It’s pretty apt that National Novel Writing Month (codenamed NaNoWriMo) follows right on the heels of Halloween–there is something truly terrifying about the prospect of cranking out that many words in such a small amount of time, and also, somehow, achieving a moderate level of coherence.
What is it?
In the month of November, masochists around the world hunch over their laptops and try to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s a test as much as it is a motivator–it’s for all those people who want to write a book, but just can’t buckle down and do it.
But NaNoWriMo is not just for amateurs who need a morale boost. I wrote my first book back in 2010 as part of a New Year’s Resolution–I’d spent my whole life writing short stories, fan fiction, and crappy novellas, and decided that with the job market as miserable as it was, I could spend a month of funemployment trying to do something with a skill I’d spent my whole life developing.
I started writing Devil’s Fire (back then it was Sophie of the Demons) January 1st, and finished the first draft on February 2nd. It was challenging, sure, but it was also the best month of my life at that time. I was doing what I loved, and boy did it feel great. It was a terrible first draft, as most are.
And you know what? That is totally okay.
Why do it?
There are a million reasons to do NaNoWriMo and a million reasons not to do it. Prolific YA novelist Maggie Stiefvater is, personally, not a big fan. She makes a good point: for some writers, forcing words to paper is not always the best way to write a book. Some writers need time to sit back and ponder the sequence of events before moving on.
Some of us, on the other hand, work best that way. I relish pressure and deadlines and stress. I think I’m some sort of twisted succubus that feeds on my own misery instead of nightmares. I know there are other writers out there who need that type of motivation, too: the daily check-ins, the inspiration to turn off wireless and focus, the whole package.
At the same time, I already know I can do it. And not just 50,000 words in one month, but the 82,000 I churned out that January in 2010, that later became Devil’s Fire. It’s nice to know you can, and that’s a good reason as any to do NaNoWriMo–for your career.
It’s just a first draft.
There’s a lot of good advice flying around on Twitter about how to tackle NaNoWriMo, and what to do (or not do) with your book once November’s over.
1. Don’t query agents on December 1st. The book you just somehow managed to churn out in 30 days is not ready for an agent or publisher yet, and maybe not even for your critique partner.
2. You will have to revise it. Be OK with that. If you’ve signed up at the NaNoWriMo website, you’ll be getting lots of emails saying exactly this: Don’t go back and edit what you’ve written. Just keep writing. Get it all down on paper. It’s just a first draft–it doesn’t have to be brilliant or genius or anything. You’ll clean it up later. Check out this article, “The First Draft: A Writer’s Best Friend.”
3. Don’t think it’s finished. 50,000 words is barely even a short novel–it’s more of a novella. The average novel is between 60-90k words, and even 60k is on the really low end (usually only for middle-grade and short YA novels). You might reach the NaNo goal, but still have some work to do.
Have fun, damn it.
The only reason to do NaNoWriMo is because you want to do it. You like writing. You want to finish a novel. Don’t do it if you’re going to be miserable and stressed out. Have a dozen other deadlines to meet? Swamped at work? You might want to wait until next year. Or, heck, who needs an excuse to write a book? Just pretend NaNoWriMo is in February instead.
While you’re at it, make sure to take breaks and keep tabs on your mental health. Need a book? My pal Noah Murphy has just released his girl-superhero book, Ethereal Girls.
In Medieval Europe, four mystical weapons were forged in order to combat malevolent spirits – vile entities seeking nothing more than to spread misery and chaos across the universe. Centuries later, only one weapon remains to protect Earth. That weapon, the Axe of Boren, falls into the hands of teenage Liza while she is driving home from cheerleading practice, transforming her into a hulking warrior of immense strength and endurance. At the same time, her best friend Macie is twisted into a psychopathic murderer by one of the Axe’s counterparts, the corrupted Sword of Boren, and goes on a gruesome killing spree.
But just as Liza and Macie are headed for battle, the most powerful evil spirit in generations appears, unleashing an army of monstrous cannibals on Washington, D.C. In order to defeat the spirit, Liza must ally with three odd girls: a sickly waif with macabre teleportation abilities; a member of a snake-like race called the Lamia who wants nothing more than to be a human teenager; and the 107th reincarnation of an ancient goddess who may know far more about the mystical weapons than she lets on. But even with her new friends, Liza faces a near impossible task. Macie is obsessed with destroying her regardless of the devastation unfolding around them…