Our editor-in-chief reminds us why many of us write novels in November and some dos and don’ts to keep in mind.
NaNoWriMo: Pro or Con?
by Mur Lafferty
I have been an odd fan of NaNoWriMo for the past several years. I’m a fan because I’m fully in support of it. I’m odd because I’m utterly inept at winning it myself.
I have a variety of excuses. I still don’t know why it’s in November, which is a BIG travel month for Americans. Since I’m a pro writer already, it’s often that I’m already in a project’s phase (outline, editing, just finished and oh dear Gawd don’t make me look at the computer right now, etc) where 1,667 words a day isn’t what I need to be doing. I may have short work due – am I supposed to write 50k of a new novel AND write my 12k word novelette for Bookburners?
Excuses, all. I know.
But I like the energy NaNo gives to people. It energizes a lot of beginners, assuring them that quality doesn’t matter, what matters is getting it done. Since worrying about quality is possibly the biggest hurdle a beginning writer has to get over, allowing oneself to write excrement is a very freeing feeling. People learn that a large writing project is possible, and not something just famous authors with no day job, no kids, and unlimited funds can handle.
What a lot of people don’t know, however, is many pro authors either started their careers writing with NaNo, and many use it to launch new books. Authors I know of who do this include Mary Robinette Kowal (Ghost Talkers) and Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus). The Night Circus actually started off as a NaNoWriMo novel.
There are people who don’t understand NaNoWriMo, and only write once a year, or think that their work is ready for an agent’s or editor’s desk come December 1. They think that 50,000 words is a full novel.* They sit on the forums and disperse their wisdom and tell people that you really DON’T have to write diverse characters if you don’t want to, and why bother putting more women in your book, and it’s just not realistic that a person in a wheelchair could manage to handle this situation the author’s put them in.
But every group is going to have some terrible people. Most of the people I know who are excited about NaNoWriMo are writers who are serious about getting better and getting published, and see November as the marathon they’ve been training for. I’ve been reading about marathon training,** and it seems that you don’t test and see if you can run 26 miles before the race. If you’re handling 20 mile runs every weekend, then you can probably do 26.
If you’re writing a good 1000 words a day, you can probably do 1667.
I feel like step one of starting NaNoWriMo is to get over the skeptics. Once you beat them, you only have to beat yourself. And the best way to beat them is, well, just don’t listen to them. They’re putting more effort into hating NaNoWriMo than you would be to just write. It’s sad, really.
And yeah, I’m trying it again this year. Join me, won’t you?***
* To be fair, some mid-grade and YA books can get away with 50k, very few adult books can these days.
** “Reading about marathon training.” That may be the saddest admission I’ve ever made in public. Yeah, I haven’t run since WorldCon. I have many NaNoWriMo-like excuses here, too.
*** Username: mightymur
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