National Novel Writing Month. Every November, thousands upon thousands of people set aside the time to write a 50,000 word novel. It seems like an impossible feat, especially to a guy like me who spends his whole life writing. I’ve been working on a novel called “Lefty” since 2007, and I’m still in the middle of rewrites on that. But here’s the catch. The NaNoWriMo novel is doable, because a) it’s just a first draft, b) the operators of the site encourage writers not to edit as they go along, and c) if you write 1667 words a day (doable, no?)… you will have a novel by the end of the month.
So… it’s November 30th and I don’t have a novel.
I have 17,540 moderately kinda maybe good words. There are some structural issues in this first quarter of what will eventually be a novel, but it’s a good start.
But anyway. I didn’t win this year. I hope to win next year. I think I can win next year which, granted, Future Pat Who Lives In 2011 might be chuckling at, but I’ll try. And I’ll avoid the pitfalls that prevented me from winning this year. Maybe it’ll help some other folks.
Don’t start NaNoWriMo if you’re already working on something time-consuming. I’m lucky enough to be in super tentative-don’t-get-to-excited-nothing-is-set-in-stone-at-all-even-a-little-but-holy-shit-I-am-excited-despite-what-I-said-before talks with an agent about a novel that I’m writing. It’s called Lefty and a really cool lady read it, liked it, and gave me eight pages of awesome notes that I’m confident will change the novel for the better. I’ve been working on this new draft since September, and I decided to take a break for NaNoWriMo. Thing is, my head was still really in the Lefty place… so I didn’t really have any EUREKA! moments of brilliance during the writing of my NaNoNovel. I did finally realize what the hell I was writing about a few days ago, but I’d already thrown in the proverbial towel. So yeah. If your head is somewhere else when November rolls around… let it stay there. I could have already resubmitted Lefty by now.
Don’t get too attached. This is a tough one. Any writer worth his or her squishy will get attached when writing an extended (or even a short) piece. Try to ignore that voice that says “This character wouldn’t do that” or “How could I be so mean to this character?!” or “This is happened way too fast” or any of those kind of thoughts. If you get so involved in the story that you start examining the nuts and bolts while you’re NaNo-ing… you won’t get that shiny badge at the end. That’s what happened to me. Thing is, this might also be a good thing. If the “This isn’t right” voice is so consistent… maybe this novel is trying to tell you that it needs more time and thought than NaNoWriMo allows for. And I know that those are two conflicting pieces of advice, but I’m a novelist… What do you expect?
Twitter. Facebook. Video games. They’re all delicious, delectable distractions. I’m an addict, I admit.
This is the biggest and most obvious pitfall, but it tends to be the one that most people fall in. I blame a lot of my NaNoWriMo failings on the top three, but this is the Big Bad. Ready for it?
It's as simple as this: Not writing.
(I kinda didn't write.)
So the month is over, and I didn't win NaNo. But I’m happy. In November, I finally wrote my CV and applied for a teaching job. I got a better day job. I wrote and submitted two pitches to my favorite comic book publisher. I wrote a play called Jelly Pants that will be performed in the city December 6th. I wrote the first sixty-eight pages of the first draft of Commuters (my attempted NaNoNovel)… and I feel like I’m in a good place. Hell, after I wrote the first fifty pages of Lefty, I stopped for a year due to lack of inspiration. Then an awesome girl and some coyotes inspired me in 2009, and I completed the first draft and am currently nearing the end of the second. So here’s to NaNoWriMo and productivity.
A lot of writers hate on NaNoWriMo for being antithetical to what the writing process is. Cramming the first draft of a novel into such a short period of time is, yes, usually inadvisable. A novel isn’t born in a month, no matter how good you are. But here’s the thing. While those who win this month, thinking that their novel is ready to shop to agents… they’re in for an upsetting (and super funny) surprise. However, NaNoWriMo does two awesome things. If you’re successful, you leave the month with a full first draft. A first draft that is in dire need of edits, yes, but what first draft isn’t?
Perhaps even better than that, NaNoWriMo teaches discipline. Writers are supposed to write every day. I’d even say more than 1,667 words. Writers, we’re weird. We want to write and we want to be published and we want people to read our books… but we get distracted by daydreaming and life (and also Facebook and Twitter). Most people doing NaNoWriMo don’t have agents to light fires under their asses and make them meet deadlines… because they have no deadlines. NaNoWriMo helps those unagented writers (hi there) write every day. And that is pretty damn cool.