NaNoWriMo Coming ‘Round
Posted on October 31, 2012 Posted by John Scalzi 38 Comments
I’ve been asked again, as I frequently am at this time of year, whether I plan to participate in NaNoWriMo, or, for those who like things uncompressed, the National Novel Writing Month. The answer, as it pretty much always is, is no. One, I just finished writing a 130,000-word episodic novel two weeks ago. I’m a little burnt. Two, at the risk of sounding a little obnoxious, guys, writing novels is what I do. Every month is a novel writing month around the Scalzi compound. I don’t need to set aside a specific month on the calendar for it.
But I don’t look down my professional nose at NaNoWriMo. Speaking as a pro writer, I will tell you that for me the hardest part is not the writing, it’s the starting. If for someone new to writing having a month set aside where you and a bunch of other aspiring novelists encourage each other on is the thing that gets your ass into the chair and typing, then rock on, NaNoWriMo and all those who participate in it.
My November will be NaGeSFWAStuDoMo (National Get SFWA Stuff Done Month) and NaVidGaWriMo (National Video Game Writing Month). And of course NaWriWhaIWaOnWhaMo (National Write Whatever I want On Whatever Month). I trust for most of you the last of these, at least, will be sufficient.
You write: Speaking as a pro writer, I will tell you that for me the hardest part is not the writing, it’s the starting.
For me that was certainly true! I did research, wrote outlines, fretted, read books about how to write, anything to avoid sitting down and writing “Chapter One.” Once I did that, it flowed better than I ever thought.
I am signed up for NaNo this year because some writer friends recommended it. I am excited to have the support and encouragement of others capturing 50,000 words this month. We start at midnight at the airport Nov. 1, write til 4 a.m., then go to IHOP for breakfast.
I’m already contracted for about 52,000 words of paying (not fiction) copy this November. NaNo is a blast, but I just don’t see myself fitting it in.
Starting is never a problem for me, really. It’s the continuing past the first couple of chapters I find challenging.
We need a National Mathematics Month where everyone sits down and works to significantly improve their skills in mathematics and statistics. Then, maybe, con men like Nate Silver wouldn’t have so much sway over the mathematically illiterate.
Am I the only one who had to look at that last one several times before convincing himself that “narwhal” wasn’t in there anywhere?
Every November, I get wistful for the fact that I do not have a creative writing gene. When I was a child, I just KNEW I could be a writer. Until I tried to write more than 10 pages. Flat. Flat. Flat. Le sigh.
NaNo has few really great things to recommend it.
1) It’s fun; you’re doing it with a whole bunch of other people you can commiserate with about your novel and the writing thereof.
2) The NaNo boards are an excellent resource. There are entire areas dedicated to swapping information, so if you were beating your head against Google trying to figure out the embryonic development of the prehistoric ancestor of giraffes or whatever, you have a place to go without people looking at you funny. (This is particularly useful when you are asking the kinds of questions that make normal people edge away slowly, like “So if you stabbed a guy in the neck with a pencil, would he actually have time to crawl all the way across a basketball court before he bled out?”)
3) It is concrete proof that yes, if you force yourself to set aside time to write, and peck away a little each day, by cracky, you will end up with a novel. Sure, intellectually you know that X words times Y days = FINISHED, but that’s not the same as actually seeing the darn thing done and finished.
I think this year I will be doing National Finish The Goddamn Project You’re Already In The Middle Of Month, but if you haven’t done NaNo I highly encourage trying it at least once.
doo DOO da do doo
doo do DO do
Hey, its a theme song.
It seems odd to me that you would even get that question. NaNoWriMo seems like an exercise for us amateurs. That said, I will be participating this year, after skipping last year. I’ve done WriMo off and on for about a decade, now, and I’ve discovered that I’m a wretched novelist, who writes wretched novels, but the exercise has done wonders for my general writing skills and habits, so I continue to participate. Also, hope springs eternal, and this may be the year that I end up with something other than 50K words of tangents, segues, and rants.
November is NaNoWriMo, but it’s also Movember. Any chance you’d participate in that?
Starting was hard for me, NaNo got me over that. Three first draft novels later I’m stuck on the editing part. I’m beginning to think that the hardest part is whatever I haven’t actually done before, and therefore am no good at.
I’ll be writing for NaNo, but not starting something new. Just using the goals to help give myself a kick in the ass. My problem isn’t the starting – it’s carving out time for my writing around my freelance work. Any incentive is a bonus.
Once again, I’m faced with having a great title and no desire to actually do real work on it. Why can’t I be a producer with lots of money so I can just lay out the next great idea and then have my minions do all the work?
I’d love to do NaNoWriMo, but I just don’t have the time to devote to it. It’s hard enough making time for the novel I’m already working on, which is my first. If I could make the time for NaNoWriMo, I’d put my novel on hold for a month to do it. It seems like excellent practice, and fun too. It would feel good at the end of the month to know I did it, even if the result wasn’t up to the standard I’d like to meet with my “real” novel.
Scorpius, would you please stop trolling? Nate Silver is the quant. His critics are the innumerate. Teaching people math won’t make him go away.
I’m mid-novel, so I’m “writing along” with nanowrimo, but not along with their canonical pattern. The novel goes in the cracks of everything else, and maybe I’ll get 50K words of it done in November — final length is probably a bit over twice that. But my writing is very non-linear and includes character studies, scenes I never use, research on tech/magic that is just background lore and consistency notes,… (yay, Scrivener!).
I figured out at one point I turn out an average of 6K words on all products every day, I don’t need nanowrimo.
But good on them, it’s fun!
I’d also like to take this time to plug my initial mis-hearing of NaNoWriMo as NanoWriMo, an month of writing nano-fiction. I usually unilaterally declare March to be NanoWriMo. One of these days it will catch on I’m sure of it!
@georgewilliamherbert: you’re talking to a guy so desperate for attention that he took a rhetorical crap in a thread honoring the life of Neil Armstrong. Best to just stick to the subject and DNF.
@Dave Branson: I obviously am not your life, so please don’t take this as a dismissal of what you’ve said (for all I know you’re a first responder in New Jersey and are caring for five special-needs children as a single parent), but: One of the goals of NaNoWriMo is to force you to find that time. It’s only for a month. You don’t have to cut back on going to the gym or watching Breaking Bad or going out for a beer or playing the new WoW expansion forever, just for a month, and because you have a deadline you learn to scrape out bits of time you didn’t know you had. It’s the Stone Soup of writing projects, if you will.
Also, there’s a Whatever post that is cranky, but makes a good point.
I did NanoWriMo twice. The first time to see if I could do it (I did) and the second time to see if I could do it even faster (I didn’t).
I’m with many posting here. November is my month to finish things and get back into a routine. I could never manage to do a Novel in November because of too many things happening to derail me. Now February…I could manage a Novel when it is so impossible to get out to do anything else..
I admit to having my personal doubts about the overall effectiveness of NaNoWriMo as a useful tool for me. 50,000 words is a very odd length: virtually too long to sell to a short fiction market (unless you’re a Name Author pitching a serial to Analog or Asimov’s) and virtually too short to sell to a NYC novel publisher.
Of course, an author can indie publish the heck out of his NaNoWriMo book. But then I have doubts about the ability of “underpublished” writers to get much traction with a 50K book — at least if they’re novices sailing the high seas of Amazon.com, B&N, or Smadhwords. Sans platform, your short book is liable to sink 999 times out of a thousand.
I’ve been told by many people that NaNoWriMo is not supposed to be a month for producing “camera ready” prose. It’s a raw wordcount challenge designed to get the rust out of the gears and unstick the stuck muse. And I am all about forward movement — especially when it’s been too long since I (or any other writer in the same predicament) put fresh text to the page.
Just the same, doing rough-shot prose for the sake of high wordcount never worked for me. Even at my fastest — I recently did 35,000 words in seven days working on a novella for Analog magazine, as well as a novel project — my goal is always to end each scene as if that scene will go to print the moment I am done for the day.
But that’s just me. The longer I do this — and mingle with my compatriots — the more obvious it is that virtually nobody operates the same. Mileage always varies.
As a pure camaraderie and fitness-endurance exercise, I think NaNoWriMo scores all day every day, and twice on Sundays. Writing is a lonely project. Almost nobody is born being good at it. New writers who are raw, nervous, and unsure of themselves . . . they need all the motivation and courage they can muster! Probably their NaNoWriMo novels will be trunk fodder. But filling the trunk is a necessary, very big step towards selling at pro quality for pro pay.
The sooner those first million words happen, the better.
I am on the final phases of editing my last project so the timing is perfect to start a new one. I write all year as well, but NaNo is special. The camaraderie is unparalleled for writers. I use is as a launching pad, 50k is obviously not good for much as far as publishing goes, but it is a good start, and forcing myself to pump out a certain amount of words each day is good practice for when I do this full-time. I tell everyone that is doesn’t matter if you follow the rules or “win”. Sometimes, trying is almost as good, and NaNoWriMo is a perfect example.
I’m cheating this year. As it happens the novel-in-progress has about 50K words left to go, so I’m using NaNoWriMo to motivate me to reach the finish line. Since the heavy lifting is done at this point, it’s a matter of putting my but in the seat and words on a page in a timely fashion. That is, doable.
I saw a tweet this morning, I forgot by who, that said something along the lines of “NaNoWriMo is starting, or as professional writers call it, November”.
Are you still talking? Get back to the keyboard and get to work.
@ronny: it’s part of the NaNo tradition for certain professional writers to roll their eyes about the amateurs who call themselves writers just because they, if you can believe it, write.
I, too, am surprised that people ask you if you participate in NaNo. If it’s what you do for a living, you’re going to be doing it pretty regularly.
November is a terribly busy month for me, but as I seem to be putting EVERYTHING ahead of my writing — I absolutely need NaNo to get back on track again. I’ve tried pushing my own novel-writing month past the holidays, but it’s just not the same. So I am proud to be participating this year, and I will rock on – thanks, John.
@mythago – not a first responder, but a father of a15 month old. Seems like I’m usually scraping out bits of time for sleep. you male a good point though.
OK, I’m doing Nano this year – for reals – to attempt to get the novel that was floating in my head all throughout law school finally, finally down on paper. Because while I’m not a writer, I would very much like to be. The problem, as many people said, is the starting.
(On that note, I’ll be posting my daily wordcount on Twitter, @MasterThiefEsq. Because there’s no promise like an anonymous unverifiable internet promise, right? ;) )
@mythago – I second your suggestion about the neighborhood troll. When I see its name I skip right over what follows as it often is wildly off topic & never useful, entertaining nor enlightening.
I can guess what he said based on the response you responded to & the original probably meets all the above criteria – OT, useless, non-entertaining and unenlightening.
@mythago – I too will be celebrating National Finish The Goddamn Project You’re Already In The Middle Of Month. Good luck to you.
@Dave Branson – I have a 4 year old and a 3 year old. The most productive I ever was as a writer was when both kids were under 2 years old. They still take lots of naps and mostly stay out of trouble. It gets so much harder the older they get to do any writing because 1) they require more active supervision as they get smarter, faster, and invisible 2) they’re more fun to play with and you want to spend more time doing it. So get as much done as you can now.
Extreme agreement. I’ve been blasted on Facebook this week for daring to say that NaNoWriMo was a good exercise for new writers, but that I have no intention of letting it slow me down. I was unfriended for that. Today being the start of November 2012, I have updated recent fiction writing wordcount figures. Since 6 July 2010 when I doubled my quota to 2,000 words/day new fiction:
..1,868,250 as of end of October 2012
– 1,748,950 as of end of September 2012
119,300 words of new fiction written October 2012
Since a SFWA/MWA Metric Novel is 40,000 words minimum, that means I’m writing 3 novels/month. While publishing all my nonfiction Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Cosmology, Economics, Math, Poetry, and the like. So why slow down? And why ignore SFWA Major Markets.
@Mythago and Bryon Quertermous –
You both make good points. I want to set a goal for myself, but I still don’t think I can make time for 50,000 words. I am scaling my expectations and declaring this DaFiHiShoStoMo (Dave Finishes His Short Story Month). I have a story that I started a while ago that I feel has some hope of getting published, but I have let it slip for too long. My goal is to finish, edit, and submit it for publication in November. My goal for this is only about 6,000 words, but producing a finished product will make me more confident about carving out time to write in the future, and my wife has said that she will support me in doing NaNoWriMo next year.
But enough about me. I found several points by other of interest.
(1) maxnewshound said “the hardest part is not the writing, it’s the starting.” — Yes, and that’s the point of writing every day, ideally at the same time in the same place, by at least the same quota. It becomes a HABIT, and thus inspiration and willpower don’t matter any more. Tapetum seems to agree. That also addresses Bruce Diamond about ” continuing past the first couple of chapters.”
(2) Dave Robinson is “contracted for about 52,000 words of paying (not fiction) copy” — which raises the question of relative difficulty of writing fiction versus (various types of) nonfiction, and that might be what Jessica Burde was getting at with “carving out time for my writing around my freelance work.”
(3) Not to feed the troll, but National Mathematics Month makes sense; however illiteracy and dyscalculia are neurologically distinct.
(4) mythago makes a good point about collaborative endeavors versus isolated solitary scribbling; that applies also in validating SFWA, MWA, RWA, HWA, NWU, WGA…
(5) mintwitch raises the issue of amateurism. Word processors, search engines, laser printers remove some of the defaualt assumptions that used to divide amateur from pro.
(6) ldgilmoure asks: “Why can’t I be a producer with lots of money?” and that brings up hyphenates: writer-directors, writer-producers. No harm in starting as writer, and getting minions later.
(7) Brad R. Torgersen does SO many things right, that all I can reasonably do is learn from his great example. He made a whole bunch of valid comments compressed rather deftly, above. As to 50K being an odd length, there are mild counterarguments. It’s been pointed out that while The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Awards for science fiction define the novella as having a word count between 17,500 and 40,000, and it is tough to sell one (many major markets won’t look at anything more than 5K or 8K or whatever they say in their guidelines). but if you DO get one in a major market, your odds of winning a Hugo or Nebula are greater than for selling a short story or novelette.
(8) There are other odd lengths. The novel so long that an editor will decide whether to put it out in one fat volume, or split it into a trilogy. Writing a novel in a week or two (usually 50K to 120K) gave me confidence to play with some longer works. Right now, I write nearly daily chapters of one work at 240K so far, and one over 400K. Then, to keep agile, starting what feel like short stories, which sometimes insist on being novelettes or novellas. Your characters will tell you what they want to say and do…
“National Finish The Goddamn Project You’re Already In The Middle Of Month”
Excellent. Have failed to rearrange it to be a pronounceable acronym, but Nftpyatmom is pretty much the noise I make when thinking about ….it.
The sneering I’ve seen about NaNoWriMo, when elaborated on, almost always falls into one or both of two categories:
1. The usual objections to the democratization of creativity. Because of my interests, I generally see this with food, but I’ll bet the same attitudes exist within auto modding, chess set design, and anything else even the slightest bit creative you care to name. And it certainly exists in writing.
2. You can’t submit it to Random Penguin on December 1st. Well, you could, but not with the results you’re likely hoping for. I think nearly all participants recognie this, and the organizers don’t for a moment pretend otherwise (and even point this out) but critics seem to think, or act as though they think, that people who complete 50,000 words wake up the next day puzzled that they’re not rich and famous yet.
I tried NaNoWriMo a couple of times, but unfortunately, as far as I’m concerned it just falls at the wrong time of the year entirely. November is Exam Season here in Australia (final exams for high school students, university exams for university students) – and the start period comes dead flat in the middle of what is supposed to be a period of total focus on the examination process. Plus, of course, I tend to have about 20K words on a topic at the best of times, and after that I’m stuck. So I pootle along for the first ten days or so, writing my 2K per day (to get in on deadline), and then by about the 11th, my brain just goes “phbbbrrrrrrrrrrt” (and blows raspberries at me for the rest of the month).
This year, I’m dealing with a depressive patch that started back in about August, and shows no signs of letting up Any Time Soon. While yes, the charge from succeeding would possibly be a great boost out of the depression and make me feel a lot better about myself, on past experience, the let-down from NOT succeeding wouldn’t help things in the least. So, I’m sitting this one out again.
I’m doing it again this year, for the second time, mainly because I like the social interaction with insane writer people. Normally, I only get that once in a while because my usual friends and family can only take so much of me talking about writing. With NaNoer’s I don’t have to self-edit, wheee! I don’t get too much writing done during the write-in’s cause I’m to busy chatting. Meh… I can write fast and easily enough the rest of the year on my own. In fact, I don’t socialize enough sometimes because of my writing. So I use NaNo for a anti-writing break. Ironic, no?