By now, you’ve likely decided whether or not to try your hand at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or Nano, for short). If you are pounding away towards your 1,667 daily target, then you also have heard about the pros of writing on a daily, if frenetic pace. I am not here to discourage you. However, there are aspects of Nano that you might not have considered.
Even more likely, you may have been exposed to questionable advice from people whom have never published a novel. So, let me give you some questionable advice from someone who has, namely, moi.
Noobs. I first took the Nano plunge in 2009, having never attempted writing a novel before. In fact, although I had written numerous business documents, had poetry published, and had even written a few short stories, I knew little about writing fiction. So, with my writing books in hand, I began Nano on 7 November of that year, a week late. I loved it. Novel writing is like nothing I had tried, and was a liberating experience. I, who had always presumed I’d been burdened with a lack of imagination – I didn’t even dream – began a fantasy series about the dream world. Who knew? It turns out I have an odd and lovely imagination. It had just been crammed into little boxes for so long, I’d forgotten it in the cluttered closet of my brain.
And that is the first beauty of Nano. It can turn on your Artist switch. If you are interested in fiction, but are hindered by – more than anything – your own self-consciousness, then by all means, jump in, feet first and eyes closed, and begin to type. For those of you whom fit this description, listen to the advice. Don’t edit yourself. Hell, don’t even read what you wrote before. In the immortal words of Shrek, “Better out than in.” Nano is a wonderful, month-long brain dump. (Just remember how dumps smell after an month in the sun.)
Time Constrained. Some of you already know how to write. In fact, you’ve already decided that writing is not only your love, it is the best thing you do. The problem is that your damned kids keep waking up every morning expecting food. You are at the keyboard thinking, “Didn’t you people just eat yesterday?” But no matter how tightly you clench your eyes, when you reopen them, the little buggers are still there, grumbling louder than ever.
Or maybe it’s not kids. Perhaps it’s your inconsiderate boss, who thinks just because he pays you a salary good enough to pay all your bills, that means he owns you. Well, the truth is he may not own your artist’s heart, but when the bank asks for their mortgage payment, it’s the boss who owns your time.
Nano, fortunately, is a special event, one that even your family or boss can understand. You have a year in advance to plan, which should be enough to rearrange your life so that you can carve out one lousy month to be yourself. Shoot, 12 months is even long enough to teach the rug rats how to cook for you while you’re too busy “artisting” to bother talking or bathing or even getting up to pee. You have your laptop, your muse, some snacks, and a bucket. The rest is trivial.
Writing is Good and NaNoWriMo is all about you. Nano is when you get to focus on writing, with other like-minded souls available for support. You can go back to being Supermom and Iron Dad in December. You’ll get no argument from me.
Right Brained Plan Haterz. I see you out there, frowning at the Nano graph, with its Fascist lines telling you if you haven’t done your 1,667 words today, they will kill a puppy. You love puppies. So what to do?
You can use Nano as an exercise in regimentation, self-discipline, and scheduling. These are skills that reap benefits in any walk of life, by the way. So quit griping. Figure out during the first week how long it takes you to write the bloody daily tally, and use that info to set your schedule for the remainder of the month. (It’s called division; you can do it, I promise.) You can keep your fuzzy right brain happy with the knowledge that no one will tell you what to write, how to organize it, or even that it has to make sense. Pants to your heart’s delight.
It’s Not NanoCrapSomeMo. Here’s the part Nano purists will argue with. They will, however, be wrong. If you are a serious writer, and you are not writing purely as a practice exercise (meaning you may want to publish it one day) do not fill your computer with crap just to make word count. If you write 50,000 words in November, only to re-write, edit, re-edit, and re-write, what have you done? Mostly frustrate yourself, and potentially, create a product that was worse than had you gone slower. You CANNOT write a good book in a month. Can’t do it. Nope.
So when you write, it should be with a voice in the back of your head that says, “You know, you’ll have to edit this some day.” That should not make you stop writing. Neither should it cause you to inhibit yourself and become blocked. We can’t give you NanoExLax, so you’ll be on your own there.
However, it should cause you to think if you’ve hit a dead end or created a scene, for instance, that has nothing to do with your plot line. Feel free to experiment and put in things that might not work later. However, stretching out of the box is not at all the same thing as pretending there are no boxes. There are, and readers will point them out to you.
Bad Habits Are Hard to Break. Again, I’m talking to Novelists here. A novelist is someone who writes novels. A novel is a full-length fiction story that people read. If no one reads it, you’ve written a doorstop. So, we’ve established you want to do more than hack up literary phlegm (that’s what hack writers are for). This requires practice. The most common things you will hear writers say are 1) you cannot write well if you do not read, and 2) the more you write the better you get. Both things are true.
If you develop bad habits during Nano – throwing crap in your novel, allowing yourself to ramble off on tangents, putting the word count ahead of the story – you will have trouble switching later to doing quality work. Moreover, if you are a reader, and I assume you are, since you write, you will become discouraged when you compare your ramblings to published, successful work.
Use Nano to practice Good Writing Habits. Good is, well, good. After all, when you “win” Nano you get … drumroll … nothing. Well, you get pride and a sense of accomplishment, along with experience. I suggest ensuring it is a quality experience. I do not suggest taking pride in doing less than your best today.
There ain’t no ugly here. The takeaway from NaNoWriMo should be that your best today doesn’t have to be your best tomorrow. If you keep working, you will get better. I promise. Decide what you want to get out of the month, and act accordingly. Don’t listen to others who tell you what you can and cannot do, unless you know their goals are in line with yours.
And most importantly, remember Nano is about creating art. The beautiful work of art at the end of the month should be you. Treat you well.