Wednesday, 2 November 2011

N is for NaNoWriMo

Considering all the NaNoWriMo excitement around at the moment, I just had to make it N in my A-Z. November is a month of furious novel writing, a creativity-filled four weeks with thousands of writers around the world bent over their keyboards hammering out a little over sixteen hundred words a day. I'm not actually signed up for it but quite wish I was, given all the goings-on and banter at the moment.

So what is NaNoWriMo? It stands for National Novel Writing Month and began in 1999 in San Francisco. In brief, it's based around a website where writers register and commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in just a month. The site will help you plan your novel, keep track of your progress, you'll get loads of support during this brain-crunch time, there are forums covering all aspects of writing and publishing, and you have the chance to join regional meets during November. Sounds like fun. It also sounds like hard work.

Or does it? I suppose that very much depends on how much time you have each day to devote to your task. If you're working a fifty hour week already, add these words on top and it's going to be a pretty hard slog both physically and mentally. The opposite is also true. If you have all day to give to NaNo then it's an easy prospect...surely?

In my experience (and I'm writing my ninth novel now with seven so far published) no two days of writing output are the same. Writers don't have a measurable rating, sadly, and experience doesn't always mean the words will come on demand (though I don't believe in writers' block). Some of my best writing stints happen when I'm severely under pressure either from deadlines or other commitments. While it's luxurious to amble through a novel with no one breathing down your neck for a delivery date, this can also result in a bit of procrastinating and the self-imposed deadlines get kicked back and back on the calendar until you wished you hadn't set one in the first place.

If you're a newbie writer, then leaping into NaNoWriMo will probably feel a bit like running a half-marathon without having trained. In fact, I've always likened writing to exercise. Writing's a bit of a muscle in my book (haha) and needs to be exercised regularly. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Really! And I don't mean that the ideas, the language, the skill will necessarily become easier - I mean the actual discipline of sitting down and writing solidly for two, three four, ten hours at a time will become second nature the more you do it.

For the more experienced or published writer, NaNo might seem like just another day at the coal-face. Words come, hopefully the right ones, and the book progresses. But in both cases, the added bonus of fellow participant motivation (if she/he can do it, then so can I), the brilliant community where you can post about your head-bashing word count of fifty or boast about the five thousand you knocked-off before breakfast, shouldn't be underestimated. Writing is a lonely business. Support is vital. And then the sense of achievement at the end when you type the fifty thousandth word and write, well, The End, will be immense. Though remember, most published novels are usually between eighty to a hundred and twenty thousand words, so there's a little way to go once you've 'got down the bones.'

But that's the whole point of the novel writing month, so say its fans (and I am one!). Get it down, bash/churn/hammer it out however it comes, do not go back and revise, do not stop and do not give up. I completely agree. I've never written a novel that way exactly but I can certainly relate to the process. When I'm writing, I like to write about two thousand words a day. I will cheat a little and edit the previous day's work the next morning but not very much. The big edits come later.

So, NaNoWriMo - it's fast, it's furious, it's fun and gives a huge sense of achievement to have completed such a large body of work at the end of the month. I'm sure the website will have lots of advice about editing your novel once it's written. My suggestion would be to forget about it for about a month or so then re-read it, say, in the New Year. Do not cringe in horror, do not delete or burn. Do remember how many hours of work you put into your novel and do believe that it can be added to, edited, polished and improved by applying a good dose of your November discipline. This is normal. All writers go through it.

And if publication is your aim, you're going to need an agent. Being absolutely certain of your work, knowing it's the very best it can be, is essential. If another month of polishing is what it needs then do it - the agents aren't going anywhere. I can't stress this enough. Agents aren't looking for a way to reject you - they're really hoping your work will be stunning. But a rushed manuscript isn't going to do you any favours. A few typos can certainly be forgiven but a novel without a compelling story, believable characters and brilliant ending can't.

There have been a number of NaNoWriMo successes. Julia Crouch and Elizabeth Haynes (their books are fab - I've read them both) spring to mind and both bagged publishing deals from spending thirty days one November writing seventeen hundred words a day. Of course, there was a lot of work subsequently but it certainly got them off to a flying start!

So if you want to write a novel and fast but haven't signed up, don't despair. There are still twenty-eight days left in November. That's only 1785 words a day compared to the original of 1666. Happy NaNoWriMo to all participants and good luck!

Sam x

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