National Novel Writing Month

I’ve had a reader request about my thoughts on the National Novel Writing Month thing, the annual event in which aspiring novelists from all over the country decide to bang out 50,000 words in the space of November. November has 30 days, so that’s about 1,700 words a day for each participant — a nice clip, if you can keep it up.

In a general sense, I like the idea. Generally speaking the most difficult thing about writing a novel is the actual writing — which is to say the process of sitting down and going type type type type until you’re done. I’m a big believer that anything that can help you enforce personal discipline is a good thing, and if it’s the idea of a “National Novel Writing Month,” well, why not. I also think that the idea of simply ploughing through 50,000 words in a month helps to demystify the writing process, and that’s a good thing. Once you realize that writing to a great extent is simply about getting the words out, it makes writing the next novel that much easier.

I don’t expect many of these novels to be particularly good, but I think that writing these novels to be good is secondary to the idea of writing the novel at all. One of the things I talked about at Torcon when I was on a panel for first-time novelists was the idea of writing a “practice novel” — a novel which you write simply to see if you can write a novel, and for which you have no other ambitions except for getting the damn thing out. I did it — Agent to the Stars is my practice novel, which I wrote just to try my hand at the form (I think it went pretty well). I learned a lot while writing it, and I think what I learned helped to make my second novel (that’d be Old Man’s War) salable. I think what people are doing with National Novel Writing Month is working on their practice novels, and that’s all to the good.

The one quibble I have with the event is that technically speaking, the word requirement is too short. In the real world, “novels” are considered to be works of 60,000 words or above. A 50,000 word piece of writing is a hefty novella but not a novel; in the real world, unless what you wrote was mindbogglingly brilliant, you wouldn’t have much chance of selling a 50,000-word “novel.” And possibly not even then, since book publishing is a business, and the business model of novels is predicated on 60,000 words or greater; I would imagine if a publisher really loved your 50,000 word piece, they’d ask you to bulk it up.

That being the case, writing 50,000 words, while substantially more useful than not writing anything, is still 20% shy of the full novel writing experience. If you really want a true National Novel Writing Month experience, you’re going to have to average 2,000 words a day, not 1,700.

But this is a relatively minor quibble. I like idea, because I like the idea of people writing and the idea that people are trying their hand at the novel format, if only to see if they can do it. If you are thinking of taking part in National Novel Writing Month, I say, have fun with it. If you grind out a novel in a month, good on you. If you fall short, that’s okay too. There are worse things than not writing 50,000 (or 60,000) words in a month.

Unless you’re on a real deadline, of course. No, I don’t want to talk about it.

8 Comments on “National Novel Writing Month”

  1. 50,000 words is too short for some genres to consider a novel, but it’s the right length for some romance lines and for much Young Adult.

    You’re definitely right about Nanowrimo being practice. I attempted 4 times, and only crossed the finish line on my 4th attempt. I recently looked back at my first attempt, and it’s quite scary how much it sucks. But my 3rd and 4th attempts were first drafts that I’m revising and rewriting into novels proper.

  2. Some very good thoughts, here. I’m patricipating in NNWM as a way to forcefully overcome a writer’s block I’ve had for about six years, and it’s pretty successful at that.

    Good Grief, though, you’ve got spam comments….

  3. Well, I don’t know about it not being long enough, although I had a story once that was mostly just to get stuff out of my head (It was very soap opera-y) and anyway, it was around 30,000 words I think and that took me a lot of time, although, I did take a break in the middle, but even so, 50,000 words is quite a bit, and then once you have that much, yu can continue on it with the end in sight.

  4. I love the idia of a novel in a month and I am going to join for November 2006. Actually I’m going to run my own in June first. I need to get the third book of a young adult fiction drafted. This has to be the best way of doing that. In November I’m going to try a thriller. Having never written adult fiction before it should be veeery interesting.

  5. This is too good: I googled National Novel Writing Month, and the first link I clicked on ( me to- a blank page.

    A valid example of the experience, I think.

  6. I tried writing a novel in 1990 and got maybe half way through before quitting. I’ve tried finished it since but haven’t gotten more than 50 words added. I tried a novel last November and got about 80,000 words done. (My wife was very impressed at how much time I was spending typing, typing, typing…) I’ve just started my novel this year. I had the opening chapter (a short one) planned in my head for the past four or five months. Then, when I actually started writing, all the words seemed to evalporate. However, I remembered reading some advise to blocked writers. “Just start typing and don’t worry about what comes out! You can edit it later.” So, I guess I’ll have a great deal of editing to do in March 2007.

    Now, if I could just connect to their website and up load today “undying prose” (yes I’m joking).


  7. NaNoWriMo worked well enough for me this year. It was an enjoyable process, and I’d say about the first half of what I wrote might actually be of use. The latter portion of it I think would serve more as rough notes for working into usable prose later.

    Re the 50K issue–the NaNo requirements are based on computer word count, whereas my understanding is that most manuscript submission requirements are based on a general formula (X number of Courier 12 pitch characters per line, X number of lines per page. The rule of thumb is about 250 words per page in Courier 12).

    I haven’t checked how long my 50 K manuscript would be considered yet, but I have a manuscript that counts as 100K (~400 pages in 12 pitch Courier) and the computer word count registers it at ~86K.

    So, depending on the amount of dialogue (which, if it keeps paragraphs short, would add to the page count) and so on, a piece that has a computer word count of 50K might actually nominally qualify as a novel.
    Comments, anyone? Is this about right, or am I getting this confused?

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