Every November since 1999 would be novelists have participated in the frenzy known as NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. This happens to be my second year participating (which is why I have been quiet here lately). The object of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 novel in 30 days. If you hit the 50K mark, then you “win”.
NaNoWriMo has its’ detractors. Most of them are stuck on the how can you write a novel in 30 days question. They see it as a waste of time for not only the writer, but editors and publishers as well. I admit that at one time, I was of this mindset as well.
Well, you don’t write a novel in 30 days. You’re writing the first draft of a novel in 30 days. Yes, it will need editing. Yes, it’s crap. No, you should not send it off to a publisher on December 1.
The whole point, I’ve come to discover, is not “winning”, nor is it selling a book or becoming a published author. The point of NaNoWriMo is the journey and the process of writing. It is about realizing that you can talk about being a writer or wish you could be a writer all you want, but unless you actually sit down and write, all you have are wishes and nothing to show for it.
The two biggest takeaways I got from my NaNoWriMo experience are: 1) seeing something through until the end, without throwing in the towel the moment things go bad and 2) just sitting down to write and working through the blocks and my own perfectionism. I have a minimum word amount I must write each day. This is a “self-imposed” limit, based upon the word count a person needs to reach daily in order to reach 50,000 words by 11:59 pm on November 30. That is the minimum amount I must write every day.
I have days where I sit down, start writing, and when I stop, discover I wrote over 3,000 words. Other days, it takes me all day to get the minimum 1,667. It’s those days where I struggle that I look back on with the most pride. I still reach that count, even if I write in five minute bursts in between the other things I have to do that day.
I have also had to give myself permission to write crap and not expect that a perfectly polished manuscript is going to flow out of my fingertips and into the computer on the first attempt. Once I was able to do that, I felt liberated and free to write.
Going through this madness instills discipline and I will need that if I want to become a professional writer. Some days, it’s difficult to focus when your mind is wandering and you’re easily distracted by games on Facebook and what’s trending on Twitter.
Writing feeds on itself. It’s a craft and it’s a skill that needs to be honed. Having to sit down every day and do it hones the craft. My writing as of right now is better than my writing was a few months ago. When you just get to sit and go, you get the practice you need to become better. I am becoming a better blogger because of NaNoWriMo. The creative juices are flowing right now, which leads to more ideas and better posts and less time staring at a blank page and a blinking cursor.
I do not work outside the home. So I do have more time than most people to sit and write. I worked for part of the month of November last year (I was on medical leave for the first part of the month), and I certainly had to learn how to juggle “my dream” with my responsibilities. Writing is work. Hard work.
I never got around to revising last years’ NaNoWriMo novel. I’m okay with that and I don't consider the time I spent writing it a waste, either. It may be nothing more than a 50,000 word back story for a couple of supporting characters in a future NaNoWriMo novel. I may decide to revise it at some point in the future.
This year’s novel is the one that’s been in my head for ten years that I hope to publish someday. I know that on December 1, 2011 I will not be shopping around this manuscript. It’s going to need a lot of work to make it fit for publication. I saved it for NaNoWriMo for a specific reason. Making myself wait to write it meant that I had to spend the time prior to November 1st plotting and outlining.
But the whole point of NaNoWriMo is not to get published. Past NaNoWriMo participants have had their novels published. The novel Water for Elephants began as Sara Gruen’s NaNoWriMo novel. Water for Elephants was recently made into a movie. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is to engage in the process of writing. And this is the point the detractors are missing.
You can follow my NaNoWriMo 2011 progress here. I am on track to “win” before November 30. When the 50K mark comes around and the story itself is not finished, I’m going to keep on writing.
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