Friday, May 20, 2011

On NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo, for the uninitiated, stands for National Novel Writing Month. It's an event (now international, despite the name!) in which writers commit to composing 50,000 words of a novel (or maybe it's a 50,000 word novel; I'm not entirely sure) during the month of November. It's been going since 1999 and the number of participants is astonishing.

I think NaNoWriMo is terrific.

To my knowledge, I only have one NaNoWriMo novel on my list so far, though it's entirely possible there are two or three more that were originally composed in the month of November, and the author's just never told me the novel's full origin story.

Here are some things that are great about NaNoWriMo:

1) For lots of people, it's the excuse they've been waiting for to finally get off their duff and write a novel. Many, many first drafts of first novels have been composed as NaNoWriMo projects, I'm absolutely certain.

2) For lots of people, even published authors, it's a chance to make a huge and productive start on a new book project. It anchors the writing calendar. NaNoWriMo is a chance to produce what Anne Lamott calls a "sh*tty first draft," to lay the story out on the page so that you have something to work with.

3) For lots of people, it provides a sense of discipline. I look sometimes at the Twitter feed for the hashtag "#amwriting" and think to myself, "you're not writing, you're tweeting." I think the 50,000 word count is an ambitious and useful goal, a reason to disconnect yourself from the internet and really buckle down and write.

However. I see an increase in my queries every year come the first week in December.

I love NaNoWriMo. One of these years, I'm going to get off my own duff and do a NaNoWriMo project, just for the experience.

I don't love unrevised NaNoWriMo projects. Those proud NaNoWriMo finishers who send me their novel the first week in December haven't even had enough time to reread their manuscripts before pushing send. This is a big mistake.

Take the month of November to write the novel. Take the month of December to let it marinate. Give yourself a little psychic distance.

Then, in January, after you've put the holiday decorations away (or not. I put mine away in February this year; who am I to judge?), get out the manuscript and read it with fresh eyes. Read it alongside a book on how to write and revise. There are tons of great ones out there.

Make yourself a list of the main issues that need addressing in the revision. Some major things you should be looking for:

-plot: is it working? in a romance, do the hero and heroine end up together? in a mystery, is it too obvious or too subtle who the bad guy is?

-characters: what are their motivations? are they consistent? are they realistic?

-dialogue: do your characters talk like real people? Are their phrasings age-appropriate and in keeping with their characters? (and how are your dialogue tags?)

-pacing: does the story hold your interest throughout? I'm especially obsessed with the "flabby middle," which I'll talk about more another time, but in short: many novels have a slow spot right around the midpoint. Fix this.

-genre: this reread is a good opportunity to start thinking about how to market your novel. Who do you think is the target audience for your book? (Please don't say "everybody.")

Once you've got your list, give yourself at LEAST another month to do the revisions, and lather, rinse, and repeat.

Then, if you're very happy with the manuscript in its double-revised form, start the query process.


Jessica Brockmole said...

This post is especially timely, given that the Office of Letters and Light is getting ready to kick off a summertime version of NaNoWriMo.

I love seeing an agent supporting NaNoWriMo. Really. Because I think NaNo gets a bad reputation. Yes, there's some utter garbage that comes out of a month's worth of frenzied writing (often cheerfully declared as such by the writers in question). I've done NaNo for four years now. I've seen it. I'm not surprised that a healthy majority of those writers start to query their stuff after November. But there are also a lot of serious writers who use NaNo as a tool to get going on a new project or to (in a winking disregard of the rules) finish up on an older project. They write during November, often spend December and beyond finishing up the story after the required 50k, and then spend more time revising and revising again, the way they would regardless of how the first draft came to be. Personally, I love the rush of the whole month, the camaraderie, and the reminder of why I love doing this all. It's thirty days of pure writing. And what's not to love about that?

I also love the non-writers who use November as a chance to give it a try. I know people who don't write all year, but dust off the notebook come November, write their 50k, and then tuck it away for another year. Truly, I think that's awesome!

And, Courtney, if you ever do decide to give it a try, I am an excellent NaNo cheerleader! :)

Sparky said...

Hi Courtney!

Thank you for taking the time to answer my question! I hope you do take the opportunity to participate in NaNoWriMo; the more the merrier!


Amy said...

despite November being half a year away, I'm finding this post to be super helpful. I have my Shitty First Draft, and your tips have given me a new way to focus on what needs to happen next (after it's designated marinating time) Thank you!

Amy said...

AAAAA!!!! Sorry ITS not it's (facepalm) Ugh.