Thursday, November 1, 2012

National Novel Writing Month

As a writer with a novel in progress, you'd think I'd be all over National Novel Writing Month like a donkey on a waffle.  Somehow though the concept has never sat well with me, and with each November my level of uneasiness over the whole thing has slowly increased.

What bugs me about NaNoWriMo (other than it being a strong candidate for the worst acronym ever) is that, while it's theoretically possible to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days (roughly 1700 words per day), it's not all that probable.

Let's look at a hypothetical NaNoWriMo participant.  They've never been published, but they decide that this year is the year.  They've got an idea for a story and throughout the month they write every day.  By the end of the month they have cranked out a 50,000 word manuscript.  Now what?

The majority probably don't do anything with their work.  They let all those words sit on their computer, unread.  A small fraction of them will run spell-check on their manuscript and send it off to a publisher, where it will sit in the slush pile and never see the light of day.  Why?  Because it's probably not very good.

Don't get me wrong.  Their story ideas can be great and their writing can be acceptable, but writing is an art that takes practice and time.  Imagine the results of a National Marble Statue Carving Month where amateurs take up hammer and chisel on ten-ton marble blocks.

If the goal is to write something that will only be read by sympathetic friends and family then this is no problem, but if the goal is to write something that can be published then there's a lot more work to be done.

If we're going to have November be a month for writing, then we really should have October be National Novel Plotting Month.  Participants can take the time to plot out their story, building in the appropriate twists and subplots, and making sure the whole thing will hang together.

December would then be National Novel Critiquing Month, when writers get their novel read and marked up by an editor, and then actually consider the feedback.  They would then cut scenes and characters, restructure the plot, identify the holes, and figure out in general how their novel can be improved.  Note that this is, by far, my least favorite part of the writing process, but it's also the part that is of the most value.  Constructive criticism (if you listen to it) is where you learn the most about how to write something that others will want to read.

Then we can make January be National Novel Re-Writing Month.  The writers then spend 31 days fixing the problems they found in December.  They add new scenes, correct old ones, read their manuscript several times to check the flow, and fill in all the cracks with transition putty.

February 1 would be National Deadline Day, which would usually be ignored.

Of course February would be National Proofread and Submit Month, which leaves a month to recover and then six more months for a second novel writing cycle while you're waiting to hear back from the publisher.

All of the above being said, I won't be participating in NaNoWriMo.  I've got plenty of writing to do this month, including work on a novel, a cookbook, at least one short story, some blog posts, a medieval cookbook to transcribe, and some worldbuilding.  I'll try to remember to post updates on how these things are going.  Then there's also my day job, which takes up way too much time, but does help to actually pay bills.


  1. Have you looked into all they offer? I have been doing it 3 years now and it has progressed my work a lot,I have found people for a good writing group, they DO have help with plotting before if you do that, they have help on anything you need during, and afterward help with edits, and good support at every stage. You get out what you put in - it's motivation to get words down and to meet other writers I would never have known about in the communities around me. If it's not for you, it's not for you - if you can't work that way, you can't, no stigma attached, but I do not think it's NaNoWriMo's fault. I think you watch too many political ads dissing the other candidate. I like it, need the support and the kick, and our local group is a mixed bag of genres and published-unpublished. I think you might just need a deep breath and a piece of pie...

  2. Cake! Everybody loves cake!

    I admit that I haven't looked into the site very deeply since I first came across it years ago. I'm glad to hear it has expanded - I'll try to find time to dig into it.

    You're right in that you get out what you put it. Mostly I'm just concerned that novice writers will look at it and say "30 days and I'm done!" All that gets posted to social media is about how many words people have written, without any reference to the rest of the stuff that's needed to write a novel.

    As for political ads, I've seen very few - I watch almost no broadcast or cable TV since we got Netflix.