.

 

8 minutes ago, Johne said:

Use all the tricks in the book.

 

Yeap.

 

8 minutes ago, Johne said:

Winning NaNo literally rewired my brain. Punching through and crossing the 50k word line showed me I had the instincts, I had the chops, I had the raw mental fortitude and lively curiosity necessary to be a writer of novel-length stories. Everything else after that is a matter of practice and research and butt-in-chair hard work. Knowing I had the raw ability changed how I thought about myself, shattered forever the 'imposter syndrome,' and started me on the path I'm currently on which will end with a published debut next year. You can do this.  

 

That's is the idea.

 

Thanks for this great post Johne - very good advice that I will remember and try to use.  

 

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2 hours ago, Jeff Potts said:

I don't need NaNoWriMo.  My brain is wired such that when it comes to writing, I can't just shut up.  :)


Nod. It's about knowing what you need - this is just one of many tools. After winning in 2004, most people continued competing in the following years because of the catharsis, the achievement of winning. I'd accomplished something of critical importance, but once that bell was rung, I didn't need to replicate that experience the following year. Instead, I spent the next nine years honing my short story skills and made 13 sales. I only competed again in 2014 as a kind of callback, an anniversary. I don't plan to compete again until 2024 because I don't need that specific kind of novel-length sprint. I like my quality-of-life as it is right now and write the year around instead of just in November.

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Which is to say, after breaking through the threshold to discover whether I could write to that length, I'm now working on writing novels better. I don't need NanoWriMo for that.

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14 hours ago, Johne said:

Which is to say, after breaking through the threshold to discover whether I could write to that length, I'm now working on writing novels better. I don't need NanoWriMo for that.

 

Normally I would not either but I need to get over myself and get down to writing this novel so NanoWriMo is a means to and end.

 

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