Today marks the start of “National Novel Writing Month”, a fun idea that’s been happening annually since 1999. The basic idea is that over the month of November, you write a 50,000-word novel. It’s supposed to be a brand new work, not a continuation of anything you were writing before. “Winning” NaNoWriMo is something every writer determines for themselves, with the real prize being the satisfaction of completing a novel. (As an aside for pedantic readers, yes, some organizations award prizes to winners – often discounts on their digital writing products. These prizes are given out on the honor system.)
After the completion of November, “winners” can continue working on their novel, adding to it, or putting it through the rounds of editing and proofreading leading up to release.
The basic idea behind the event is to challenge and convince people that they have the capacity to write a novel-length written work. As a goal, I think this is a wonderful idea. Many things in life are more attainable than we realize. Having someone we know complete such a goal or being encouraged to do it ourselves is the spark that gets us out of our comfort zone and convinces us to try something new.
Quality of Work Produced
A novel written for NaNoWriMo, like any first novel or draft, won’t be a work of brilliance. What is produced is firmly in the first draft category. If the writer hasn’t written a novel before, it’s also likely to be a learning experience. These are all GOOD things. You get better at writing by writing. Rather than feeling bad that a person’s first work isn’t perfection, I view it as getting your bad writing over with so you can work towards your good writing.
I regularly see beginner writers online asking “is my work any good?” In addition to the issues I wrote about in my post “How To Take Advice When Starting As A Writer“, I think the motivation behind this is off. Showing a sample and asking “am I any good?” implies that there’s an intrinsic ability that other people can see in a writing sample and that they’ll honestly tell you whether or not it’s there. In truth, I think many writers develop and get better as they write and no single writing sample sums up their potential. Additionally, there are a lot of jerks online and posts of this sort attract trolls who will tell the poster to give up now, regardless of the actual quality of the writing sample.
Getting It Written
If you divide 50,000 words by the 30 days in November, you get 1,667 words per day. This is suggested as the “pace” to maintain if you’re going to win. As the month goes on, compare the number of words you’ve written to how many you SHOULD have written by that point. If you’re behind, pick up the pace!
Many participants will post their daily word counts as they go, to Twitter or on Facebook. It’s a fun way to make it a bit more of a communal event.
I’ve read a few articles that hate on NaNoWriMo. Usually, the core premise is that the world doesn’t need more writers and that you should go and read the article author’s works instead of writing your own. I always shake my head at the nasty, self-interest behind such diatribes. Needless to say, the world can use all the writers it can get and no one controls who can start writing.
There’s been an ongoing push to commercialize the event. Every year donations are solicited and merchandise is sold. I always find it sad when something like this, which really doesn’t require an “organization” behind it, becomes a banner for people to try to shake money out of their fellow human beings.
There’s absolutely no reason to pay anyone to participate in NaNoWriMo and, just like “Talk Like A Pirate Day”, you shouldn’t.
Good luck to anyone participating this year!
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