This article has some good advice. Follow most of it! NaNoWriMo can be a real motivator for those of us that want to get something done when it comes to writing! It’s awesome!
However, it also has some distinct untruths and from my professional experience, I’d like to dispel a few.
5. The Problem With 50,000 Words:
Be advised: 50,000 words does not a novel make. It may technically count, but publishers don’t want to hear it. Even in the young adult market I’d say that most novels hover around 60,000 words. You go to a publisher with 50k in hand and call it a novel, they’re going to laugh at you.
6. The True Nature of Finishing:
Ah, yes, NaNoWriMo. Writing 50,000 words is your technical goal — completing a novel in those 50,000 words is not. You can turn in an unfinished novel and be good to go. The only concern there is that 50,000 words serves only as a milestone and come December it again becomes oh-so-easy to settle in with the “I’ve Written Part Of A Novel” crowd. Always remember: the only way through is through.
I want to start with these two, because I feel that they go together. First off, 50,000 is now a very respectable word count for a novel. In fact, there are publishers out there that won’t look at a novel that goes much over 50,000. If you are concerned with the word counts of your novel, go to the publishers that work in the genre you are writing in and see what they expect or require. My novel was over 170k. However, many of the publishers in my genre (m/m fiction) refused to even consider a novel over 50k, or 80k or 100k. So do your research. There are plenty of publishers out there that will accept 50k.
But what you should really do when it comes to word count – and what is the hardest thing to remember – is that you should tell the story that needs to be told, no matter how long it ends up being. If you end up with a novella (which, again, depending on genre, can get published), then that’s what the story should be, if the plot is good, moves at the right pace, your characters come through and are believable and real… you get the idea. It’s incredibly difficult to do this – ignore the final word count – but it can be done. When I finished my first novel, it ended up at over 187k. I cut 15k from that baby and at that point, felt that it did the story a disservice if I cut more. Now it’s at the editors to be published. And for the record? That was my 2011 NaNo novel. It’s due out in March 2013.
7. Draft Zero.
It helps to look at your NaNoWriMo novel as the zero draft — it has a beginning, it has an ending, it has a whole lot of something in the middle. But the zero draft isn’t done cooking. A proper first draft awaits. A first draft that will see more meat slapped onto those exposed bones, taking your word count into more realistic territory.
Again, this one mentions word count, but if you have trouble finishing then looking at this as “draft zero” may be self-defeating. What I had when I finished last November was not a “draft zero”, it was most of a first draft. Now, if you truly follow the idea behind NaNo and do zero editing, etc, then your first draft may need more work. But it is still a first draft. First drafts are for getting your ideas down, for getting the story structured, for getting your plot flowing, for any and all of the above. It is not a finished product, and no one expects (or even wants) that from your efforts in November. But for those with finishing issues (which is usually why you tackle NaNoWriMo in the first place), looking at this with the idea that you have that much more work to do can just make you not want to do it in the first place.
13. You Have Total Permission to Temporarily Suck:
The point is, you’re not aiming to be a bad writer, but you must allow yourself permission to embrace imperfection. You’re not trying to write irreparable fiction, you’re trying to make a go at a flawed story whose bones are good but whose components may need rebuilding. Imperfect is not the same as impossible.
For some of us, if you approach things like this, you’re going to talk yourself out of writing in the first place. Many of us (myself included) struggle with the idea that we’re not really good enough, and yet, those I’m referring to? Published authors, every one. We all go through it. But if you go after this with the idea that you’re story is going to suck, then you set yourself up for failure… or, at least, you start out making it harder on yourself if you already doubt your abilities. Instead, take it as a reminder that this is, in fact, a first draft and you will edit and it will get better. But don’t think about it as sucking, just remember that it will be polished and improved later.
Take October. Name it “National Story Planning Month.” Whatever you’re going to do in November, you don’t have to go in blind. You’ve no requirement, after all, to suddenly leap out of bed on November 1st, crack open your head with an ice ax, and let the story come pouring from the cleft. Spontaneous generation is a myth in science as it is in creative spheres. Plan. Prep. Take a month.
This actually goes with number 10, which I cut out (but can be seen in the original link) – “Not All Writers Are The Same.” I am part of a wonderful mailing list of writers from my publisher that are quick to share their experiences and knowledge with the rest of us. Some of them have run the gamut of publishing jobs and experience, others are as noobish as those of us who are working on our first novel. But every single one of them has a different approach to novel writing and at least half of them would tell you that planning and preparation will do nothing but stop them up. I write out an outline. I have basic character descriptions, I have notes and research. But that is how I write. Many, many others start with nothing more than an idea and a blank page. Plan if you want to, but if you don’t or if that doesn’t work for you? Don’t. Remember that NaNo is about getting the novel down and the last thing you want to do is make that more difficult on yourself.
December then becomes “National Edit Your Shit Month.” Or, if you need a month away from it, maybe you come back to it in January — but the point is, always come back to it. If you want to do this novel writing thing then you must come to terms with the fact that rewriting is part of a novel’s life-cycle. Repeat the mantra: Writing is when I make the words.
Let me clarify something here. “Rewriting” is often a daunting and discouraging word. I hate it. Hate it with the burning passion of a thousand suns. Because it makes it sound like you take what you wrote, toss it out and write it better. I prefer to consider this as editing, instead. You do change, you do alter, you do improve, but you’re not re-doing the whole novel. Instead, you taking little bits of it and making it better. Now, you may end up rewriting whole sections because you don’t like it, but that’s up to you, when you get there (I did in a few places, but not many). That said, do step away from the finished first draft for a good two weeks, at least, if you can. It’ll help you see problems much easier.
In 2009, NaNo had 167,150 participants, and 32,178 “winners.” That’s a pretty good rate, just shy of 20% completion. The numbers get a bit more telling when you look at the number of published novels that have come out of the entire ten-year program, and that number appears to be below 200 books. Out of the 500,000 or so total participants of NaNo over the years, that’s a very minor 0.04%. This isn’t an indictment against NaNoWriMo but is, however, an illustrative number just the same: it’s harder than the Devil’s dangle-rod in a cobalt-tungsten condom to get published these days.
The NaNo Page listing published NaNo participants. The count on that page, right now, is 103. However, that page only lists novels that 1) have already been published, not that are currently in the process (like me) and 2) have been reported. Until a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t even know the page existed. How many others don’t? Just because there are only a limited number there doesn’t mean that publishing is impossible (Must less the rather colorful way that the person above mentioned), and if your goal is to be published, don’t let those statistics stop you. No, not everyone gets published, but it’s not nearly as impossible as this might make it seem. Again, there are differences depending on the genre, but not impossible.
17. Why Some Authors Dismiss NaNoWriMo:
Professional authors — perhaps unfairly — sometimes look at the program with a dismissive sniff or a condescending eye roll. Look at it from their perspective: NaNo participants might seem on par with tourists. Professional authors live here all year.
Before I go too far, they do say sometimes. But I have a good chunk of NaNo buddies that are also fellow published authors. If you read the forums on the NaNo site, you will see plenty of folks there with publishing credits to their name. I don’t know where this person got this, but it is simply untrue.
19. Fuck The Police:
NaNoWriMo has a lot of rules: you’re supposed to “start fresh,” you’re not really meant to work on non-fiction, blah blah blah. This is all just made-up stuff. It’s not government mandated. Do what you like. Even better: do what the story needs. Hell with the rules. Fuck the police. Write. Write endlessly. Don’t be constrained by this program. It’s just a springboard: use it to launch your way to awesomeness. Anything you don’t like about it, toss it out the window. The only thing that matters is you and your writing.
I will agree with this and though I’ve skipped most of what I agreed with before, I want to comment. That lovely group of authors that I mentioned before tend to take this to heart. My novel last year had something like 10k words into it when NaNo started. However, when I “won” NaNo, I had more than 60k under my belt – I left off the initial 10k because the point was to get a novel written, to turn off my inner editor and get the words down. I felt I won because I did what it was intended to do – get the words out. This year, I have nearly 30k (though to be fair, I know that this novel will probably be at least 100k or more, like it’s predecessor). Again, however, I won’t be counting those 30k when I do my verification.
20. November Is Just The Beginning:
If you get to the end of the month with a manuscript — finished or not — in hand, celebrate. Do a little dance. Eat a microwaved pizza, do a shot of tequila, take off your pants and burn them in the fireplace. And then think, “Tomorrow, I’ve got more to do.” Because this is just the start. I don’t mean that to sound punishing — if it sounds punishing, you shouldn’t be a writer. It should be fucking liberating. It should fill your heart with a flutter of eager wings: “Holy shit! I can do this tomorrow, too! I can do this in December and January and any day of the goddamn week I so choose.” Don’t stop on November 30th. You want to do this thing, do this thing. Your energy and effort can turn NaNoWriMo from a month-long gimmick to a life-long love and possibly even a career. Let this foster in you a love of storytelling made real through discipline — and don’t let that love or that discipline wither on the vine come December 1st.
Most of this last paragraph, I can agree with, except the fact that you don’t have to turn around and restart everything the very next day. Most of us do not normally spit out a full-length novel in a month, even those who do it professionally. I have a very good friend who is a professional author – that’s all he does all day long – and he doesn’t normally get a full novel out in a month. So thinking that this is going to be normal – is, again, self-defeating. Most of us work at regular jobs during the day, have families and other responsibilities and, thus, couldn’t possibly be expected to crunch those kinds of word counts all the time. Give yourself a break, but do take with you the experience, the wisdom of turning off the inner editor and the accomplishment that it can be done. Take a break because a break doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly forget how to write or how to push the words out, then go back to it because yes, you can do it!