Why NaNoWriMo?

With the flurry of postings on NaNoWriMo, I’ve gotten two questions more than once from several people.  First, what the heck is National Novel Writing Month?  The second (and more common of the two) is why try to write a novel in one month anyway?  (And it’s sometimes followed by, And why November?)

To be clear from the outset, NaNoWriMo is not really a contest, despite the fact that you can “win”; it’s more of an event.  (Winning NaNoWriMo means successfully verifying that you wrote 50,000 words between November 1 and November 30.  And yes, it is on the honor system.)

There are all kinds of reasons that people do NaNoWriMo.  Some people argue that it’s a waste of time.  Others tell you to ignore the naysayers.

The reasons I do NaNoWriMo are as follows:

  1. I want to write a novel.  I have tried on a number of occasions, but never successfully completed even a first draft of a novel. I am a short story writer at heart, but I want to expand my skill set and writing novels is one obvious way to do that.
  2. I want to establish good writing habits.  Each time I do NaNoWriMo, I demonstrate to myself that I can get up every morning at 5am, write for 2 hours, and produce about 2,000 words.  They may not be good words now but they help to establish a habit.
  3. I want to become a better writer. Usually, Wrimos (as we are known in November) are told not to worry about quality.  It’s all about writing every day. This is true, and I think that to be successful at NaNoWriMo, you cannot rewrite during the event.  (In this sense, it helps to teach some writers discipline.)  However, the advice that new writers are always given is to keep writing. The only way you learn is by doing. Writing is an exercise that, like anything else, requires practice. I have seen this principle in action. My writing has improved in the last 2-3 years since I’ve been selling stories and it is in large part because I have been writing (read: practicing) more.  NaNoWriMo provides a good excuse for practice.
  4. I like the friendly competition.  Writing is a lonely business and NaNoWriMo provides writers with a month where it is a little less lonely. You can compete with (and encourage) your friends. You can talk about your struggles. You are generally on the same pace and facing the same challenges. It is a unique social event for writers that builds camaraderie. My buddies on NaNoWriMo include friends, fellow writers, workshop members, writer group members. It’s a good mix.
  5. It’s fun. I have a blast doing it. I look forward to being up at 5am to write the next chapter or scene. I look forward to seeing my word count climb and comparing it to my friends. Beyond that, what other reason do you need?

I learned from some mistakes I made last year. It is important to know what your goals are going into NaNoWriMo. Some people go in for the sake of the challenge itself. Others want to write a novel and leave it at that. I want to write a novel that will eventually sell to a major science fiction publisher. And I have structured my effort this year accordingly.

  1. I worked much harder on the outline before NaNoWriMo began.
  2. Whereas I jumped around in time last year, writing scenes in any order that excited me on a given day, this year, I am writing more or less chronologically.  I found last year that what I ended up with was too disjointed, 40 loosely connected short stories as opposed to 40 chapters. Writing chronologically (combined with working from my outline) gives me a feeling of continuity from chapter-to-chapter that I lacked last year.
  3. A 50,000 word science fiction novel is almost unheard of these days.  90,000-100,000 words is a what I have been told is a good target to aim for. And that is what I am aiming for. My outline covers what I expect will amount to 90,000 words in the first draft. My personal daily word goal (as opposed to NaNoWriMo’s goal) is 2,000 words. Based on that plan, it should take me 45 days to write the first draft. Indeed, on my writing calendar, I have flagged December 15 as The Day I Finish My Novel. NaNoWriMo doesn’t end for me on November 1. It ends 15 days later.
  4. I have a plan to revise the novel in the first few months of 2011, run it through my first readers and critique groups, and put it into shape to the point where it is ready to send out to agencies.

So NaNoWriMo is serving a dual purpose for me: allowing me to write a novel; and giving me the motivation to do a good job so that maybe the novel will sell.

That’s why I NaNoWriMo.