Do you want to get the novel you know lurking inside you out onto the page? Feel like doing it within just 30 days? Great! Welcome to National Novel Writing Month! Well, actually, NaNoWriMo, as it is known for short, is November and it’s international, not just the USA. And with hundreds of thousands of people all over the world participating, it is definitely on the radar at many publishers. Just don’t sent them your first draft.
Amongst other things, NaNoWriMo has possibly popularised the term panster. This refers to ‘writing by the seat of your pants’ – kind of a no-belt, no-braces, no-safety-harness approach to writing. The opposite is a planner, which is what most writing courses teach. Many many writers attempting NaNoWriMo start with just an idea in their head and then spend a month spewing out undirected fiction, creating characters, scenery and story as they go. And over the course of the month, the NaNoWriMo forums acquire more and more posts from writers who discover their characters going off in unexpected directions. And towards the end of November there is a shift to writers who start discovering their finished work is really quite crap.
However, one of the really good things about NaNoWriMo is that for a lot of people it shows them that they can create fiction. There is a kind of “unstopping the blockage” that happens when you want to write fifty thousand words in thirty days. That’s nearly seventeen hundred a day and for many people, that is somewhere between one and two hours of writing. Each day. Newcomers who used to struggle to write five hundred often develop their skills needed for ten or a hundred times that through sheer practice. And it is only through practice that it happens. It is quite simply true that the more you write, the more you can write. A thousand words used to feel like an awful lot to me. Now it doesn’t. Not for a story. It can be easy to underestimate the value of this.
Still, one of the recurring criticisms of NaNoWriMo is that it doesn’t encourage writers to plan. That’s not the same as discouraging them from planning. It’s just that the program is focussed around writing and provides little or no support for designing the shape of a novel beforehand. (There is also little support for editing, which can range from fixing typos, tense and terminology, to wholesale re-writing of 99% of the work. But that’s a separate problem.)
And planning does have to be done beforehand to some extent. I know of an author who plans his NaNoWriMo novels over a couple of months from around August. He goes as far as chapter and scene breakdowns and big charts about what is intended to happen. When he reaches November 1, it is a fairly straightforward matter to turn all this structure into fiction, often to the 85,000 word mark. He has written and self-published five novels this way.
So what I’m trying to say is that if you think you want to have a serious go at writing a novel in the month of November, you should already be halfway through your planning!
I’m not kidding.
- 2013 NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) Calendar (melorajohnson.wordpress.com)
- NaNoWriMo (thethoughtsofanerdgirl.wordpress.com)