… That is the Question
By Jeff Salter
Okay, I’ll start with two admissions:
1. I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo (and, below, I’ll explain why).
2. If I had ever participated, I’m afraid I would have flunked (and, below, I’ll explain why).
Now, here’s what I have been doing to keep myself busy: In the past 26 months, I’ve completed four novel manuscripts: 92k, 110k, 74k, and 140k words in those bad boys. That’s a total of 416k words! But, alas, that only averages to 16k words per month. FAIL.
Of course, I was also cranking out synopses, blurbs, and queries on three of those stories … and submitting nine contest entries during that same period.
Would I have qualified?
You may be wondering whether any of my four manuscripts (in these past 26 months) would have somehow qualified me for a NaNo certificate. Okay, let’s have a look.
In Ms. # 7, just completed, I added 40k words in June and 40k words in July. NaNo FAIL! [Even though that’s 80k words in two months – both the wrong months, of course – neither of those months generated the requisite 50k.]
In Ms. # 6, completed in Jan. 2011, I cranked out 74,500 words in 31 days of writing, including 28k words in the first three weeks of Dec. 2010. NaNo FAIL! [Wrong month; didn’t reach 50k.]
In Ms. # 4, completed in Oct. 2009, I produced 83,500 words in 35 days of writing, including 43k words during Sep. 2009. NaNo FAIL! [Wrong month; didn’t reach 50k.]
In Ms. # 5, completed in Mar. 2010, I penned nearly 110k words in 49 writing days … including 53k words in Feb. 2010. NaNo FAIL! [Even though I managed to crest that daunting 50k mark, it was still the WRONG dang month!]
Here’s my ‘beef’
Let me get back to why I have not participated in NaNo.
They picked the wrong month! November is a rotten month for me to spew words. In November, I seem to be between projects or just finishing one, or entering contests.
As far as I know, I’ve NEVER begun a new story on the first of a month! [The rules suggest that you begin a new ms. on Nov. 1 (even though they say you’re allowed to ‘resume’ work on one you’ve already started). But that makes it sound like I’d be fudging if I just took my tallies from the story I happen to be working on at that point.
They won’t let you go back and revise! Well, they can’t actually stop you, but they strongly recommend that you don’t. Why? It slows you down. Duh. Of course it slows me down, but that’s the way I write! I can’t change my production M.O. for the architects of NaNo! Well, maybe I could … but I won’t.
Some people thrive on deadlines and quotas … while others freak. Myself — I do okay with deadlines, since several years in journalism. But it IS extra stress … and I don’t need that.
Most of what I know about NaNo (and the folks who have participated) is positive.
I’m especially gratified to learn of writers whose NaNo stories later became published! And I’m very proud of those writers who went back and polished, completed – and submitted – their NaNo stories. I think those are the best features of NaNoWriMo.
Getting a complete ‘first novel’ under one’s belt is a formidable task. And if NaNo is helping many writers accomplish that, then I applaud wholeheartedly.
I’ve also heard a very general buzz that NaNo is also good for loosening Writer’s Block. If that’s true, then I’d say, “Cool.” But the things which have ‘blocked’ me from writing could not be neutralized by NaNo, so I recuse myself from evaluation of this aspect.
What I worry about
Here’s what worries me about NaNo:
1. Can it distract a writer/author from a really good on-going project … just to participate for the NaNo ‘accountability’ and camaraderie?
2. Can it convince a writer to ‘hold back’ some really good creative stuff … until Nov. 1st, just so it will fit under the wire? I shudder at the dangers of LOSING anything creative that you try to ‘remember’ and don’t write down immediately.
3. How many of those 50k partial manuscripts never get any more attention from their creators? And if many writers have to answer “no more attention” — I would ask: what did they gain from that arduous exercise?
Anything (legal) that gets someone enthusiastic about her/his writing, committed to writing goals, and gets their butts in typing chairs … is good (in my book).
So, I say – to all you energized NaNoWriMo registrants – Start Your Engines! Or, perhaps that should be modified to: “Boot your computers!”
Are YOU participating in NaNo this year?
Why or why not?
Do you plan to start a brand new story on Nov. 1? Or will you be working on something you’ve already got in the mill?
Hi Jeff- Waving at you from Texas!!
First off, I don’t think it’s a matter of fail or not fail. I’ve participated in 2 NaNos and I “failed” both of them. But that’s not the point. November is a terrible month to do NaNo, perhaps that’s the very reason they chose it. November is the kick off to the holiday season, kids are coming and going, I’m as busy as a beaver…so what better time to institute a fun way of dragging your butt back to the keyboard to focus only on creating something from your heart?
One year, I worked on a project that I had already begun and wrote 22,000 words. That is absolutely stellar for me! I’m a slow writer, a thinker, so the fact that I did that many words in a month was a WIN!! The next year, I started a new book and wrote 18,000. Again, another win for me. This year, I’m in a project and have spent time outlining a faint map of where I want to go with this story- here’s hoping it allows me to put down even more words!!!! Who knows, I might get 50,000 words out and have a finished product to enter into the Golden Heart. Amazing things happen in NaNo!!
Hello to ‘Texas’ Stacey, my former neighbor!
Yes, your approach, is exactly the right way to look at NaNo. It shouldn’t be about the pressure and the certificate … but about each writer’s creativity and desire.
If, along the way, eiher of us gets the 50k in the right month and wins a certificate … then that’s ALSO cool.
Thanks for visiting again.
I did Nano a couple times and I LOVED IT! Only it really is for those who can ignore their families and write, write, write! Even though I love to write, write, write, I also have kids, another job, a house, a husband, dogs, sporting events, laundry etc….
Each time I walked away with a complete 50k or more word novel that took longer to edit then it did to write it. I’m a panster, so it was easy to sit and just write. I’ve heard that people who aren’t panster have a harder time with Nano. But I say go for it! If I had a nanny, housekeeper, chef, etc….I just might do it again. Cheers!
A dream gift for Christmas one year — might be if everybody who knows Author X would pitch-in and hire a nanny, chauffeur, housekeeper, chef, pet groomer, proof-reader, typist, and masseur.
Think of all the writing that would get done. Ha.
Well, Tonya, if I were as busy as you are with so many varied, concrete obligations, I seriouosly doubt I could even NaNo 5,000 words. Much less 50k.
And you didn’t even mention correspondence, blogging, and Facebook. Or your three favorite TV shows. Ha.
I think I’ve mentioned a friend of mine who’s struggling with writing her first MS that sometimes writing a hot mess is a good thing. I have numerous stories I’ve started but haven’t finished and probably never will, but the great thing about that is I’m able to go back and take things I love about them and put them in other stories. My first NaNo foray forced me to stop the “go-back-and-clean-up” loop I’d found myself in. I was determined to hit that 50k and I did, but it also helped me realize that sometimes you have to write a hot mess to get to the good stuff.
“Writing a hot mess” — great image.
I think my first novel was basically such a mess, though it was only ‘warm’. LOL
I believe I’ve shared that I have over five DOZEN other novels in my head. A few are only concepts or hooks, but many have several pages of notes, or even a scene or two. I also have in that batch a handful on which I’ve already written over 15k words! Plus several with abround 5k wds.
When will I get to them? Don’t know. One, in particular, which I started BEFORE this 26 month period I wrote about (above), really calls me back, but every time I think I’m about ready to return to it … a new story pops up.
I can’t edit as I go. I tried that and it sucked the joy out of the process for me – I never got past chapter two, either. So, NaNo fits the way I write. I have started a new story each time but I do know people who don’t – if they are 4,000 words in on something, they start their count at 4,001 and when they upload to prove it, they leave out those earlier words. One friend wrote 2 novellas one year that she had under contract to one of the big 6- she ended up with 70.000 on two stories. Did I think she cheated? No. To me, it’s a chance to get some word count with friends to cheer you on. AND the only pressure is if you’re like me and anal about proving I can do it. No one is gonna haul you off if you don’t “win” AND all you win is the chance to say you did it, so it really is something that doesn’t matter. But I’m still doing it as I love the write-ins, the friendships and the fun of trying to get to an arbitrary goal (because, let’s face it, not many published books are only 50,000 words).
LOL, Jillian. To each her/his own.
I think I got ‘trained’ to edit as I write because of my several years in journalism. When I worked for a small town afternoon daily, we only worked one draft usually. And of course we had manual typewriters. So you had strike-outs and every kind of mess. But you’d quickly rip it from the typewriter and proof it — and mark it — then fling it in the editor’s basket. Then move on to story # 12 for that day. Ha.
So I’ve determined I’m not easily able to keep my eyes from wandering over past paragraphs looking for typos.
To fight that, I sometimes employ a technique I call ‘blind typing’. Yep. Literally … with my eyes closed. I do this especially when I’m writing-up accounts of dreams (I have hundreds typed). Only problem is: sometimes my fingers slide over one key and what I’ve typed is gibberish. But, even then, it’s easy to figure out what I was trying to say.
And with dreams, I think typing ‘blind’ allows me to key more directly to the imagery of the dream.
WOW- Blind typing for me would sure be gibberish as I have to look at the keys since I never took a typing class. I DO edit typosas I go, just not content. Have to, or it would be a mess. LOL!
Yeah, I should have clarified that I meant mostly typos.
For content stuff — or continuity issues — and organization matters, I leave myself a note in the text and then move on. If I stopped and dealt with all that garbage, I’d never get any new stuff down on ‘paper’.
As I am currently the queen of unfinished manuscripts, I’m not starting anything new until these are out the door. 🙂 I have decided, though, that I’m not a nano person. I actually tend to get more done when I don’t have a daily word count goal looming over my head. Does that make any sense?
Makes perfect sense to me, Laurie.
At least with my fiction and poetry, I’m the same way.
But with my non-fiction endeavors, it’s been VERY helpful to have deadlines and consequences if I didn’t deliver. LOL
For me, it’s not about completing 50K words. It’s making a goal (last year’s was 25K) and being held accountable to that goal.
I can’t possibly write sloppily, willy-nilly, purging on the page. I just can’t. I’ve tried. I scrutinize over every word, meaning, and sentence structure. It’s just how I do it. Therefore, 50K would be impossible. But because I write so slowly, I can easily be derailed. Having that accountability and challenge drives me to produce. I’m good with that.
BTW – Novemebr is a terrible month. I totally agree. These people are masochists. And quotes do absolutely nothing for me. Just sayin’.
Now for your PSA – the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood will be doing the Winter Writing Festival again starting mid January (no holidays!) if your looking for a fun writing push. Visit the blog for more info.
Always happy for you to leave a PSA for the Ruby folks or the MuseTracks group. You’re welcome to advertise anything on the Hound Day!
I like your approach: to set your own personal goal and then hold yourself to that standard. 50k is a LOT of writing!
I understand the NaNo thinking that the excitement and competition will give us even more ‘drive’ than we already have. But, gosh, some of us are already burning the candle at both ends.
Glad to see you today, Jenn.
I will be starting TO READ many new books to me during that time period and possibly start on a new quilt top and finish an old one. Thanks for including me in reading your blog, but of course, I am a reader not a writer.
That may be, Sug … but every writer was a reader before she/he started writing. You could be experiencing so many new things in R.I., that a writer may EMERGE!
But, if not, then you’re one of the many readers we’re writing FOR.
And we’re hoping that we’re working on the next book you’ll fall in love with.
Thanks for visiting again.
Yes I am doing the NaNo this year! I’ve done it and won it in ’09 and ’10 so I gotta keep the streak going, and it has absolutely been fabulous in getting my muse’s attention. I’ve also found that to just sit and write about whatever could happen in the ms I’m working on is THE way for me to gt that first draft done! I will also be doing it again this year bc I’ve begun a Wall of Fame in my office that is growing with all the achievement awards I’ve received by participating in different writing endeavors and degrees I’ve earned. That wall, in itself, keeps me motivated in light that I am not published, yet. But One Day I know that I will have contract and check copies to hang up there, too!
I’m not sure what I’m going to do this year. I’ve got lots of ideas in an Idea File that I might work on, or I might pull something unfinished up from “the mill” to finish. I do return to my NaNo ms’ and polish for publishing. My last year’s NaNo ms in in a contest right now!
In the end, what works for one will not work for another. To each his own.
Great idea about the wall of fame. It’s good and proper to keep ourselves motivated with positive validation.
Wonderful to hear that one of your previous NaNo ms. is complete and in a contest. To me that’s the ideal result of this Novemer experience: Even better when you publish it!
If you still haven’t decided which story to work on for Nov. 1, I have a suggestion for you. Before you go to bed on Oct. 31st, just repeat — to yourself, preferably — “which story wants to be first?” And let your subconscious decide during the night. I’ll bet you’ll wake on Nov. 1 with a very solid notion of what to start with.
Oh, and let me know if that works for you.
LOL! “Let me know if that works for you.” You’re prescribing something that you have not tested?! LOL! Actually, I think that is a very good suggestion of sleeping on it and letting my subconscious decide. that is something I believe in and so I will do that!
Please wish me good fortune on the contest my novelette, “Fated,” is in!
Actually, Janette, I have tried this. In particular, my 7th complete ms., which I’m currently revising (4th draft) and subbing, was partly a product of that very thing. When it was still in ‘concept’ stage, I was discussing it with the buddy who’d shown me the items which inspired this novel. I had decided I didn’t want to write this project at that time because I had determined to work on revisions of two existing manuscripts so I could submit them. So I told the buddy to “sleep on it and you’ll come up with an plot idea that could make it work.” Well, as you’ve prob. guessed, my buddy didn’t come up with anything, but I arrived at the way I could weave together the true story with a fictional plot for my romantic suspense novel.
I was just funnin’ you, Jeff! 😉 I do believe that the subconscous will work on things for you if you let it. I nevever REALLY doubted you!
As I figured, Janette.
And I agree: the subconscious is a great helper for our Muses.
Um, Jeff. Are you getting in my head again? You listed all the reasons for me to not do NaNo, but at the same time those are the exact reasons for me to do NaNo. My first and only “win” was when I was such a newbie and ignorance was beyond blissful. Knowing how much I’ve revised and am still revising that first NaNo project makes me wonder why I should write the crap if I know I’m going to toss most of it. But I did it which just goes to show that I CAN do it. I’ve forgotten that aspect in the midst of all those online workshops which have taught me how garbage-filled that first ms was.
But if there’s anything I love about NaNo, it’s the comraderie. The write-ins force me to get work done and one never knows what little gems pop up in the middle of those writing frenzies.
I love the “little gems” which pop up in the middle of a frenzy. Sometimes they’re their own story!
Yes, the comraderie must be really cool … maybe the best part, from what I’ve picked up. And even as a non-participant, I’ve often cheered-on the people I know who post their progress on FB walls and other places I’m liable to see.
So be sure to keep us apprised of how you’re doing, so we can wave and cheer from the sidelines.
As far as writing crap … I don’t worry about it. Most gets scrubbed away in revisions. I’ve already trimmed over 5k words from my 7th ms. in the second draft. Then another 6500 words removed in the third draft. I’m now half-way through the 4th draft and — even though I don’t have a tally yet — I know I’m trimming away gristle.
Great post Jeff! I did Nano two years ago and wrote a book that is currently under the bed and will never be coming out! That being said, it was a great exercise in just getting the words on the page. I’m not doing Nano this year because I’ll be spending the month finishing up edits on my current WIP, but good luck to everyone who’s doing it! And have fun!
Thanks for visiting, Juliette.
And I think your decision NOT to NaNo this year is a perfect illustratration of a point that I was trying to make. When participating in NaNo would take you away from some other writing endeavor — such as your edits of the current WIP — then NaNo is actually counter-productive.
What’s important is the writing.
Not that you write on the NaNo grid.
Perhaps I will have an opportunity — as you did in 2009 — to participate in NaNo … and I’ll bet it’s fun, challenging, and exciting (in the way competitions are). In a way, I hope so. But I don’t think I want to put something important on hold for 30 days just for that NaNo experience.
NaNo is…well, it’s NaNo. You bring up a lot of great points and I’ll admit, I didn’t read through the mass of replies you’ve gathered so far. I’ll just give you my two cents, for what it’s worth.
NaNo is great if you need motivation to sit down and write everyday. It’s great if you need buddies cheering you on. NaNo is also a bit annoying. It’s a lot of word count talk, word wars, and feeling under the gun for the whole month. With NaNo, you have to take the good with the bad, take the cheerleading you need and leave the distraction you don’t behind.
Yes you can work on a project already in motion. That’s what I’m going to do this year. Last year I had a new project to start on Nov 1 so I plotted and planned before hand. But this year, I am already 45K into a book and I don’t want to set it aside to work on something totally new for NaNo. So here’s what I’m going to do. I’ll make a mark of some kind in the ms to show where I started on Nov 1 and I’ll just continue on. At the end of the month, I’ll copy and past from that mark on into a new word doc to upload for the official count (if I get that far this year). And, I may even finish this wip and start another one in Nov. So I’ll just copy/paste those new wip words in the same doc. Who cares? It’s still 50K, right?
Last year I was hard core and totally hit my 50K by Nov 17. Yep. Then I finished the wip by adding another 10k before the month was over. Then I spent all of Dec and Jan revising and editing and ended up adding another 15K.
This year will be a tough one for me and I don’t plan on actually making the 50K. I’m doing final revisions and formatting on my first indie-pub novel so that will be my first priority. But I’ll play along and try for a word count each day and who knows, maybe I’ll finish off my current wip.
Heather, that sounds like a very healthy approach to NaNo.
And contratulations for finishing your 50k by the middle of Nov. in last year’s competition. WOW.
Certainly, for this year, your priority should be to get your existing novel into the hands of eager readers.
Sheesh. “Word wars”? I never even heard of that. Sounds a bit hostile. LOL
Hi Jeff! I’m tempted to attempt NaNo — just for the fun of it! I tried it the year before last and loved the story I whipped through…but deadlines approached and I had to switch gears and edit. I still want to go back and revise that story and do something with it. But starting an entire new story does sound like fun, doesn’t it? 🙂
Glad you could make it, Rebecca.
You know, all this NaNo talk has made me want to try it also!
I don’t know if I’ll be finished with what I’m working on by then … and my son is scheduled to visit during Nov.
But if I just thought I could ‘claim’ that time, I’d be tempted to work on the novel I started back in summer of ’09 — before this spurt of 4 novels I’ve completed since. I have some 15k words already. It’d be nice to get back to it.
But also, I really need a short BREAK!
Hi Jeff! I am not competing this year – I never have before, either – but I continue working on manuscripts I’ve already got under my belt. I have three novels completed, but only one breaks the 75K mark, so I’m looking on beefing up the other two. Good luck with your works! –XOXO
Glad you could visit, Katharine!
It’s all about the writing, so if you’re continuing work on current stories … that’s what counts.
Of course, while all the NaNo folks are posting their daily counts those of us on the sidelines doing NON-NaNo writing can just cheer them on.
As for your manuscripts seeming (to you) to be ‘short’ … as I read a lot of the publisher submission guidelines, many WANT short novels.
And they say engineers are full of jargon! Must confess, not only do I “not Nano” I don’t even know what “to Nano” is, don’t you know. However, being the problem solver that I am, I glean that this must be a method of goal-setting for writers to achieve quantity, if not quality? Hmmm.. the “no revision” rule sounds a lot like brainstorming rules, where the goal is not to interrupt the flow. Freud would have a field day with me but I don’t know how to NOT correct as I write. “No revision” sounds a lot like a sculptor not making mid-process adjustments, which just feels wrong…rather than being the perfectly proportioned one, Venus de Milo might have wound up looking more like the Hunchback of Notre Dame! But, having quantifiable goals in the form of metrics is known in a variety of realms to force people to make improvements. Look to Weight Watchers, where every morsel of nourishment is weighed/measured/recorded, as is the weight of the participant. The concept holds true with exercise routines– my work group is in the middle of an exercise challenge where we record the number of steps we walk with a pedometer, and tracking has made me cognizant of my former inactivity, to the point that while on a beach trip I took several long walks rather than just lazing about on the sand, to meet the goal of 10,000 steps daily. Some say “If you measure, you can master”…but I must say “NaNo” deadlines and metrics blows my concept of writers as unstructured artistes. Sounds pretty…grim.
Ah, Betty … we should talk.
I’ve been exercising since Jan of 2005, after a long period of physical inactivity.
Had to take it very slowly at first, of course. Started with water exercises.
And like you describe above in your program, I keep TRACK of stuff. Some people razz me because I’ll say: things like:
In my first six complete years of ‘moving again’, I exercised 781 times, which averaged 130 per year, or 10.8 per month, or 2.5 per week. My HIGH year was 2007 with 2.87 visits to the ‘Y’ per week.
And you know what? People roll their eyes!
But I need to track it, because 2010 was my worst year, with onoly 2.13 visits per week.
For the current year (2011), I’m on track to rival my best year.
I’m motivated, in part, by keeping track of ‘stuff’. And that, in part, is what NaNo does: makes writers commit to production and accountability.
BTW, I love your image of the Venus de Milo de Notre Dame. Classic!
BBW. I believe you have missed the point of NaNo here. It is not “grim” at all. While we are artists like sculpters, we are not the same SORT of artist. A sculpter’s work is “set in stone,” whereas changes in his/her work are near impossible to make. A writer’s work is NOT “set in stone.” Our work is living and breathing, it grows and changes until it is ready to be published. And it begins with a first draft.
That is where NaNo is invaluable to a writer! By not worrying about what tneeds to be changed and can be changed in the inevitable drafts that are to follow, a writer is able to get that first draft done in record time! The polished work for publication will come after that. Not “grim” at all.
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