Tuesday, November 5, 2013

My Thoughts on the NaNoWriMo

The following was originally written for the Fear of Writing website back in 2010, and still rings true today. Now that the South Jersey Writers' Group is in the midst of NaNoWriMo, I think this might be a good time to unearth this nugget. Enjoy, and be sure to check out FoW for great writing resources and inspiration.

I love National Novel Writing Month, or the NaNoWriMo, as it's called by most folks. It's a wonderful idea by a terrifically creative young man named Chris Baty. He developed the NaNoWriMo waaay back in 1999 as a way to get folks who want to be writers actually be writers. As he says in his book on the subject, "No Plot? No Problem!", this is for all those people who say they want to write a book someday… well, November first is 'some day.'

For the folks not in the know, November is National Novel Writing Month. For thirty days participants try (and many succeed) to write 50,000 words. And yes, 50k is a relatively low word count for a novel, but it's still over the industry standard for a novel. It all breaks down to roughly 1667 words per day. Other rules include that you can't start until November first, other than planning in your head and maybe outlining, but not one word on the page until start time. This must also be new material, original from your head to the page.

The "No Plot? No Problem!" comes into effect by Chris Baty's concept that you should just write, write anything, write crap even, and that sooner or later you will hit your groove and find your story. I don't necessarily agree, especially with the 'write crap' idea. Any first draft is going to be wonky, hell, it may even be crap - that's why it's a first draft. Even though I'm sure that Stephen King's and probably even Ernest Hemingway's first drafts were crap as well - I don't believe you should set out to write crap, ever.

Baty's theory of writing comes from the idea of pantsing, or writing by the seat of your pants. These are writers who do not use outlines and just go with an idea and see where it goes. This is how I write to some extent, although once I do know where a story is going, I have a target and I work toward it. And I think most folks are like that, not an outliner or a pantser, but a bit of both.

Just write, but write as well as you can. Yes, you can always go back and edit and change and improve the manuscript. But do it after NaNoWriMo November, there is even a NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month) in March so you can take a rest in between.

There is also the concept of the NaNoWriMo as a race that bothers me. One year the logo was even that of a track and field runner. As far as I am concerned, this is not a race, and you cannot win it by actually doing the 50k words in the thirty days. You win it by finishing your novel, whether it's under the wire or past it, the act of actually finishing a novel is one of the most fulfilling accomplishments a writer can experience. You have to do it. That's winning.

Taking that concept further, it's not even about word counts or time limits for me when it comes to the NaNoWriMo. It is the discipline. That is the most valuable prize you can come away from November with, the discipline to write. At my Yahoo! Group, Writer Circle, I preach about the Contract for Success, part of which talks about spending an hour of each day trying to write, whether it's actually pumping out words or just staring at a blank computer screen - spend that time trying to write.

It's all about the discipline. And that is what that 1667 words a day during November does to you, it drills the discipline of writing into you. Bottom line, a writer writes. This all goes back to Chris Baty's mantra - you always said you'd write a novel some day, well, it's some day, baby.

Best of luck with your NaNoWriMos, and keep writing, every day.

About the author: Glenn Walker is the Membership Director of the South Jersey Writers' Group, Associate Editor of Biff Bam Pop!, and a podcaster. He currently blogs about pop culture, comic books, videogames, and French fries. Don't hold it against him.


  1. great post, Glenn. I'm spending nanowrimo to edit my short story to be published


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