NaNo Noise and Notes

The excitement that goes along with National Novel Writing Month is often, in recent years, accompanied by voices of skepticism or downright distaste, like this one by Laura Miller in Salon. There are also, of course, many books and classes dedicated to the idea of writing books fast. We asked The Spectacle’s contributors what they thought. (Writers participating in NaNo this year are coded in red.)

Have you ever done NaNo, and if so, what did you get out of it?

Kari: I’m doing NaNo for the first time this year. Last year I tried a version of it, where I wrote a short story a day on my blog, but that only lasted a week or so. This time I’m really trying to meet the 50,000 word goal.

PJ: This year, 2010, is my first time.

Parker: No, but I have done my own fast draft in a month before — after spending months outlining. I got the draft done, but the prose wasn’t very fresh or interesting. I did discover some plot ideas I hadn’t thought of until I was writing in a mad rush. Overall, I didn’t think the experiment worked very well for me. Even revision couldn’t breathe life into some of the stale stuff I had pounded out.

Greg: I never have before now, mainly because my book wordcounts have always been under the magical 50,000 limit.  One year I actually started my own version, called InChiBoFo (short for International Children’s Book Fortnight) to challenge myself and others to write a chapter book in two weeks, but I didn’t have the energy to keep InChiBoFo going year after year.

This year, having a book under contract that could be in NaNo range, I signed up with the intention of having a draft completed by the end of November. But I spent the first week of November writing an author’s note, glossary, and series bible for Galaxy Games. The second week of November has been unexpectedly hectic with planning for the annual New England SCBWI regional conference. The third week of November’s not looking much better.  At this rate I’ll be lucky to start my NaNo novel by December, let alone finish it.

Linda Joy: This is my first year. Before I’ve been in the middle of a book so the timing was never right. Also I preferred to write slowly and edit as I go. But that took about 6 months to finish a book. On the good side, that book was pretty solid since it had been edited a lot.

This year all the planets lined up perfectly to try NaNo. I had one chapter of a dystopian book which excited me but scared me, too, because writing a planned trilogy is daunting. I’m good at cliffhangers, fast-paced scenes and romantic mystery. So I thought if I could write the book really fast, I would figure out the rest of the stuff (you know, global disaster, wicked villains, science….) So far, I’ve met my 2,000 word/5 days a week goal.

Joni: Nope, but most of my first drafts get written in a mad three to five weeks anyway. It’s the revisions that take time.

What benefits do you think NaNo provides?

Kari: NaNo is a great way to learn how to discipline yourself. You have to write everyday, whether you want to or not, whether you can think of anything or not. You. Must. Write. It gives you a freedom to not worry if your idea is too crazy, or you’re only producing red herrings, or your story suddenly veers off down a rocky path. You’re allowed to let creativity run free, and in doing this, you have the potential to create some really amazing stories. Plus, if you sign up on the NaNo website you can see your buddies’ word counts everyday. I think healthy competition makes writing fun.

PJ: Anyone can get the sense of accomplishment gained by finishing the first draft of a novel.

Parker: It teaches discipline, one of the most important parts of being a writer. Participants’ future novels might not be written in a month, but they might be written with more discipline.

Greg: Anything that gets people excited about books and writing is good for the industry. Finishing a 50,000-word draft in 30 days is a real accomplishment, like running a marathon using only your fingers. Everyone who does it should feel really proud, so that’s good for individuals as well.

Linda Joy: Some people just want to know they can finish a book. But writers need to be realistic and act professionally. I don’t think editors want to receive zillions of NaNo books, unedited, in December, which could be a result since it’s so easy to fall in love with your words. I think NaNo is fun, a nice community and a way to focus writing into better habits. But a book written in a month will usually need months of work before it’s ready for submission.

Ah, months of work… that’s a good segue to more discussion tomorrow about potential NaNo problems. Until then — Do you have NaNo experience? What did (do) you think of it?

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Filed under Joni Sensel

4 responses to “NaNo Noise and Notes

  1. Parker Peevyhouse

    Very interesting to hear what everyone’s experience has been with this. Good luck, PJ, Kari, and Linda!

  2. NaNo is a great program for writers. They encourage good writing habits. As most of you mentioned, you have to be disciplined to win at NaNo.

    That said, 99% of NaNo novels are rough first drafts, if that. The organizers of NaNo do encourage writers to spend December editing, but as any professional author knows, editing takes a lot more than a month.

    This is my second year attempting NaNo, mostly because I need the extra push to get me writing and partly because my daughter dragged me into it. But I refuse to write 50,000 words that I know are garbage. Even if I don’t win, I hope to end November with at least part of a new rough draft.

    Good luck to any fellow NaNo-ers out there!

    • That makes good sense to me, J – use the hullaballoo for motivation but still focusing, ultimately, on writing something worth keeping.

      Seems to me that NaNo could have more categories of “winning” — and one could be writing every single day (regardless of the word count). That would help it apply better to shorter works as well as helping to address quality as well as quantity. Then again, we all should be able to judge what we consider success, right?

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      Good luck, Jaleta! I’m glad NaNo is providing a good push for you.

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