Tuesday, October 26, 2010


It's that time of year, mes auteurs! Small flaming gourds, people extorting you for food on your very doorstep, and ghoulish apparitions in the night can only mean one thing: NaNoWriMo is (almost) here.

In case you're not familiar, NaNoWriMo (or "National Novel Writing Month") is a project created by Chris Baty just over ten years ago that dedicates the month of November to writing novels: simply, if you compose 50,000 words between 12:00 am on November 1st and 11:59 pm on November 30th, you "win." And who doesn't love winning?

I wrote about NaNoWriMo last year and got an interesting array of comments and responses. Many were to disabuse me of the notion that a large number of NaNoWriMoErs send queries regarding their 50,000-word mss (hint: 50,000 words does not an adult novel make) to agents, thereby contributing to the global surplus of form rejections. And perhaps they were right; if you, dear readeurs, are any indication, virtually nobody does this.

And yet people do do this. For every few people NaNo-ing just to have fun, or to get a start on that novel they've been putting off, or just to see if they can do it, there's probably someone (based on the anecdotal evidence in which I've been awash for the past few years) who just queries with what they've got. Or, I imagine, sometimes just sends the whole ms along, since if their mentality predisposes them toward sending unfinished/inadequate work to industry professionals, they're probably not super good at following directions (i.e. query before sending a partial or full).

This is a bit of a muddled post, meine Autoren, so in kid-tested, mother-approved Bullet-O-Vision™—

What I am saying:

· NaNoWriMo is fun, entertaining, and a good way to get yourself writing on a regular schedule.

· While this is neither Chris Baty's nor NaNoWriMo's fault, the project encourages a lot of terrible writers with too much time on their hands to churn out dreadful Frankensteinian monsters with which they proceed to pester literary agents, editors, friends, and family. Being literate does not make one a good writer. Not everyone is or can be a good writer. Sad, but (à mon avis) true.

· Granted, a lot of these people are probably writing terrible novels anyway, but anything that encourages them further gives me heartburn.

· Just because you can write 50,000 words that more or less make sense in a month does not mean you're cut out to be a writer.

I realize I'm very much preaching to the choir here.

What I am not saying:

· That NaNoWriMo is terrible. (Because it's not!)

· That you shouldn't participate in NaNoWriMo. (Because, if you've got the time, why not?)

· That you shouldn't use ideas/passages/chapters written via NaNoWriMo in future works. (Good ideas are good ideas!)

· That you should submit the entirety of your NaNoWriMo work to agents. (See above!)

· That no one has ever sold a novel they wrote during NaNoWriMo (but the numbers are small indeed).

What think ye, gentle readers/writers/viewers/collaborators?


  1. There's actually an increasing number of folks who manage to sell their NaNoWriMo novels. But that's because, you know, they spend years editing them.

    It's a shame there are so many Wrimos who send out their still-NaNo-warm MS, because this gets agents (rightfully) irritated with an event that is otherwise wonderful.

    I love NaNoWriMo with all my heart, and I wish more people realised that a NaNo draft is twice as bad as a regular first draft, and that regular first drafts aren't any good to begin with. ;)

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  3. I like it. It's a great way to find others interested in writing in the local area. I've done it (although not last year.) I bought the book "No Plot No Problem" and followed it.

    I think it is a great idea as long as one does not take it too seriously. I mean, Don't start writing out the suicide note just because you did not complete it (unless the suicide note is at least fifty-thousand words and you can write it in a month.)

  4. Writing on a consistent schedule is the best thing NaNoWriMo has done for me. I was able to finish the 50,000, and kept on pace for 1,000 words a day for a few months. Unfortunately the habit died, and I am hoping to jump start it with this years novel.

    I still haven't finished my novel from last year, at least editing wise. It ended up being well over 100,000 words and needs to be paired down.

    Being that it was my first novel, it has been through numerous rewrites and revisions. I still don't believe that it is ready for querying, even with the work put into it. I learned a helluva lot from just writing that first novel, and I am not sure I would have been able to without the support of this program.

  5. I submitted last year's NaNo to agents. But in March. After, you know, editing it.

    (It still didn't sell.)

    I think NaNo is a good way to get people to write, but I actually find the "No plot; no problem" attitude pretty antithetical to my own writing philosophy (I'm only a quasi-pantser; I don't take notes, but I need a plot and an ending all planned before I can write). And honestly, I'm kind of burned out on the idea of it, thanks to a college friend who, every single year, talks up how he's going to win NaNo on facebook in October, gets cute chicks to gush over how he's a writer, and then never writes a word.

    Meanwhile, I'm here, writing all year round, and not a single hot chick has begged me to show her my short stories. Harumph.

  6. I agree: 50,000 words does not an adult novel make. It can, however, make a decent rough draft. The rough draft, if it has been plotted well before the Month of Madness begins, may turn into something quite publishable. 'Turn into' involves several full revisions, of course. Grisham claims to do five a novel and King claims to do three; why should Nanowrimos be any different?

    And yes, it's just plain fun. And by the way, many of us have full time jobs, children, university work, etc. So, it's not a matter of us having too much time on our hands. It's a matter of, like most real writers, finding the time to write. No matter what.

  7. I personally love this event because it gets me motivated to start projects I've been putting off that I've always wanted to do. Granted, I should be doing this on a regular basis. However! The program does help with the community aspect of writing and making that kind of herd mentality motivation that helps me work. It puts me in the mood for writing and that is invaluable I find.

  8. This will be my seventh year doing NaNoWriMo. I joined so long ago that I got a cool username (just plain "angela"). I have never won. I've never come close to winning. I'm a slow writer.

    I still do it every year though. It's so much fun hanging out with other writers, stressing about deadlines and word counts. The little editor who lives in my brain is learning to shut up while I write. I'm getting faster and (I hope) better at writing.

    The problem isn't that people are writing. It's that they think they are entitled to be published, regardless of the quality of their work. That's not something we can blame on NaNoWriMo. Personally, I blame society at large ;)

  9. I work full-time and also am a published author, usually with more than one book a year. I had to train myself a long time ago to keep a writing schedule, be disciplined, write to a deadline and not wait for the mood to strike. I sort of live NaNoWriMo on a regular basis given some of my deadlines. So I've always sort of shaken my head at the concept of NaNoWriMo. But if it helps some folks find the mojo, then more power to it.

  10. However you can get that painful first draft onto the page (including NaNo, which I've done once) is fine with me. What's important is to remember that NO first draft should go out the door. Good writers are compulsive revisers. And the revision part of the process should happen after November (and probably after that rush draft has rested in a drawer for awhile, and only then should the resulting ms be sent out to editors/agents)! - Stasia

  11. I've done it since 2003. I haven't won every year. Actually, I lost my very first year. But I've also never submitted my NaNo novels, though I am currently editing a short bit of last year's into a full novel length offering. It's slow going but I'm determined to get it edited. If it gets published...great! If it doesn't, well, back to the word processor.

  12. I agree with your post and most of the comments. I did NaNo back in 2004 (and I still have my super woman NaNo shirt!). What it did for me: allowed me to write forward. One of the things I was struggling with was getting past the first 20 pages of my novel because I kept going back, wanting to make the first 20 perfect (an impossible endeavor). That sort of strategy doesn't work great when you're trying to complete a 375-page novel. NaNo gave me permission to suck and to write forward and to get my thoughts down. But, as you and everyone else has pointed out, there's more to writing than that. A lot more. The only things that made it from those 50,000 words were three character ideas and a whisper of a story.

  13. Think yer hard, NaNoers? Y'think yer tough, do yehs?

    The 3-Day Novel Writing Contest

    I double-dog dare you.

  14. My thoughts?
    This is going to sound cliche, but NaNoWriMo is a tool, just like many things, and tools can be used for good or evil.

  15. Meh.

    Much ado about nothing.

    If you're gonna write, a month dedicated to writing won't help.

    Instead, how about a month dedicated to writing that kick ass synopsis to go with the garbage..err...novel that you churned in November?

  16. I have never done NanoWriMo, in part because I have such a solid writing schedule as it is, so I'm always busy working on other projects once November rolls around. I'd like to do it some year, though. I'd approach it with a wacky, fun project that I wouldn't expect to later edit and polish and try to publish. That would take the pressure off and just let me see what happens. But again, it's hard to push all my other projects aside to do what I'd consider a side project.

    I can completely believe that many people submit their raw NanoWriMo novels to agents. When you're totally new to writing, there's something so exhilarating about finishing a long work for the first time...it's natural to want to shove it out into the world. Of course, it should be shoved toward 1) the land o' revision and then 2) beta readers before coming anywhere near a publishing professional.

  17. I sold my 2004 NaNo (it's coming out in 6 weeks!) Obviously, I had to edit the hell out of it, and then query appropriate publishers and agents. My impression is that most WriMos are not trying to get published, they just want to fulfill a personal dream of writing a novel-length narrative. I wonder if these deluded WriMos who send their raw NaNo novel are more apocryphal than real. I think the writing world is so cut-throat and competitive that there are a lot of urban legends about the bad no-good awful loser amateur writers who are ruining it for the rest of us. We desperately need to believe that if we do everything right, we will get published, so we like to make scapegoats out of people who are doing it wrong.

    I love NaNoWriMo. Just like everything else on the planet, it's not for everyone. For me, it's a great incentive to write, and the best way to get better at writing is to write. It helps me relax and get past my inner censor. BTW, 50,000 words is a lovely length for a YA novel!

  18. I won't be playing NanoWriMo. From my POV it seems more interested in your typing speed than the quality of your work. My goal is to spend some time every day improving my book. If my novel is better tonight when I go to bed than it was when I woke up this morning, then my writing day has been productive.

  19. You've convinced me of something, not sure what! I think I'll focus November on continuing working on my w-i-p. 50,000 is a lot of words!

  20. While I haven't sold a NaNo novel, I have sold five books(all through an agent, all through Big 6), four of which I wrote (first draft) in under a month. Under a week, for two of them.

    Fast does not necessarily equal crap. Writers have different processes.

    A month is long enough for me to go through four drafts of a book. I can go from idea on November 1st to subworthy on the 30th, if I set my mind to it.

    What I can't do, that a lot of writers can, is stick with an idea for the longterm, write a book over 60,000 words, or reliably come up with
    ideas for books.

    It's a trade-off. Everyone does this differently, and I just object so much to the idea (that I'm seeing echoed in the comments) that writing fast means writing carelessly. Yes, NaNo was created to be a freeing experience. Permission to write for a month is all the freedom I need. I'll take it.

    But if I'm writing crap during NaNo, then I'm writing it every time I write a first draft in the 11 other months.

  21. The big NaNo success is "Water for Elephants," which went on to be a NYTimes bestseller.

  22. hannah, you make a very good point. Certainly the fact you have sold one book let alone five means you have the proof that fast does not always equal bad. The fact you can write a first draft of 50,000 words makes me jealous. But do you think you have "won" when you finish that first draft? I keep reading that a NaNo success, a "win", is 50,000 words in a month. Can a book be written in a month? Yes, the old Pulp writers such as Walter Gibson (The Shadow), Lester Dent (Doc Savage), and Paul Ernst (The Avenger), to name a few, wrote a book a month every month for years. But good writing as you know is not about a word count. As a wannabe Thriller writer, 50,000 words is five eighths done.

    Anything that helps you write is a good thing, If NaNo helps you, it is a good thing. But for me it is a pointless exercise. As anyone you has read my first draft posts, most of my writing work is in the rewriting.

  23. I think the Water for Elephants example is misleading. Sara Gruen already had a published novel under her belt when she used NaNoWriMo to write a draft of Water for Elephants. I don't know her writing process or if she finished the first draft that month or how much editing she later did, but there's a big difference between her writing that book during NaNoWriMo and 99% of the other participants trying to write their first books. It wasn't like she was a first-time writer taking a stab at NaNoWriMo and then magically churning out a bestseller.

    Wow. Not sure why I'm so grumpy. I think NaNoWriMo is a fantastic event for writers of all types...I guess I'm just reluctant to make the publishing aspect of writing sound so easy. :)

  24. I look at NaNoWriMo as a great kick-in-the-pants.

    I started a novel last August and had written 35K words through October. I used NaNo to write 45K words in November and then wrote another 40K from December to February. I ended up with 117K words which I then pared back. Seven months and four edits later it was 93K words and ready to submit.

    NaNo is a tool. Use it properly (as a motivator, a jolt of excitement) as any craftsman uses any other tool and you'll be fine. If you can tell a story, develop characters, create mood (you know, if you can write), whatever you have coming out of NaNo will be a pretty good. If you're a hack, your novel will suck.

  25. For me, Nano is my true litmus test for a plot idea. If I can write the full outline and I'm still interested at the end of 50k words, I'll finish it.

  26. I tried NaNoWriMo twice and came away frustrated both times. My brain doesn't work that way; I'm more of a tortoise than a hare.

    At this point, I considering finishing my current book more important that starting one that will only languish. After this project is done, I've got three other novels in various stages of research and development that I want to finish as well.

  27. I like this comment by Claudie A.: "I wish more people realised that a NaNo draft is twice as bad as a regular first draft, and that regular first drafts aren't any good to begin with."

    I've never participated in NaNoWriMo, and I don't have time to do it this year. But I might someday, and that's probably good advice to go into it with. I'm in the middle of revising a novel it took me eight and a half months to write, and the revisions for that are anything but easy. I can't imagine the revision process for a novel I attempted to spit out in 30 days.

    But still, I'd be willing to try it for that "kick-in-the-pants" people keep talking about.

  28. I like this comment by Claudie A.: "I wish more people realised that a NaNo draft is twice as bad as a regular first draft, and that regular first drafts aren't any good to begin with."

    I've never participated in NaNoWriMo, and I don't have time to do it this year. But I might someday, and that's probably good advice to go into it with. I'm in the middle of revising a novel it took me eight and a half months to write, and the revisions for that are anything but easy. I can't imagine the revision process for a novel I attempted to spit out in 30 days.

    But still, I'd be willing to try it for that "kick-in-the-pants" people keep talking about.

  29. Yep, for the first time, I'll be writing like a mad maenad for NaNoWriMo. (But I promise not to tear limb from limb.) I want to finish my third novel mss in November--in the same month my first novel will be published (www.loriannstephens.com). It will be crazy indeed. Bring it.

  30. Some of this anti-NaNo logic is flawed. If Chris Baty declares December to be NaDoSkiMo (National Downhill Skiing Month), what can I then conclude about the quality of Lindsey Vonn's skiing? What can I conclude, based on Chris Baty's actions, about a new skier who skis during December?

    I disagree with some of the tenets of NaNoWriMo but I disagree more with someone (agent or otherwise) who discards a manuscript based on its 50k word count coinciding with NaNo's 50k wordcount..it just doesn't make sense. It's actually a kind of prejudice, a mental shortcut.

    I think people well-versed in creative process understand, as well, that there is no such thing as "an adult novel" which must contain between 80 and 120 thousand words, have a protagonist that fits such-and-such model. That's just not true. Those kinds of categorical descriptions are appropriate in a marketing meeting, not on the writer's desk.

    There's a difference, as Faulkner reminds us, between being a writer, and *writing*. Agents who disregard NaNo novels, writers who distance themselves from fellow novelists who happen to write NaNo-style..that's more about being a writer than it is about *writing*. Part of what's great about NaNoWriMo is that it encourages us to leave out the pretense and do this thing that we love, which is---very simply---writing.

  31. You're actually not preaching to the choir with me. I am, in this regard, very much a sinner. You say "Just because you can write 50,000 words that more or less make sense in a month does not mean you're cut out to be a writer." I totally agree. And further, I think you solidly miss Faulkner's point. "Being a writer" is not something *you* do. Writing is something you do. Being a writer is something that happens to you. "Being a writer" is a historical description, a description by others *of* what you do. What you do--all you can do in this domain--is write. "Being a writer" just as "being a celebrity" is not something you do..it's something that others do in relation to you. You write a book. That's all you do. That other people read it (properly, formally, literally) is not your action, and other people's actions (properly, formally, literally) do not add, nor do they take away from, what you do. Your post clearly is well-placed in this discussion, but as a lover of words, and given your decision to make statements about what does and does not qualify a person as a writer, I have to encourage you to refocus: on work, not personality impressions.

  32. I think you hit the nail on the head. NaNo is a fun gimmick which can be used to further writing goals and to give people a taste of how hard and rewarding writing can be. I personally promote writing - I think everyone should write. It doesn't mean everyone should publish, but we learn every time our fingers tap out words, whether it's a department memo or an epic saga.

    I'll be participating in NaNo this year, but in my own way. My goal is to write a solid, well-written first draft of my next novel. I don't expect I'll make the 50k word limit. I do expect it'll give me time to write a good thirdish of the novel.

    Sometimes the spirit/intent of something is what's important. That's what I take away from NaNoWriMo.