Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Good Luck, National Novel Writing Month Participants!

November is National Novel Writing Month when procrastinating would-be novelists have a single month to get it together.

National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, kicks off on November 1 each year.

The concept is fairly simple. Writers who have long dreamed of writing the Great American Novel have a month to do so. Writing an average of 1,700 words a day, they set a goal of completing 50,000 words in 30 days.

Simple enough, right?

In the past, I’ve written about my feelings on NaNoWriMo. When you’re that focused on word count, you can’t be that focused on the quality of the words you’re putting together. When you write at that speed, you’ll invariably write a good bit of garbage with a few hidden gem passages hidden in there somewhere.

When I was in college, I tried to write a novel. I focused a little to much on page count. I found myself, at times, writing to reach a certain number of pages, not writing to effectively tell the story.

In other words, I was so focused on the count that I lost track occasionally of the actual story.

Needless to say, what I ended up with was not a story I was happy with. All these years later, it has not seen the light of day in any published form. I’m quite confident that it never will. 

I didn’t write it in a month. I wrote it over the course of most of a school year as I had time.

Still, I was often focused on reaching a goal rather than on letting the characters tell the story.

I know people who’ve joined NaNoWriMo.

Some of them, believe it or not, say that the monthlong exercise actually helped their writing. Not one (unsurprisingly) claim they ended the month and had a ready-to-publish novel.

Still, they felt that forcing the words out instilled a discipline they needed. Going forward, they might certainly change the pace, opting to write more consistently rather than writing at such a madcap pace.

If that’s a result, then by all means they may find something beneficial.

Some of us seem to perform better under a certain amount of deadline pressure.

But some of us, when deadline pressure reaches a certain level, seem to be less productive. If we write a lot of crap just to hit 50,000 words, when we go back to read it in December or January, we might find ourselves so discouraged that we don’t even try to go back.

There’s nothing wrong, I think, with shaking things up to see how your writing muscles respond.

So I wouldn’t discourage anyone from taking part in NaNoWriMo if that’s their motive.

But if you somehow think that you’re going to really commit yourself and produce an actual finished novel in 30 days, please let me bring you back to reality for a second: successful novelists — writers you’ve actually heard of — rarely if ever complete even a first draft of a novel that quickly.

One of my favorite novelists, Dean Koontz, said he sometimes spends a whole day working on a single page. (A single page of a novel manuscript is somewhere between 250 and 300 words.) At that pace, he’d never reach 50,000 words in a month.

But look at his track record of success over the decades. 

That might tell you something.

Again, If you’re going into National Novel Writing Month with the healthy understanding that it’s about discipline, not word count, it might be a helpful exercise for you. 

Just don’t lose sight of the discipline part.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.