A few of my writer friends are doing NaNoWriMo this year. Which I have to admit, I’ve never really been tempted by. Write a 50,000 word novel in one month. I know that if I decided to start a novel, that within one month, I might *reasonably* come up with a premise, and maybe even write 50,000 words. But those words would be be scattered scenes, most of them experimental in nature, and scattered, isolated lines (probably of dialogue), plus some background notes as I brainstorm on characters and plot ideas.

But a complete rough draft of a novel?

My initial writing of a story is always open-ended, and subject to later (possibly enormous) revision–what’s the use of keeping a little ticky-counter that rises as you approach 50,000 words if half of them end up in the round file later? Consigning words to the round file (or the back files of your hard drive–I never throw anything away) is part of the writing process. Success can’t be counted–for me, personally– by the number of words I have (unless I can’t get past one page, in which case, why would I attempt NaNo in the first place).

Anyone who can belt out 50,000 words of a rough draft in one month will probably spend the next year completely changing everything they wrote in that month. Which I suppose gives structure to the novel-writing task. But isn’t the same thing as actually “writing a novel” in a month. It’s the flower bud of a novel.

eta: above post edited to make clear my NaNo comments only apply to me, not anyone else, and certainly were not meant to belittle participants. Different things work for different people.

62 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo

  1. You and I seem to see the course of writing very similarly.

    I think that NaNoWriMo might set up some writers only for failure. The pressure to produce would shut me down. That said I did participate in NaPoWriMo and enjoyed it very much. But a novel, gah!! Some might thrive on the pressure, but I don’t think I could. Not for a whole novel.

    The best thing I have read about first drafts, and their quality, is that they are the vomit that eventually can become something good. That is where you should be making your errors, where you should be producing crap. Because it is the beginning. I do like that theory. If you expect it to be garbage, you have no where to go but up. It can be rewritten and refined into gold. That takes the pressure off and for me that produces the flow.

  2. Poetry in a month, sure. A reasonably well-polished short story in a month, maybe.

    But a NOVEL?

    Yes, I like your analogy. 50,000 words of vomit spewed on a page–pure creativity, most of it crap. It’s the seeds buried in manure from which good novels come, but it is not itself a “novel.”

  3. And I found 30 poems difficult too. There were bits there that if I ever got around to revising could be something. Maybe. The seeds in the manure. That is great. I like how all of these analogies are excrementally based. Output LOL.

  4. My own impression of NaNoWrMo is it prevents editing and it is the endless editing process that often keeps people from progessing. I know for myself, this is true, but I also know it is having 5 vastly different drafts that help me really find my voice. My goal is to have one decent chapter done a month. That allows for my various cycles to each have their input. Writer’s block has never bothered me. Even if i am stuck on something, there are tons of other things to do.

    Various writers get various things out of it. It is a great confidence builder to have 50,000 words down, even if those words could be better. The words could *always* be better, It also my impression that these novels, even cleaned up, aren’t meant for publication. They are just one really long writing exercise.

    Also the guaranteed feedback is another motivating factor.

    There are plenty of things people can get out of it. No, I’m not going to participate, but I wish the best of luck on those that do. Next month is chapter two and it is really kicking my ass. I can’t even get a handle on the beginning.

  5. To be perfectly honest most 50,000 words spewed in the course of year or more is pure crap. Time doesn’t effect the crap factor. Most of CS Lewis’ fiction have no drafts. They came out that good in one draft. Some wonderful authors agonize over every word and some don’t. This doesn’t change the crap factor. Some writers go to many writer’s workshop to improve their craft. Some don’t or even believe in them for others.

    Time isn’t what makes a great novel. The author does.

  6. I’m not saying NaNo is without merit. I just think it’s wise to understand what is reasonable to expect in a month. Seeds are good.

  7. Yeah, I did both spell-check and a little judicious editing, like getting rid of the *giggle*. Bleh. I hate it when quiz results aren’t proofread: I mean, you know–or at least hope–that tons of people are going to be reading them, you know?

  8. You know how to take NaNo and modify it for your own purposes so that you can succeed in a reasonable goal. But that’s what *you’re* contributing to an already set-up process. If people get things out of it, which I imagine they do, that’s great. It could be a promising-but-crap-filled partial rough draft, the spark of an idea, a few lines of brilliant prose. Whatever it is. But I doubt very much doubt it’s “a novel.” As long as participants have a reasonable notion of what they can hope to get out of it, it’s a good thing.

  9. I would be very embarrassed to let writing out in public looking like that–what goes on in these people’s minds?

    It’s one thing to have bits of misspellings in a LJ comment, but that’s supposed to be a public finished product.

    I shudder for our future.

  10. We should totally start a “What Not To Wear”-type program for writing. It’s really horrifying what some people allowto go running around in plain sight.

  11. To each his/her own on the NaNoWriMo. Personally, my writing is cra* unless I revise a lot as I go along. But, decent publishable writing has been done that quickly. I just can’t write that fast. I can’t keep the necessary focus that long either. I’d burn out for sure.

  12. Myt previous comments cause me to reword what I want to say. Firstly, your premise is that a novel cannot be completed in a month. I might agree with you on some level, though as a beeper, I might have to disagree with you making such gernalizations. I did 63, 239 words in about a month. What I wrote is a novel (minus 2 chapters). Just because it isn’t cleaned up doesn’t make it anything less than a novel. I object to your definition of a novel. EVERY single work out there can benefit from editing, published and unpublished. When is it edited enought to qualify?

    I think the goal of NaNoWrMo is admirable. It keeps people motivated to reach thaqt 50,000 words. People who have never writen a novel before get their fingers clicking all to reach this possibly unreachable goal, If they aim for the stars, they just might reach the moon. That is why it is NaNOWrMo. i think to call it any less is an insult to those writers who are writing A NOVEL. A draft of a novel is still a novel.

  13. I understand that some people might take advantage of the idea of NaNoWriMo in order to stop the incessant “Inner Editor” who prevents them from making progress (in terms of more words and more pages) because it’s always judging and criticizing and demanding rewrites.

    But personally, I’m like you. It is possible for some people to make good progress (as in, marching forward with a rising word count) *and* stop for edits. It’s not a matter of stopping because you are being unnecessarily judgmental of your writing; it’s more, five lines later I realized a better word for something, or a better wording, and went back and adjusted it.

    God knows in an early draft those little niggly rewrites might not mean anything–you might end up killing that darling page or paragraph later. But I like words. I like them to be interesting, even if I’m just brainstorming. And I’m certainly willing to let them be crap if it slows me down too much to fix them.

  14. Dostoevsky wrote Crime and Punishment a lot faster than this. I think it’s a matter of having all the pieces, the plot, the characterizations, the structure, the tone, the research, etc in your head when you start the ‘writing.’ As I said above, my interests would wander before I finished and I’d never get it done in a month. But it doesn’t mean others couldn’t.

  15. I agree. The point with me is that when I revise I am making progress. I never just edit. It’s always, ‘the story has to go this way’ and it wasn’t set up quite well enough. ‘I have to fix that back there so I can go on.’ I make the edits so I can go on, not to avoid it.

  16. I never just edit. It’s always, ‘the story has to go this way’ and it wasn’t set up quite well enough. ‘I have to fix that back there so I can go on.’ I make the edits so I can go on, not to avoid it.

    Right, that’s also a good example of why going back to edit is making progress, and something I’ve done myself on more than one occassion.

  17. My best writer friend easily pops out 100,000+ words a month. Several others probably hit that mark as well. And their stuff is well-constructed with a commanding use of language. So it’s not that it is impossible. It just depends on the person.

    I don’t think those participating in N… expect to come up with classic works in thirty days. It’s about overcoming some fears and putting themselves out there. So what if most of it is crap? Most of the finished product writing I read is crap anyways. But they need the experience of actually writing and getting feedback. And if they need a gimmick to start that process, fine.

    [This isn’t including the work of my reporter friends, who easily meet 50,000+ a month, or even me. But I think you meant fiction, and I only deal with half-truths in my line of work).

  18. I understand all those benefits. If indeed the person derives them. Your use of the word “gimmick”, though, did spark something in me that kind of got to the core of my problem with the program. Assuming a participant (a) makes reasonable goals for themselves, (b) knows their own limitations, (c) has some plan for striving to overcome *some* of those limitations to a reasonable degree, and (d) has support, hey, that’s all good. But NaNoWriMo always sets off pictures in my mind of a million monkeys sitting at typewriters hitting random keys and hoping to have War and Peace at the end. You can really set yourself up for failure if you go into it without (a)-(d), IMO.

  19. My understanding is that very few monkeys expect to produce War and Peace. They do enjoy the process of writing without excuses and having a support system set up for feedback, however. It’s about sharing an isolated process with others.

  20. Okay. Got it. You don’t like the whole idea of NaNoWriMo.

    Really no need to get so het up about it though. It seems unnecessarily petty, nasty and, I don’t know, defensive, somehow?

    The point is, it’s a huge community event, and as such, it’s a lot of fun. And to add to what others have said, crap is crap, even if you spend years working on it.

  21. Does my post come across as petty and nasty? If so, I’ll erase it, because it wasn’t meant in that spirit. It was more like me saying, “I’ve never felt it would work for me.”

    I seem to be upsetting people in a way I didn’t intend.

  22. It did seem nasty to me. You seemed to be saying there was no point in this exercise and it was stupid for people to engage in it, which implies that those people are stupid.

    You seem to have hit a few people’s buttons.


  23. That wasn’t what I meant at all. I was kind of just writing off the top of my head in a tongue-and-cheek way and ended up “stomping through someone else’s sacred” as they say.

    I apologize to anyone who felt I did that to them.

    To be honest, I’ve been a writer for 30 years, and NaNo has never really been a concept that tempted me. But if it works for other people, that’s great.

  24. I apologize if it seemed like I was belittling participants somehow. That wasn’t my intent. I understand the need to make such an isolated process a shared process. For me, personally, I’ve been writing in isolation for so long I think sharing the process with others wouldn’t necessarily change the frequency of my writing much. But other things I’ve done in isolation have benefitted from sharing.

  25. I rewrote my post a bit to make it clear I’m only speaking for myself, not saying what others should or should not do. I know what my writing process is, and I know what works for me. Others no doubt derive a lot of benefit from NaNo.

    Apologies if it seemed I implied otherwise.

  26. I suppose NaNo doesn’t tempt me because I could write 50,000 words without that kind of official program or support system. I got very used to belting out my stories alone in the comfort of my own space a long time ago.

    I do enjoy “talking process” with other people, in a more casual way, like we do from time to time. NaNo feels to *me* like the kind of pressure that would make me rebel and *not write* rather than write.

  27. I really understand what you’re saying–and I suspect you’re the carefully kind of writer who might actually turn out a good book.

    But for me, this is fun. For me, writing is like reading–an opportunity to live in fantasy, only I get to control this fantasy. I can live with a hideous first draft that needs lots of rewriting—I spent more time and energy on revision than writing my first novel and most of my stories. Like gardens, they’ll never reallly be finished.

    When I taught writing, though, I noticed that many people could get frozen by the second thoughts. Having to write a complete essay in a limited amount of time didn’t produce wonderful works of literature, but did give them ideas, phrases, a way to start thinking. It’s used by a lot of writing teachers and works for a lot of students.

    But not for all, and if it doesn’t work for you, there’s no reason to think about it. Pressure is good for some and awful for others. Vive la difference!

    But if you ever see a part of mine, be prepared for the zero draft. That’s all I’m hoping for.

  28. Yeah, that’s what I mean by zero draft. But I know my own writing process, and just turning stuff out works for me. Stopping to evaluate and rework is what shuts me down. And lots of others, too.

    The writing process as you know is very individual, but actually sitting down and doing it is the hard part for a lot of people.

  29. But for me, this is fun. For me, writing is like reading–an opportunity to live in fantasy, only I get to control this fantasy. I can live with a hideous first draft that needs lots of rewriting—I spent more time and energy on revision than writing my first novel and most of my stories. Like gardens, they’ll never reallly be finished.

    This is exactly how a first draft is for me. In fact, I don’t even call it a “first draft”–more like “an experiment with words”. I certainly don’t call it a “potential novel”–that would give me writer’s block for sure.

    For me, that first “draft” must needs be done in isolation if I hope to do anything with it all. If I hope to have fun with it at all. Even having others know about it would make me freeze up. I can bounce ideas off people, but not tell them what it’s for.

  30. I discovered that I’m just the opposite–I need an actual reader. Since I’ve been working with my partner–and prevailing on family and friends for later reads–I’ve written more–more in the last three years than in the previous 60. But I tend to be a very public person.

    I’ve known lots of writers like you, too, and totally understand that. It’s just another way to be.

    Did you ever have writing teachers who made you share early drafts (in high school, eg? I’d bet you didn’t have to take comp classes in college).

  31. Deadlines are good for me IF I already have a partially-written product (like a first draft already done). I worked with a writing coach on a 2nd draft of my novel one time with regular deadlines and that worked out well.

    Deadlines can also be OK for me in fan fic because I already have a lot of the work done for me by the show(s). For example, my personally-imposed deadlines for TD are very motivating. It *helps* to know I have readers waiting to read more. But TD is based on AtS and BtVS and I usually have a good idea of what’s going to happen next.

    If I’m just starting out a new project, though? A “first draft”? Deadlines are only unneeded pressure. I need the freedom to take as much time as I need, because my muse is very slow (if reliable, but sloooow) in giving up the goodies.

  32. I used to take a lot of writing classes at this wonderful small writing salon here in SF. It worked out OK for a story I was on my third draft of. I completely needed the feedback and the perspective and it improved my story 100%.

    But I found it completely stifling to have readers for stuff I had just newly written. I ended up “opting out” of sharing at almost every class, because if I knew ahead of time I’d have to share, nothing would come out of my pen, or I’d change what I was going to write and censor myself.

  33. What makes you think I didn’t take comp classes in college? Well, I didn’t take creative writing, but I did take a lot of composition. Sort of required, and necessary.

    I took creative writing individual studies in high school. One-on-one with the Lit teacher. Later after ten years of solo writing, I worked one-on-one with a coach on a work in progress (mentioned above) and that was very useful.

  34. I just guessed that you’d have been a pretty competent writer by the time you got there. But maybe your college didn’t allow people to opt out.

    In my day, they didn’t even really teach comp. My best writing teacher was my dissertation advisor–and I was over 40 then.

    Maybe one reason I like response to early drafts is that my other real teachers were my friends in college, and we always shared first drafts. That was the only real chance I had for feedback (as opposed to a grade).

  35. It was required in college. A Freshman basics class and a Junior-level class aimed at whatever kind of writing you’d be doing in professions related to your major.

    And, well, I *did* get a good grade.

    ; )

  36. which would be another reason why Nano isn’t much good for you. Me, on the other hand, my muse can spit out crap (sometimes sadly too true) if you poke her but I’m lazy so without deadlines I don’t do it. That’s why I was asking everyone to make sure to poke me about that synopsis too.

  37. I do sort of. To finish the one I started last year and to really kick out that YA werewolf novel with the stupid Irish kid who refuses to name himself.

    Is that a plan? LIke you were saying in the post that finally faded to ether, I’m not much of an outliner

  38. I’ve been struggling with Irish names, too. I had to give the Reillys natural-born son a name and it *wanted* to be Evan. I told it, it couldn’t be Evan, because I already had an Aiden and a Dylan (technically Welsh names, but too close to the same sound).

    Finally I settled on Sean just to get the episode finished.

    All in all, that sounds like a plan. How far along are you?

  39. my young Irish seer was named Aiden until I found out there was a YA werewolf novel on the shelves were the human love interest for the teen werewolf was Aiden.

    Now he’s insisting on Liam, Connor or Sean and I keep telling him NO

    The fantasy novel from last year is about 3/4’s done. So about 15,000 words will finish it off. I’ve started two chapters of the werewolf novel just so I wouldn’t forget the idea. It IS crap I’ll have to scrap and do again

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