November is, among other things, National Novel Writing Month. A non profit writing organization, NaNoWriMo, sponsors a group writing activity – the goal of participants is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month.
It’s feasible! In 2006, 79,000 people signed up, and 13,000 actually met their 50,000 word goal.
How does it work? Participants sign up on the website, and then they write. A lot. They need to average 1,667 words a day to succeed. They self-report their word count on the website. At the end of the month, they submit a copy of their text through a scrambling filter for word count verification. The submitted text is not read or retained – just counted and discarded. Verified authors “win” – and get a certificate and an icon for their website.
While authors can do prep work, like outlining and research, prior to November, the window for actual writing is Nov 1-30 and starting before that is cheating. If an author’s novel ends up being longer than 50,000 words, the initial 50,000 count as their NaNo entry, but authors can sure keep writing past Nov 30.
Why do people do it? Some want to jump-start their writing career with a focused writing stint. Others feel the deadline pressure makes them more productive. More specifically, many feel the insane deadline keeps them focused on productivity, rather than perfect drafts and constant self-editing. A few feel that the month’s constraints and rapid writing pace actually triggers creativity.
A few authors have actually published their NaNo book, after rewriting and polishing. Others, though, just use it as an avenue for writing drafts and experimenting with their craft. Writing teachers suggest that your first million words are going to suck, that writers need time and practice to develop their craft. Nano helps get some of those “words of suck” on paper.
Chris Baty, one of the founders of the organization, has written a hilarious book called No Plot, No Problem! on completing the month. He says, ” The key is to lower your expectations “from ‘best-seller’ to ‘would not make someone vomit’”.
I’m not entirely sure that I can produce 50K words of fiction in a month – that’s a writing pace that’s tough to sustain, and fiction is a type of writing I’ve never been all that successful with. Part of my problem is that I get bogged down in the mechanics of dialogue, exposition and plot and give up because the initial result is not wonderful enough for me.
If I reset my goal, though, I’m pretty confident I can write well enough to ‘not make people vomit’. I like that standard for success. ☺