Sunday, November 01, 2009


Today, a hush fell over the writing world as many writers plunged into writing bootcamp. It's NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. People register somewhere (I've never bothered to look up the specifics) and on November 1st, plunge into a writing frenzy. The goal, I suppose, is a finished first draft of a novel or about 50,000 words (which isn't a complete novel).

I know that some writers post their daily work to livejournal, and I assume it's done other places. Again, I haven't cared enough to check it out. They read the work of other writers (if they have time), cheer on progress, and lament their low daily word counts. As the month wears on, many drop out. Few finish. What's the point? Bragging rights, comradeship in an otherwise solitary pursuit, and rarely something that can be polished into a submittable novel.

Is this lunacy? It may sound like it, but there are many reasons to do it. The main reason people drop out is that it's hard to write every day, and you almost have to to meet the word count. But for as long as they are participating, they're developing the habit of sitting down to write every day. Butt in seat is the only cure for writer's block.

Can a person write a good novel in a month? People who have done this before hit the ground running. They don't open a word document on November first and wonder what they're going to write. They've outlined, formally or informally, their plot. They know their characters. Technically, this is all writing, but for NaNoWriMo purposes, only typing words counts, so it's not cheating. I think if you have a background in journalism, you're much more likely to write a high quality first draft. But quality isn't the point here. Quantity is. For writers who sabotage their efforts by insisting on a perfect first draft, NoNoWriMo may be hellish, but it may also teach them to embrace the concept of the sucky first draft. So good is a tricky concept here. Can you write a well-edited novel with no continuity problems in a month? Probably not. But you might just be able to toss down something you can work with later - a good first draft (which may also be a sucky first draft). The point here is to cross the finish line. Many people start novels. Few finish them.

Even though I think it's a good idea, I don't see ever participating in NaNoWriMo. It's tempting. Discussion on all the writer's lists I follow drop away, or center on NaNoWriMo progress. I feel sometimes as if I'm missing out on a rite of passage. But thirty days from now it will all be over, and the writing world will be back to normal. Until then, if you're participating, good luck. Have fun.

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