I say: "NaNO(!!!)wrimo"

Monday, November 1, 2010
Shhh! Can you hear that? That faint clickety-clack you hear comes from a flurry of writes attacking their keyboards in the attempt to get a 50,000 novel out of their brains on into a Word file before the clock hits 00:00 on December 1st.

It’s November 1st, which means it’s the big kickoff day of National Novel Writing Month. Affectionately known as NaNoWriMo, this event has been going on since 1999. I first heard about it in 2001, when my literary ambitions began in earnest and with every passing year the event has picked up steam (and caused literary agents increasingly large amounts of hell in the first couple weeks of December.)

I thought about participating in 2001 when I first stumbled upon the phenomenon and in early 2002, I did participate in ivillage’s The Writing Life board equivalent of the event called WriLiMarCha (Writing Life Marathon Challenge). With WriLiMarCha, I got to about 11,000 words written in the course of 15 days. My sophomore year of college I had a crazy idea to do NaNoWriMo and my schoolwork and my extracurricular activities. That lasted about two evenings.

I have never completed a 50,000 word novel in 30 days and as time has gone on, I’ve come to believe I never will. I have my reasons for not participating in NaNoWriMo each year, not least of which is my belief that NaNoWriMo is crazy. And not in the normal, (healthy?) “writer slightly off their rocker” way but in “that’s truly insane” way. To completely NaNoWriMo on schedule, writers are signing themselves up for churning out an average 1666.66667 words a day, every day, for 30 days straight.

I’m not saying this is impossible. Obviously it’s not, because tons of people do complete (albeit it in a sleep deprived, coffee driven way) this seemingly impossible goal every year. My chief qualm with NaNoWriMo is not “how?” but “why?!”

Lots of people already have a novel (or two) tucked away in a drawer. When this month draws to a close, a lot more people will join the drawer-hiding-novel ranks. Although truthfully, successful NaNoWriMo participants won’t really have a novel to tuck in their drawer. Rather, they’ll have a 50,000 word fiction something in their drawer.

Opinions are mixed on what should be considered a novel’s average length, but it’s usually considered somewhere between 80,000 – 120,000 words. However there’s a pretty firm consensus that 50,000 words is not a novel. That’s a novella. (If you consider that 250 words is considered the standard page length, 50,000 words only gets you 200 pages.) Unless you're Steve Martin, most works of published longer fiction  are more than 200 pages. I have a hard time seeing the point in spending a month slaving over 50,000 words of rough, unedited prose which you’ll need to edit within an inch of its life, not to mention add 30,000 words of text to, before a literary agent will consider it a novel.

To me NaNoWriMo strikes a certain martyr-istic chord. And I’m just not going for St. Ada . (There already is one.) I like to incorporate my writing into a life. A life that involves eating, sleeping, blogging, exercising, and spending time with my family.

I’d rather work in a steady, slightly less manic way. And I’m not saying the five years it has taken me to get my current novel from idea to query-able piece of fiction was a great timeline to follow. I’ll probably try to expedite the writing process of my next novel a little bit in comparison. Still, I’m going to give myself a little more than a month to get that next rough draft done.

This November, I won’t be writing a novel. Instead, I’ll be writing a synopsis of my novel du jour and sending out queries. But good luck to all you crazy NaNo-ers out there. God love ya.


  1. Really want to try it - but lose steam a week in :). Good luck with your project + the querying process.

    Following from Blog Frog.

  2. I've seen books on how to write a book in 30 days but I've never heard of this. Maybe it's coincidence that I've been starting to seriously plan getting the book that's stuck in my head out. Hmmm....

    (Just found your blog. Lovin' it so far. Thanks for the blogfrog comment)

  3. Ada, you're not the only one:


  4. Thanks for sharing the link Emily! I think I agree with everything this woman has to say. :)

  5. I tried NaNoWriMo last year. I think I got about halfway there before I lost steam and work craziness caught up with me to quash all attempts. I thought about trying it this year, but decided I was too exhausted from the insanity of October and had lots of other things to do.

    I read the book by the guy who created NaNoWriMo and the whole spiel made a lot more sense to me once I did. Having experienced it, it's probably not healthy, it's definitely not the best way to write a novel (or the start of one, since they freely admit that 50,000 words is an arbitrary number and does not a novel make).

    I freely admit I'm a lazy writer - more like a scared writer. I'm a huge fan of Natalie Goldberg, and her whole philosophy revolves around the fact that the act of writing is what makes you a writer. If you're not writing, but sitting around talking or thinking about writing, you're not a writer. You're just wishing you were.

    So it was a good kick in the pants for me. It helped me to shape my life around the act of writing. It was the first time in my life I ever sat down and said, "I am going to write x number of words tonight, and I have to get something on the page." Not all of those words were good, but I've got a story fleshed out and I learned some good tricks to motivation and inspiration.

  6. I did Nanowrimo a few years ago--for about half the month. For me, like Betsy, it was a great way to just write something instead of thinking about all the great stuff I was putting off writing. Plus, I typically do my writing longhand and doing it on the computer (no way I was going to do longhand and then type it to get a word count) seemed to influence the genre--my first venture into scifi fantasy, something I had previously pooh-poohed.
    The story is unfinished, but I've gone back to it a few times and some parts are still very compelling to me. I had guilt for a while about how it was just another (incomplete) book in a drawer (computer file), but now I just feel glad that one of my many ideas actually has gotten fleshed out enough that I can return to it someday and have more than just a scribbled sentence in my little red notebook.
    (That said, another mom/storyteller friend with 2 kids is doing Nanowrimo and my response was "WHAT???!! That is crazy!)

  7. I'm tempted to try it next year. Attempting to write at that rate with two little ones and a job just seemed like a good way to get checked into an institution.

    The only reason I want to give it a whirl is to try and get over the writing hump. I'm good with deadlines. Give me a month and I have no doubt I can knock out something. Give me a lifetime and I write bits and pieces that never really get finished.

    Now. Having said that, I'll also probably be the one saying, "Is this worth it?" lol


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