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On NaNoWriMo: Writing a Book

Yesterday I told you how I bullied my dad and older sister into writing their first novels. I’m pretty sure both of them would jump at the chance to thank me for it.

I can’t do that for you. I’m going to do my best to try — as Unstressed Syllables lumbers toward its first November — but in the end, I’ve got no way to hold you accountable.

So, instead, I’m going to try to sell you on it. Brace yourself for another one of my incredibly compelling sales pitches.

50,000 Words

For the purpose of this discussion (and any NaNoWriMo discussion, for that matter), we’ll call a novel anything over 50,000 words. Chris Baty (the founder of NaNoWriMo) always meticulously points out that, by some standards, 50,000 is a bit small for a blanket definition of “novel.”

He’s right, too. I’ve had a couple agents reject Gods Tomorrow, at 70,000 words, for being too short. Then again, I’ve got class notes from this very week that place 50,000 words square in the target range for Young Adult novels, and it’s way too long for the highly coveted Tween category.

It’s just an arbitrary number. Any book over 50,000 words can defensibly be called a novel (it’s certainly too long for “novella”), and if you need a larger target to suit your pride, you can always adjust your daily numbers accordingly. I certainly do. (But more on that later.)

30 Days

Anyway! The NaNoWriMo challenge is to write an entire novel during a single month (the official month being November). Last year, as readers of my other blog may well remember, I got together with my writing group for a kickoff party at IHOP on the evening of October 31. We waited until midnight — the official first moments of November — and then one and all we dove into our writing with a frenzy.

Every year I encourage friends and family to participate in NaNoWriMo. And every year, a handful of them tell me, “This is just a really bad month for me.”

Actually…that’s not true. Every year, every one of them tells me that (and I know I say the same thing). November is a really bad month for NaNoWriMo, what with Thanksgiving in the middle of it. December would be tough, too, with Christmas and New Years.

I always have a hard time getting anything done in January, because I’m too busy working on all those resolutions, and February’s too short — might as well pick November if you’re willing to cut two days out of your target anyway, right?

And then March has Spring Break, April has Easter, May has Memorial Day weekend, and after that we’re into the summer — with vacation plans, and the kids are home from school, and if you live anywhere near where I do, it’s just too hot to think….

There’s no good month to write a novel. That’s the point of NaNoWriMo. There’s never enough time to write a book until you make the time. And, I promise you, it’s easier to make the time for a one-month commitment than it is to make the time every day, every month, for the rest of your life.

NaNoWriMo gives you an opportunity to get started. It puts a boundary on your ambitions, a concrete goal on your lifelong dream. NaNoWriMo challenges you to get a book written — something you’ve always wanted to do — and it gives you the framework to just get it done.

There’s no time for self-doubt, for criticism, for editing. There’s no time to do anything but write. And that’s exactly what it takes to write a book — setting aside all the things that slow you down, and just plain writing, day after day, until it’s done.

There’s more work to be done after that. Lots more work. As I’ve said before, the first step is just carving out your block of marble — you haven’t even begun making the precious statue yet.

You’ve started, though. And I promise…even with all the work left to do, getting the first draft on paper is the hardest part. Once that’s done, everything else is what you’ve been wanting to do all along.

How to Get the Most out of NaNoWriMo

To hear Chris Baty tell it, NaNoWriMo is a frenetic and helpless process — thousands of desperate people with no idea what they’re doing, doing it anyway. I’ve read his book, and that’s where he started, and that works.

If you’ve been reading Unstressed Syllables for long, though, that’s probably not where you are. You’ve done some writing. You’ve thought about character and structure and plot. Maybe you’ve even got that one book written, but you’re anxious (as I was) to have more than one in the ol’ portfolio.

NaNoWriMo is still for you. I’ve participated every year since I first experienced it, Hell or high water, and even with everything I’ve got going on this year, I plan to do it again.

Then again, I approach it a little differently than Chris and his helpless novices do. I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve, a few handy tools for getting the most out of the November frenzy and still ending up with something that fits with my other works. Come back tomorrow, and I’ll be happy to share.

2 Responses to “On NaNoWriMo: Writing a Book”

  1. You guys going to have another kick-off meeting this year? Because I’m SO there!

  2. Courtney Cantrell says:

    You better believe it, Bec! 😀 Yay! NANOWRIMO!!! Woo-hoo!!! I’m so excited that I *still* can’t stop using exclamation marks!!!