I’m doing something way out of my comfort zone during the month of November and participating in National Novel Writing Month. It’s more or less a massive group marathon fiction writing event, where writers across the nation (maybe even the world, I’m not sure), commit to writing at least 50,000 words in the form of a novel.
I say “out of my comfort zone” because I’ve never been one to impose false or arbitrary deadlines upon myself. In my brief writing career–which has earned me zero dollars to date, so maybe forcing myself to write toward artificial deadlines will become a profitable idea—I’ve simply written when I could write, stopped writing when I became distracted or couldn’t think how to start or finish a scene, chapter or passage, and not worried about being finished by a certain time. Writing breeds that sort of behavior because the world won’t stop if all writers stopped writing and never wrote another word. There’s no collective consequence. Just individual consequences like reporters getting fired for turning in stories after the deadline, writers not getting paid for piece work, articles, textbooks any other contracted work.
So I’m plunging in to NaNoWriMo mainly to see what all the fuss is about. Apparently thousands, if not millions of writers start on November 1, and many actually complete 50,000 word novels. That doesn’t imply that 50,000 words makes for a complete novel, or that any of those 50,000 words are actually quality writing, but it does seem to be a good way to get people off their butts and at least start something and get some group bonding going (mostly via the internet I think), and encourage their friends and colleagues to reach their writing goal as well.
I have no doubt I can write 50,000 words in thirty days, but don’t expect them to be great quality. The reason I signed up this year is that I have a story I want to tell and I don’t want to waste three years finishing it like I did my first novel. I hope that I can get the basic shell down in November, then polish, tighten, and intensify the story in time for a writers’ conference in April. I know I can improve the story greatly in four months once I’ve written the basic story.
I’ve come to the conclusion that one thing separating “real writers” from wannabes is having a body of work. Most bestselling authors produce one or two books every year or so, and I need to join that club even if my work isn’t published. I’ll at least acquire that mental discipline to write more prolifically than I do now. In almost four years, I’ve got a couple of crappy short stories and essays written, and recently finished a much better short story, but agents like to ask, “What else are you working on?” I never had an answer until now, when I can say I’ve finished my second novel and have ideas for a third, fourth, even a fifth so the agents will know I’m serious about getting published.
To that end I just finished an online course on preparing for NaNoWriMo that helped my sketch out my plot, characters, settings, and the like so I can hit the ground running in four days and be able to switch to a different scene if I get bogged down on another scene. I know I’ll be able to write that 1,667 words every day for thirty consecutive days. I think the course helped, but I’ve seen other courses advertised, other methods, checklists, pointers and tips listed on various author websites and I’m curious if they work.
So my questions to you are: Are you going to participate in NaNoWriMo this year? Why or why not? What if anything have you done to prepare yourself? Have you found success completing the 50,000 words? Was it a disaster? Did you discover that if being a writer means actually writing a lot of words every frickin’ day for the rest of your career, you’re having second thoughts and would rather just hang around coffee shops and book signings and act like you’re a writer? What worked for you, what didn’t? Do you have any books or resources to recommend?