The e-mails have been trickling through my inbox, reminding me that November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo — because everything’s better abbreviated. Right? Right.
Long-time readers of the blog — and yes, there are at least two or three of you — may remember that I tried my hand at NaNoWriMo in November 2011. (I thought it was 2012, but then I looked it up and it was five years ago and then I felt old.) I failed spectacularly. Flamed out.
Of course, I’ve written a book a year since 2013, including one I wrapped up and packed off to my editor earlier this month. I don’t feel super-duper bad about blowing NaNoWriMo. And given my experiences since then, I think I have a bit of perspective on the whole thing. So here goes.
My feeling is that if you have a writing process in place that’s working for you, no matter how fast (or slow) that process produces words, then I’d likely recommend sticking to that process. By “working for you,” I mean that your process gives you the ability to write things you’re proud of. Now, I think the vast majority of writers would love to write faster, but I think there’s a point everyone can reach where you go too fast and quality takes a hit. So write at your pace, first and foremost.
That said, NaNoWriMo can do a nice job of jumpstarting your writing juices, and if you feel like you need that, go for it. Get in there and see if you can crank out 50,000 words in November. If you’re doing it, I humbly suggest you do some outlining this week so you kind of know where the story’s going when you start — you can change course when and how you like, but blank pages without ideas are killer. It’s not cheating to sketch some things out beforehand.
In fact, it’s an arbitrary process, so really, your “victory” in the coming month should be more about how you feel about your work than hitting 50,000 words at 11:59 p.m. on November 30. Personally, I would rather have 10,000 spectacular words than 50,000 words that make me go “meh.” Nobody wants “meh.” NaNoWriMo is a great excuse to get up and get moving on your work, and definitely use it as such if you need it. But quality is always, always better than quantity. It’s your writing — declare victory only when you feel victorious.
Don’t do NaNoWriMo out of desperation. That’s the worst. Do it because you want to give things a boost, or to test yourself, or to try new things. Stay positive about it, because it’s a slog, man. If after a few weeks you’re ready to toss the laptop out the window, maybe it’s time to step away. Have some turkey and see friends. Don’t let it put you off writing.
Finally, if you’re into it and you’ve created a novel by November 30, congratulations!! Writing a novel is a big deal, and not everyone can manage it. Go you with your bad self. But don’t think for a moment that the book is done. You gotta go back and revise, and tweak, and edit. All that stuff. You send a raw NaNoWriMo story to an agent, or put it out on Amazon, you’re going to get dinged big-time. It will not go well. Spend at least as much time — preferably more — on the revisions. You can thank me later.
As I just wrapped up MJ-12: Inception, I will not be joining you again this year. I like where I’m at, writing-wise, and I’m good with my output so far. I probably can’t write a novel in a month, but I can put one together over 7-9 months while holding down a full-time job and spending time with my family, so I’ll take it. No need to mess with a good thing.
And besides, I think November is a really tough month to do something like this. You’re coming off your Halloween sugar rush, you got Thanksgiving right there when you’re supposed to hunker down and hit the finish line, and the holidays are right after. Too much. I think it should be moved to March, when most folks are just hoping winter will end at some point. Staying inside and being antisocial is perfectly acceptable in March. I know I’ll be hard at work on my second MAJESTIC-12 novel next March.
But not now. I’ll be cheering you on instead, if you decide to go for it. And if you do, best of luck. If you don’t, or if you “fail,” that’s perfectly great as well. I’ll still cheer for you.