NaNoWriMo: What Really Counts?

By guest blogger Glenn Walker

I love National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, as it’s called by most folks. It’s a wonderful idea from a terrifically creative young man named Chris Baty. He developed NaNoWriMo waaay back in 1999 as a way to get folks who want to be writers to actually be writers. As he says in his book on the subject, No Plot? No Problem!, this is for all those people who say they want to write a book someday . . . well, November first is “some day.”

For folks not in the know, November is National Novel Writing Month. For thirty days participants try (and many succeed) to write 50,000 words. And, yes, 50k is a relatively low word count for a novel—but it’s still over the industry standard for a novel. It all breaks down to roughly 1,667 words per day.

Other rules include that you can’t start until November first (other than planning in your head and maybe outlining). This must also be new material, original from your head to the page.

The “No plot? No problem!” motto is Baty’s way of saying you should just write, write anything, write crap even, and sooner or later you’ll hit your groove and find your story. I don’t necessarily agree, especially with the “write crap” idea. Any first draft is going to be wonky; hell, it may even be crap—that’s why it’s a first draft. Even though I’m sure that Stephen King’s (and probably even Ernest Hemingway’s) first drafts were crap as well, I don’t believe you should set out to write crap, ever.

Baty’s theory of writing comes from the idea of pantsing, or writing by the seat of your pants. These are writers who do not use outlines and just go with an idea and see where it takes them. This is how I write to some extent, although once I do know where a story is going, I have a target and I work toward it.

Just write, but write as well as you can. Yes, you can always go back and edit and change and improve the manuscript. But do it after NaNoWriMo November. There’s even a NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month) in March so you can take a rest in between.

There is also the concept of NaNoWriMo as a race that bothers me. One year the logo was even that of a track and field runner. As far as I’m concerned, this is not a race, and you cannot win it by actually doing the 50k words in the thirty days. You win it by finishing your novel, whether it’s under the wire or past it. The act of actually finishing a novel is one of the most fulfilling accomplishments a writer can experience. You have to do it. That’s winning.

Taking that concept further, it’s not even about word counts or time limits for me. It’s the discipline. That is the most valuable prize you can come away from November with, the discipline to write. At my Yahoo! Group, Writer Circle, I preach about the Contract for Success, part of which talks about spending an hour of each day trying to write. Whether it’s actually pumping out words or just staring at a blank computer screen—spend that time trying to write.

It’s all about the discipline. And that is what 1,667 words a day during November does to you: it drills the discipline of writing into you. Bottom line, a writer writes. This all goes back to Chris Baty’s mantra . . . you always said you’d write a novel some day, well, it’s some day, baby.

Best of luck with your NaNoWriMo. And keep writing, every day.



Why Do NaNoWriMo . . . Again?


GlennWalkerGlenn Walker has been a friend of Fear of Writing for some time dating back to hosting the FoW Chatroom back in 2004. He now shares his time writing about pop culture at Welcome to Hell, reviewing French fries at French Fry Diary and talking comics on the All Things Fun! Live Comics Vidcast. And that’s just a few of the things he’s up to. If you want to know more check him out on Facebook.

2 Responses to NaNoWriMo: What Really Counts?
  1. Lois
    November 1, 2011 | 3:58 PM

    I’ve been participating in Nanowrimo since ’06, and I’ve won every time. As in finished my novel each and every time. By the 30th. I used to pants it in the beginning. Now I plan my stories out, because I write better that way.

    Back when I was having a hard time coming up with things to write about, I came across Nanowrimo, signed up, then forgot all about it until a day or two before it started. I had only a vague idea, but I went with it. I had to come up with a timeline of events (which I tweaked from time to time, thinking the frustration would never end), but the rest was easy.

    I still love Nanowrimo to this day, and I plan to participate every year, if I can. I’ve begun to participate in ScriptFrenzy, too, and have written the rough drafts of two screenplays (one of which I’ll begin editing after I finish this novel).

    Between Nanowrimo, Fear of Writing, and prompt challenges from a friend of mine (who, incidentally, does NOT like the Nanowrimo idea), I’ve been practically writing non-stop!

    Thanks for posting this! It’s always great to be encouraged…and reminded that Nanowrimo is a GOOD thing! 😀


  2. marie gilbert
    November 8, 2012 | 8:31 AM

    Great article and a very nice picture of you!!

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