Skip to main content

What's the Point of National Novel Writing Month?

This is a guest post by Karen A. Wyle..

There's no one way to write a novel. The process that works for one author may be utterly counterproductive for another. But there's one approach that's especially useful for the many would-be writers who can't seem to get out of their own way and just write the darn thing. And it's coming up this November.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or Nano for short) is an annual event administered by the nonprofit Office of Letters and Light. Its purpose: to help authors produce the rough draft of a novel, at least 50,000 words long, entirely within the month of November. (There are also "Camp Nanos" at one or more other times of the year with more flexible goals.) That's an average of about 1,667 words per day.

What's the point of this headlong dash through a rough draft? Simply this: at that pace, you don't have time to second-guess yourself. You can't spend time editing or agonizing. You have to accept that your rough draft will be very rough indeed. Several authors who write about the process of writing point out that first drafts tend to be of very uneven quality. But those lousy first drafts have two huge benefits:
  • They exist! Once you've got the main elements of a story, you can spend the ensuing months (after a few weeks' rest) expanding and revising and getting where you need to go.
  • When your immediate goal is to pour out words without self-editing, you give your subconscious room to work. There are few thrills like discovering that a detail you threw into your draft for no particular reason actually serves some important purpose in your plot or in the development of a main character.

NaNoWriMo provides more than an idea and a schedule. The website includes all sorts of motivational and other assistance. You can post your daily word count and see on a chart whether you're ahead or behind, as well as how many words per day you'll need to average for the rest of the month in order to "win" (get to 50,000). You can connect with "Writing Buddies," see how they're doing, and give and receive encouragement. The website also includes multiple forums. Some provide random plot twists to use if you're feeling stuck, while others, for example, let you ask the Nano community for help with factual issues ("How long does it take to die from cyanide poisoning?" "How many grandchildren, if any, did Catherine the Great have, and which of them survived her?" "What would a wormhole through space look like from the inside?"). Caution: these forums can be tremendous time sinks! Indulge responsibly. . . 

Nano isn't exclusively an online event. "Municipal liaisons" often arrange write-ins, kickoff parties, and "Thank God It's Over" celebrations. They may also distribute packets of helpful info (e.g. lists of possible first and last names for characters, plot twist generators, calendars showing the target word count for each day of the month). The writers you meet through these local events can become your best friends, particularly if you participate more than once. 

One doesn't have to approach Nano with grim determination or with anxiety. My first time, in 2010, I decided only a day or two beforehand that I'd give it a try. "I'll probably drop out in a few days," I told myself, "but so what?" Six novels later (if I count one that's awaiting further revision), I'm deeply grateful to the Office of Letters and Light, and to my Nano companions, for helping me achieve a lifelong dream.

See you in November?

Karen A. Wyle was born a Connecticut Yankee, but moved every few years throughout her childhood and adolescence.  After college in California, law school in Massachusetts, and a mercifully short stint in a large San Francisco law firm, she moved to Los Angeles, where she met her now-husband, who hates L.A.  They eventually settled in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University. They have two wildly creative daughters, and a sweet but neurotic dog. Wyle's voice is the product of almost five decades of reading both literary and genre fiction.  It is no doubt also influenced, although she hopes not fatally tainted, by her years of law practice.  Her personal history has led her to focus on often-intertwined themes of family, communication, unintended consequences, and the persistence of unfinished business.

Popular posts from this blog

El Deafo | Cece Bell

And being different? That turned out to the best part of all. I found that with a little creativity, and a lot of dedication, any difference can be turned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers.”
Genre: Middle Grade Graphic Novel/Memoir. Number of Pages: 233. Perspective: First. Location: Virginia.
This graphic novel follows the author throughout her time as a young girl in the 1970s and her experiences losing her hearing from meningitis at the age of four. She learns how to make friends and accept herself. For a complete summary, you can go here.
This was a beautiful story about someone who copes with becoming deaf. I took an American Sign Language course in college and we talked a lot about the deaf culture; it was interesting to learn about some of the daily challenges that someone who is deaf faces. This book explains those challenges in a way that children can understand and relate to. We have come a long way with accessibility since the 70s, but we all could use …

5 Reasons Why I Hate Book Series

Many of you know that I hate book series. If at all possible, I try to stick to stand-alone novels. A few rare trilogies land on my bookshelf and an even rarer few get a good review. Here are my reasons why I hate trilogies: 

1. The first book is perfected.

Authors have an unlimited amount of time to perfect the first book. They may have many rewrites and rejections before it is finally accepted by a publisher. By that point, the book should be pristine. The author may not have a deal with the publisher for a series yet, but once the first book proves its worth, the publisher will definitely ask for the rest of the series. Depending on the popularity, the author will be forced to get the next books out quickly—unless you are George R.R. Martin. There will be less time to perfect the story and it will be sent out without many rewrites, as to appease the fan-base. As a result, the rest of the series suffers in comparison to the debut. 
2. The waiting is torture. 

Part of the reason why the …

Ten Things Writers Need to Know

This is a guest post by Heather Weidner. I was asked recently what advice I would give to someone who wants to write. Here’s my list…
1. Read. Read. Read. 

Read everything you can get your hands on. Learn about the genre. Learn about techniques and style. See what works and what doesn't.

2. Seek out writers like you. 

Find a writers' group. I write mysteries, so Sisters in Crime was a perfect fit. I am also in the online community, Guppies. They have tons of resources and advice. And they are so supportive and helpful. 
3. There are a lot of books out there on the craft of writing. 
My favorite is Stephen King's On Writing. Invest in books that help you. But use your library too. FREE is good.

4. If you are serious about writing, find a critique group. 
It's an investment in your time to read the submissions. Make sure that the feedback is helpful. Critiques need to be constructive and not personal. My critique group specializes in mysteries and crime fiction. And that works fo…

Hex | Thomas Olde Heuvelt

“Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay 'til death. Whoever settles, never leaves."
Genre: Horror. Number of Pages: 384. Perspective: Third. Location: New York.
Hex is the story of a town that is cursed by a witch with her eyes and mouth sewn shut. She shows up in houses and just stands and stares for days at a time. The people of the town can never leave and are plagued by the fear of what would happen if the witch’s eyes and mouth are ever opened. For a complete summary, you can go here.
This book started off kind of funny and light-hearted. The middle starts to get a little creepy and suspenseful, and the end is downright strange. It was an enjoyable book, but you’ll have to wait a long time for the climax. The bulk of the action happens in the last 50 pages. For me, that felt rushed and left me with more questions than answers. 
Hex was originally written in Dutch and translated to English. With that in mind, I am utterly impressed with the flow and readability of the story. Th…

5 Things I Would Have Done Differently Before Self-Publishing

This is a guest post by Mark Benjamin. 
About three-quarters into 2015, I decided to self-publish. My novel was stuck in that phase of completed / nearly done, and I had been agent shopping for three years prior, and the brief thought (if at all) of self-publishing had been pushed out of my mind by the traditional method. That is, until my wife, Lucy, sent me the Amazon Kindle Publishing link. At the end of May 2016, my debut novel, A CHANGE OF HEART, Book One of The Royal Blood Chronicles, was released, an urban fantasy novel bringing back vampires from whence I first found them, cue in Lestat and Louis. There was a lot to learn throughout the entire self-publishing process; emotions ranging from doubt to hope, anxiety to determination, fear to belief. I would like to share my experiences, then and now, and how I would have done things differently.

1. Just Do It
Those three words are the beginning and end of it all. The story hit me and I ran with it. I could have waited until I thought …

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required