I’ve heard so many writers speak negatively about National Novel Writing Month and I think this is misguided. For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo happens every November. Thousands of participants sign up to write 50,000 words toward a new novel project and gain support and community from others as they go. If you sign up you can track your progress on the site and if you hit 50,000 words by November 30 you win bragging rights and a certificate saying that you did it along with a few other cool things. The goal is to hit the 50,000 mark and if you happen to complete an entire novel in that span, even better. The only catch is that you can’t write any part of the novel before November 1 at midnight.
The great thing about this contest, I think, is that it gives new writers a place to start. Personally, I had written two short novellas before my first NaNoWriMo, one had taken me nearly a year, the other nearly four. I managed to hit 54,000 words during my first NaNo attempt and it felt great. It was the longest thing I’d ever written, and it had taken me the least amount of time. Why? Because someone had given me a reason to sit down and write. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
That’s the key. As a writer you need a regular schedule. Some writers don’t write every day. They write every other day, or three times a week, or whatever. But the key is to set up a schedule and stick to it.
I don’t think that any serious writers would argue against the need for a schedule. I think the problem that people have with NaNoWriMo is that more than likely a novel written so quickly will end up being crap. I agree, that’s pretty much true. As Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird, “Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts."
Anyone who expects the first draft of a novel they write in 30 days to be published immediately is living in a dream world. But the fact of the matter is, you may have a really great idea and NaNoWriMo may be just the push you need to get started. Great books can come out of this if you as the writer put the work into it to take it past the shitty first draft phase.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen was originally a NaNo novel after all.
So go forth and write for 30 days, and whether you finish or not at least you’ll have written more than you might have otherwise. If you do finish, CONGRATULATIONS! You now have a sizable draft of a novel on your hands. It’s up to you what to do next.