by Anne R. Allen
Okay, I’ll confess: I have never been tempted to join in NaNoWriMo. That doesn’t mean I don’t admire the heck out of people who can do it.
Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in a little over month. You can’t argue with that kind of success.
But some writers prefer to spend more time writing the first draft and less time fixing it later, so NaNoWriMo doesn’t work for them.
Others don’t respond well to the “boot camp” mentality needed to participate in NaNoWriMo. It can even do them physical or psychological harm.
So What Exactly is NaNoWriMo?
For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for “National Novel Writing Month.” The “nation” of the title was originally the USA, but NaNo is now a worldwide event with over 600 regions on six continents.
NaNoWriMo was started in 1999 by a young San Franciscan named Chris Baty—and 21 of his verbally ambitious friends. It challenges you to write a complete novel in a month. That month is November.
And it’s why so many of your online writer friends disappeared from groups and forums on November 1st.
Anybody who finishes 50,000 words by midnight November 30th is a winner. There’s no prize but a badge for your blog. Completion of your novel is its own reward.
“Winning” NaNoWriMo doesn’t help you get an agent or publisher. In fact, when you send out a novel that started in NaNoWriMo, don’t mention it in your query. Agents see so many unedited, sucky-first-draft NaNo novels in their slush piles every December, the phrase can be the kiss of death.
However, hundreds of NaNoWriMo novels actually have been successfully published after they’ve been edited and polished. Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Hugh Howey’s Wool, and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl all started as NaNo projects.
To enter, people needed to register at NaNoWriMo’s site before November first in order to have their word count verified at the end of the month. It doesn’t cost a thing.
Why Join in NaNoWriMo?
NaNo can benefit a lot of writers:
Perfectionists who need to silence their inner critics.
People-Pleasers who have been rewriting the first chapter of their novels for years, trying to please every beta reader and critique group who’ve read it.
Wannabes who have always thought they “had a novel in them” but never could get around to it.
Writers who have a bunch of half-written novels in their files, but never seem to be able to finish them.
Extroverts who tend to “talk out” their story ideas in bars and coffee shops but never sit down at the keyboard.
People who thrive on group energy.
Writers who love to have an excuse to stay out of the holiday-saturated marketplace and maybe even skip that Thanksgiving dinner with your political-ranting Uncle Jake.
The process of forcing out the words allows many writers to knock down the walls of self-criticism they’ve built in their heads and get to the heart of their stories.
These writers find NaNoWriMo an exciting, liberating experience.
But NaNo Doesn’t Work for Everybody.
Some people can’t deal with the push-yourself-beyond-your-limits mentality necessary to “win” NaNo.
Others prefer writing the first draft to editing.
Some have physical disabilities that make it hard to keep at the same task for long periods of time.
Professional writers may have other writing obligations like magazine articles, blogs, and columns to write as well as marketing duties, so they can’t devote a whole month to one writing project.
Many have family and job obligations that make it impossible to reserve that much time in one month. Especially right before the holidays.
Most of those are true of me.
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