NaNoWriMo: I’m Only Going To Say This Once, Okay?

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts on November 1st.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, the idea is that you pull out all the stops to write 50,000 words of a new novel in 30 days, or around 1,670 words every day during the month of November.

Every year around this time, something else starts too: NaNoWriMo Snobbery. Professional writers, who the other eleven months of the year seem like the nicest, most generous and friendliest people, suddenly start tipping their noses in the air and saying or even writing things about how NaNoWriMo and the people who partake in it are belittling their profession, ridiculing their craft and making a mockery of the 1,670 words they write every single day of the year in order to make a living.

Now, usually I just grit my teeth and try to ignore it, but this year I’m finding it impossible—and we’re not even T-minus 1 week to go yet. (Also, I can’t think of anything else to blog about today.) So I’m only going to say this once, okay?


The NaNoWriMo Novel = Messy First Draft

The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to write a messy first draft, the one that “rough” would be a strong word for, the one that’s for you and you only, the one in which you work out the answers to the questions Would this even work? and What comes between the beginning and the end? No one in their right mind thinks you can go from a blank page to a finished novel ready for readers and their shelves in 30 days, but National Write a Messy First Draft That Might One Day, With Countless Rewrites, Become a Novel Month, just isn’t very catchy.

Also, keep in mind that most commercial novels these days are around the 100,000 word mark. If you thought that the idea of NaNoWriMo was to write a finished novel in 30 days, then the goal—50,000 words—should’ve been your first clue that honey, that just ain’t the case.

NaNoWriMoers = Writers

A couple of years ago I read a heartfelt blog post by a professional, published writer who truly felt slighted by NaNoWriMo. She said that this was her profession, her vocation in life, and the fact that “some people” thought they could come along and do it in the month—do the thing she had spent her adult life perfecting the craft of—made a mockery of it and her. She asked if there would be similar support for National Become a Doctor Month or the like, and ended her post by saying that she dreaded Novembers because of NaNoWriMo.

Now, first of all, get the lady 10 ccs of chill pill. STAT. (See? I could totally do National Become a Doctor Month…) The world really doesn’t need to take arbitrary challenges so seriously. But secondly, who does she think does NaNoWriMo? Sure, there’s a probably a few people in there who have never as much as read a book who suddenly decide to drop everything and attempt to write one during the month of November. But all the people I know who do it are writers.

They are already writing, have always been and for whatever reason, find it difficult to fit writing into their lives every single day. I hate that thing about there’s no such thing as no time to write, because who are we to say what people can or can’t fit into their lives? We know nothing about them. We don’t know what responsibilities they have, or what they’re struggling with. I know someone who works two full-time jobs, survives on less sleep than the average insomniac and has children to take care of. Would you tell him to “just find” the time to write?

Some people, myself included, write more when a deadline is sending us daggers from the edge of our computer screen. Some people write more when they are spurred on by being part of a group whose members are also trying to write more at the same time. And some people have so much going on that they feel they can’t set aside time to write all the year around, but that NaNoWriMo gives them some kind of official permission to do it, just for thirty days.

NaNoWriMoers are, for the most part, writers. Not “some people.”

What Are You Worried About, Mate?

Oh, you write 2,000 words every day of the year, do you? When I say “NaNoWriMo” you say “Welcome to my life”? In the immortal words of Chandler Bing, is your wallet also too small for your fifties and your diamond shoes too tight?

SO THE FUDGE WHAT if you already do NaNoWriMo every month of the year? What has that got to do with other people trying to do it for one month? I just don’t see the connection. That’s like me saying I’m going to join a gym… [Sorry, burst into a fit of giggles there; let me try that again.] That’s like me saying I’m going to join a gym and work out every day for the next thirty days, and being belittled and mocked and generally held in contempt by people who already do it, just because they already do. There is something missing there, and it’s ALL LOGIC AND SENSE.

On September 11th, Ricky Gervais tweeted about taking a moment to remember all those who had perished during the terrorist attacks. A tweeter from the UK asked him why the world makes an effort to pause and mourn on 9/11, when they don’t necessarily on 7/7, the anniversary of the London terrorists attacks. And Gervais’ response was “What are you worried about, mate?”

Now obviously we’re talking about two entirely different points on the Things That Matter Scale, but Gervais’ response to that has really stuck with me, because I’m sure that tweeter couldn’t answer it. (Because what was he worried about? Non-reciprocated  sadness?!) And so, if you are a professional writer and you don’t like the idea of people doing NaNoWriMo, what are you worried about?

(Side note: agents and editors can probably answer that question because they do have something to worry about: the influx of newborn manuscripts that start arriving in their mailrooms come December 1st from the small minority of people who think you can conceive, draft, rewrite, edit and polish a novel in just 30 days. But for the rest of us, what does it matter?)

NaNoWriMo + Time = Bestselling Books

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Cuckoo by Julia Crouch and Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes (which, by the way, was one of the most unsettling, nerves-on-a-knife-edge thrillers I’ve ever read) all started their literary lives as NaNoWriMo projects. You can see the full selection of published NaNoWriMo projects here.

Fun: Have You Heard Of It?

The whole point of NaNoWriMo—more so than writing 50k, I’d say—is FUN, as in, the having of it. During NaNoWriMo, you can sign up for groups, even meet those groups in your town or city, and create a buddy list that will help spur each other on for the month. It’s great craic, as us Irish would say.

And sometimes, having fun is reason enough to do something, all by itself. This is one of those times.

So NaNoWriMo Snobsters, stop taking a dump all over it, would you please? And bring your nose back down until it’s parallel to the horizon while you’re at it. Thanks ever so much.


What do YOU think?

(P.S. What do you think about NaNoWriMo, NOT what you think about 9/11, 7/7 or Ricky Gervais. I know how this internet thing works and I’m telling you right now, that’s NOT what this post is about, okay?)

UPDATE 2015: You might also be interested in… My debut thriller, Distress Signals, will be published by Corvus/Atlantic in June of next year and I’m chronicling the publication process and my attempts at writing a second book in almost no time on this blog, in a series called Book One/Two. Read the first installment here.

My NaNoWriMo Survival Kit

Frighteningly, National Novel Writing Month is only two and a bit days away. Starting Monday at midnight, us NaNoWriMo scribblers have 30 days to get 50,000 words out of our over-caffeinated brains and into our word processing programs, preferably in some sort of coherent order. I’m using it as the ultimate deadline in my quest to finish my first draft of Novel No.2 this side of Christmas. And although my best-of-intentions NaNoWriMo prep work got bumped this week for some really good books I just had to read (and The Apprentice, both the TV3 and BBC versions), I have managed to assemble my NaNoWriMo Survival Kit.

1. A clicky pen

I do all my writing on computer (I don’t even write shopping lists) but I have to have a clicky pen to hand at all times. It helps me think. Plus the incessant clicking noise keeps everyone else away so it guarantees solitude, and should a book deal suddenly materialize, I have a pen to hand to sign it. Bonus!

2. Alison Well’s NaNoWriMo post

The internet is awash with blog posts, tweets and telegrams telling you everything to need to know about how to do/survive/ignore NaNoWriMo – and then some. Don’t bother reading those. Instead, just read this: Alison Well’s pre-NaNoWriMo post, “How To Do NaNoWriMo If You Don’t Have the Time.

3. My Mac

I love my computer, which is small and light enough to take anywhere, and has keys that don’t make an extremely annoying clacking noise when you hit them. I’m just going to have to cut the umbilical to my wireless internet connection or we won’t get anything done…

4. New music

I have something ridiculous like 2,000+ songs on my iTunes, but somehow I only ever end up listening to the same 50 or so. With them constantly on repeat, this can get pretty boring after a while and constantly pressing the Skip Forward button can really interfere with the old word count, so for some serious writing to get done, new music is required. This NaNoWriMo I shall be listening mostly to Speak Now by Taylor Swift, Battle Studies by John Mayer (as I haven’t burnt that out quite yet), No Line on the Horizon by U2 (skipping “Breathe” which I have worn out already) and whatever songs from the new Take That album I can, um, source online.

5. More coffee than I can feasibly drink in November

It was a lucky coincidence that I got to go coffee-shopping in the States recently, and brought home four bags – and four blends – to last me through the entire NaNoWriMo slog. Tip: now is not the time to try a new espresso blend. Stick to mild mediums. Coffee-drinking is pretty much essential to my writing, and if I’m drinking a lot of it then I don’t want that horrible coffee aftertaste that sticks around after a really strong cup. Medium weaker blends are best for prolonged bursts of creativity, trust me. (And yes, it’s in my fridge. Opened bags of coffee stay fresh longer this way.)

6. My novel’s “bible”

Here’s how I keep track of what I’m writing: I take a ream of A4 paper and count out as many pages as I have chapters or scenes. My novel is also divided into sections, so I print out a title page for each of these. I also make a fancy cover using some clip art. Then I take all my notes (printed out on A4 too), put the chapters/scenes separated by their section title pages behind them, put the cover on the front and bind the whole thing using a large bulldog clip. It then becomes a “book” I can flick through, but because it’s only held together by a clip I can add to or subtract from it at any time. When a chapter/scene is written, I scribble a summary of it on its relevant page, and write any notes that have arisen out of it (i.e. “Kevin mentions Tom; this needs to be addressed the next time Kevin appears”) on the page representing the chapter ahead that the note refers to. Then when it comes to start a new chapter, I simply open its corresponding page in the “bible” and all the notes and reminders I need are there waiting.

(I realize this sounds complicated but you get what I mean, right?)

7. A clear desk

If there was a stray paperclip within reach I would play with it – that’s how easily distracted I am. Therefore a clear desk with no potential playthings is an absolute must if I’m to get anything done, a desk that looks the exact opposite of the one pictured above. (Which is my actual desk just before I left for holidays. It only looks this bad on weekends, I swear…)

8. Inspiration

Whenever I feel like I can’t be arsed, I have a flick through some of my favorite writing books: Wannabe a Writer? by Jane Wenham-Jones, On Writing by Stephen King, The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner and How Not To Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to Avoid At All Costs If You Ever Want to Get Published by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark. I’ll also be using Save the Cat by Blake Snyder for plotting tips, as always.

(Click here to read about my favorite How To… writing books.)

9. A novelty mug

Any excuse.

10. Enthusiasm

This may wane by the end of next week, but right now I’m fired up.  50,000 words by the end of November? You betcha!

If you’re looking for another NaNoWriMo buddy and you’d like the opportunity to scream and shout at me when I get stuck around 11,000 words, I’m cathryanhoward on