The Case Against NaNoWriMo

I started off this month intending to talk about ways to help your writing by shutting out the world, a thing that seems increasingly difficult to do these days. Instead: heresy! You writers of delicate constitution, turn away now! For I am about to reveal to you the case against participating in National Novel Writing Month.

Sure, NaNo’s intentions are pure: provide a structured and semi-competitive environment to get writers writing. What could be wrong with that? Well, frequent readers of my posts at Fictorians will know that I set a lot of store by each writer figuring out what works for them and following that.

And the thing is, for some writers, cranking out 50,000 words in a month is either not doable, or, more likely, not recommended.

Once upon a time, shortly after my very first trip to Superstars Writing Seminar, I wrote the first draft of a 100,000 word novel in under three months. I left the seminar more inspired than I’d every felt about my writing, and was determined to prove that I could write a novel faster than my first, which took … well, it took a long time. For this second book, I averaged 10,000 words a week, more than a thousand a day. That’s not quite NaNo speed, but it’s close, and it continued well past one month.

I wound up with a completed first draft, a feat I was immensely proud of. The problem? It was utter trash, and even worse, I was so burned out I didn’t plop down in front of the keyboard again for several months. When I did, rather than cleaning up the draft, which I frankly couldn’t bear to look at again, I started work on my actual second novel, which I still plan to show the world someday. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to fix up that three-month draft. In the end, I’d done what I set out to do, but I’d cranked it out so fast and with so little consideration I ended up with something I had no motivation left to finish. I’d burned too bright, Blade Runner-style.

Flash forward a couple of years to the only time I’ve ever truly done NaNo as it was meant to be done, with a new book and all fresh writing. That time, I worked on the first draft of a book that would that would never see the light of day. Starting to notice a pattern? I certainly did. Apparently, when I force myself to write too fast, I end up with books I hate.

As with all good rules, there’s an exception. When I was working on Ungrateful God, I had an editing deadline I had to hit, and I burned myself out doing it. I was pleased with the result this time, but it required a lot of edits once I got it back, edits I wasn’t able to get going with for several months. The pattern again.

I’ve finally learned my lesson. So long as I have a day job (hint-hint, potential fans!), I can only write so fast without burning out. Push it too much past that for too long, and my creative river dries up whether I like it or not.

NaNo is a great motivator for a great many writers. I’ve even participated since that first time, but I relax the rules for myself. Edited words count. Working on a different project (or, say, a blog post for Fictorians) counts. Even if all I do in a given day is some mental planning out of scenes or chapters or arcs, that counts. Because the point of NaNo isn’t to rigidly adhere to an arbitrary set of rules. It’s to provide you a little motivation to get writing in the form of your friends who are doing the same thing. Whether that’s 50,000 works, 500,000 words, or 500 words, the point is the same. Remember: even one word is better than zero.

So take a seat behind the keyboard and, without worrying about how many, see if you can crank out some words this month. C’mon, everybody’s doing it!

 

 

About the Author: Gregory D. Littleheadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (all right, during) classes. His novels Unwilling Souls and Ungrateful God are available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, Dragon Writers: An Anthology, and the upcoming Undercurrents: An Anthology of What Lies Beneath. He lives with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

Writing Short Articles for NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is a great time to build up a collection of short articles that you can schedule during the next year. It’s a reasonable method to build up your word count while simultaneously getting more blog posts.

Since my blog is about writing in general, I like to include how-to articles and other subjects useful to authors. My target for each post is around 500 words.

The first thing I have to come up with is a subject I haven’t written about. Lucky for me, I have a lot of folks who ask interesting questions. Many times I can get an entire blog post out of a single question. I also glean ideas from industry news and the regular mainstream media. The secret is to get an idea that you can cover in a short article without glossing over things or beating a dead horse.

Once I have an idea, I try to come up with two or three major points about that subject. For example:

NaNoWriMo for Beginners

1. Sign up on the website.
2. How to come up with an idea for a book or novella.
3. Writing until the cows come home (on November 30th.)

Conclusion

That took me all of two minutes. If it looks a bit familiar, it’s the method most US grade schools teach their English students when it comes to writing a paper. You can come up with ideas on subjects that you’re familiar with. If you like flowers, teach us what the colors of roses represent. If you like trucks, tell us why the 7.3 liter diesel engine was the best ever made. Start out with what you know, then begin to explore areas that you need to research. That will help you with worldbuilding and give your readers some variety.


 

About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

Road Writing

 

There are times during NaNoWriMo where one has to become mobile. This does not mean you’re off the hook for your daily goal! It means you need to adapt, improvise, and overcome. Here’s a couple of suggestions to help you.

Phone Apps and Thingies

  • There are several apps that you can use to translate voice to text. On my iPhone, I use Nuance’s Dragon Dictate, the free version. It works great and the price is right.
  • You can use Siri or the Android assistant to text or email yourself.
  • There are plenty of third party apps you can discover, both free and paid. Make sure you read the reviews and watch when it was last updated.
  • You can always record your voice and play it back to transcribe when you’re done driving for the day.
  • Make sure you bring along your headphones with a microphone. They tend to record better than the built-in microphone.
  • I would recommend you get a foldable keyboard that allows you to type normally with your cell phone. It plugs in like a piece of paper in a typewriter, and the bonus is some of them allow you to charge the phone as you write your NaNo story.

Laptop(s)

I normally bring along a Samsung Chromebook when I go to conventions. Chromebooks are lightweight and have excellent battery life. While it would seriously suck if someone were to walk off with your hardware, I’d rather lose a Chromebook that synced to the cloud (my cost was $160 a few years ago) versus losing my writing laptop (HP G650, $400 + $100 in maxing out the memory) or, heavens forbid, my main graphics laptop (Toshiba gaming beast, $1200 with RAID drives). You can also use an inexpensive Android tablet. I have a couple that cost me less than fifty bucks each.

The McDonald’s Mantra

I worked at a McDonalds back when I was 18 years old. I was more interested in dating the manager than doing actual work, but the folks who were there for a long while had a saying: “Time enough to lean, time enough to clean.”

Considering I was a lazy lout, that stuck with me over the years. Now I adapt it to writing, where if you have more than fifteen minutes of spare time you can get some words down. Use your laptop, Chromebook, tablet, phone, or a handy pen and paper. As Depeche Mode says, everything counts in large amounts.

If I’m waiting for a panel to start, I’m usually actively puzzling out a section of one of my in-work projects. If I have an hour until the next panel, I whip out my Chromebook and start typing. I learned this from author Kevin J. Anderson at a convention in Colorado. Whenever he had some downtime, he was quietly tucked away in some corner working on a novel. It was a good lesson — writers should be writing.

I’m scheduled to appear at Windycon 44 in the Chicago area tomorrow through the 12th of November. You can rest assured that I’ll be working on my projects, but please make sure to stop and say hello. Writing is important, but so is life and interaction. Tonya L. De Marco will be there with me, so you’ll probably be more interested in meeting her.

On November 17th and 18th, Tonya L. De Marco and I will be appearing at The Cosplay Convention and Anime Experience in Little Rock, Arkansas. We hope to see you there!

What are your suggestions for writing while traveling?



About the Author:
DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist and poet; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, MWG, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

Money Where Your Mouth Is

Anthology with story from Mary Pletsch

Many writers benefit from the camaraderie of National Novel Writing Month. Writing is often a solitary pursuit, whether as occupation or as hobby. Knowing that there is a vast network of people out there going through the same things you are creates common ground.

Whether on formal NaNoWriMo boards and hashtags, or just on your own social media with people you know who are also doing NaNoWriMo, you can find people to vent to, people to talk to, people who understand.

But beware…

If you’ve been reaching out to a writing community–taking part in a writer’s group, going to cons, networking, attending launch parties, anywhere writers tend to gather–you will already know the people who like “the writer lifestyle” more than the actual writing.

These are the people who love to talk all about the plot and characters for their novel, even though they’ve been talking about the same story for years and still haven’t finished their first draft. These are the people whose book is on its 39th draft, but they’re considering changing the main character in a heavy rewrite. These are the people who say they want to be pros, but act like hobbyists.

If you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo, will you be spending most of your NaNo time writing a novel, or will you be spending it on social media or at in-person gatherings talking about your story, writing in general, how your day is going, what coffee to order…instead of actually writing?

If this has been you in the past, ask yourself what you really want. Do you want to complete a novel? Or do you want to hang out with people you think are cool and talk about your ideas?

There’s nothing wrong with writing as a hobby, and there’s nothing wrong with finding friends to share your hobbies. But if completing a novel is a secondary goal, be honest with yourself. Spend time with like-minded people and support your friends who are working hard to finish their books.

Conversely, if completing a novel is your primary goal, be wary of how you spend your time. The bulk of your NaNo time should be spent accomplishing that goal. In-person gatherings can be fun, but if you’re more productive on your own, make a choice that supports your goal. Online updates can be motivating and online venting can provide you with support, but social media posts do not count towards your word limit.

Finally, you may have a challenge if you are serious but your friends are hobbyists. If they are true friends, they will understand how important your goal is and support you as you work to reach it. However, you may have issues with acquaintances who resented the time you spend on writing, as it takes time away from mutual brainstorming, character-building, plot-creation “hobby” time. If your friends are angry because you are working on your book instead of proofreading the 39th draft of their novel, drawing art of the new character they’ve created for their story that they’ve been writing for the past five years, or just hanging out with them in the coffee shop, then your “friends” are more interested in what you can do for them than in your success.

Fortunately, NaNoWriMo events can help you connect with new people who are as serious about their writing as you are, so even when you are putting the bulk of your time into writing, you can know that you’re not alone.

Happy writing!