NaNoWriMo: Is a month enough?

It was a dark and stormy night this last Friday. Creepy children wandered the streets dressed as that guy from Minecraft and a couple Superheroes. And on that night, for the first time in ages, it rained in my area – purging the evil walnut haze. And as the haze lifted and I rose from my grave, I realized October was done and a new month had rolled in: November. That means one thing for those of us in the online writing world: It’s NANOWRIMO TIME.

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Welcome to the time of the year where I’m going to spend at least a couple entries talking to people who are trying to crank out their first novel or are considering getting their pet project published. For those in group #1, I hope you enjoy the wonderful hobby of putting words down in an order that pleases you only to later develop a neurotic problem where you hate everything when you read it again. To those in the second group, you’ve probably gotten past that stage and are either delirious or had a moment where you realized there’s enough shit published in the world that you definitely have a chance. Either way, good luck my masochist brethren and welcome to the warzone.

But those people in the latter group gave me something to think about recently. We’ve all heard a variation of the concept by now: “The good thing about eBooks is that anyone can be an author now. The bad thing about eBooks is that anyone can be an author now.” Hell, it was even uttered on @Midnight recently by the guy best known lately for this one picture.

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So I come to you all with a question that’s been answered in the past but I think we can still explore deeper…

Is A Month Enough?

The last time I approached the subject of NaNoWriMo I spent a bit of time on the concept of editing and the idea that you shouldn’t just slingshot your half-assembled piece of crap straight to the market. Mind you, I’m not being overly harsh towards your work right now; I’m saying that about everyone who cranks out a first draft. It’s the vital admission of all viable authors: your first draft blows, more often than not. Be honest with yourself and get to editing after this month clears and you may have a diamond on the rough. But another question lingered with me in the last month between my moments of consciousness and drooling on myself. Is a month really enough?

We’ve made a month about writing a “novel” when everyone serious about the subject knows that there’s no way that you could finish a novel in the amount of time allotted to you and have something you’re happy with. Is it physically impossible? Not at all. Even here I tend to write between 1 to 2 thousand per entry and in order to hit that 50,000 word goal set by NaNoWriMo you really only need to do that consistently for 30 days straight. Is that a challenge? You bet. But it’s still doable. Hell, according to Stephen King you should be writing that much every day regardless. But let’s be honest, Stephen King has been trying to admit to us for years that he wasn’t human and we just weren’t listening.

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Now if you kept up the pace of writing or editing 2 thousand words a day, every day, for 365 days (as King says you should) then you would probably be able to crank out a half dozen solid mid-length novels every year. You would also have a few mental problems by the end of that year. Fortunately, you’d have been incredibly productive in that time and no one could ever take that from you. Unfortunately, they’d also be unable to take away the bottle of Jack you’ve been holding in a death grip since month 6. And if you think that’s not a possibility, just remember that Stephen King was also a raging alcoholic for quite a few years of his life and wrote the Shining while coping with the fact it was destroying him.

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“Subtlety”

“But wait,” you’re saying as I put words in your mouth, “NaNoWriMo is all about having fun and writing as much as you can!” And you’re right, fictional voice in my head, it is supposed to be fun. But that’s not because the task is any less strenuous than I’ve pointed out, it’s because they use gamification to reduce the stress. When you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, you’re part of a group and there’s often a small challenge between friends on who can get the most done in a certain period of time. Essentially, you don’t feel pressure doing it because they’ve turned the act of doing it into a race that you can win. Humans like to win, so humans will do crazy things to themselves in order to achieve it.

But then the race ends and you’re left with 50,000 words that aren’t quite what you would feel comfortable trying to get published. Some people are going to love what they had right off the bat and submit it right away, but the rest of us look at it and wonder where the nearest steel barrel is so we can print it and set it ablaze. Now, if you don’t recognize that level of self loathing, you haven’t tried to edit your work yet and I apologize for the spoilers. The rest of you, on the other hand, know that the hardest part of NaNoWriMo isn’t the month of frenzied typing but the months following it where you wonder just whether or not you can use what you put down.

And that’s where the true nature of the question comes into play. I’m not asking if a month is enough to write a novel, the answer is clearly subjective. I’m asking if a month is enough support for the act of writing those novels. It’s clear to me, especially after helping people edit over the years, that what writers need most in the world is someone to give them some support so they don’t get discouraged. Even for these blogs, which are stupid it nature, my heart sinks a little when I see my reader count level off and know the point where people stopped clicking the share buttons at the bottom of the page. Now apply that to a new author who’s giving this whole thing a try and realize that the end of NaNoWriMo is potentially the end of their communal experience that they probably needed.

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So, maybe what we need, as writers, is to try to trend other concepts just as heavily as we trend the NaNoWriMo concept. Maybe it’s time we step up and throw in things like “National Novel Finishing Month” or “National Novel Editing Month”. When would we hold these things and tweet them like crazy? Why, December and January sounds like a plan to me. And as for that relieving the stress thing, we’re going to need to try to gamify and make that whole thing communal too.

National Novel Finishing Month would be easy to do; we just need to make it NaNoWriMo part two. Is your novel planned out to be over 50k? Take the challenge to keep writing in the next month and hit your personal finish line! Finish it before the end of the month and get a pat on the back from the community just like you’d normally get out of the NaNoWriMo crowd. But hey, let’s give you a couple levels of challenge. Is your novel 75,000 words? You’ve got to finish the last 25k in 2 weeks instead of 4. Are you going for 100,000? You’ve got the month. But finish your draft in that time… or else.

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And then, the granddaddy of what we need: National Novel Editing Month. January, after two months to work on the draft, could be the month where we buckle down and get to editing. And how do we make that a communal event? Trading drafts. After every novel I finished, I’ve handed my first drafts to my closest friends to get their input. Now there’s going to be some people out there who say you’ll never get an honest assessment of your draft from a friend, but that’s just the first round. I then suggest that our community (stronger than ever) come together to do some honest assessments for each other. Then, we put in some time editing and at the end of the month we could come out of it with a second draft and a few new friends for the effort.

Clearly this wouldn’t be something everyone would be in for, but it would be something that some up and coming writers need in their lives. I noticed last year that there was a period of time to pitch concepts to agents in December in something of a social media free for all called #pitchmas. But what if we could move that period to January, after people get some time to make that second draft and after people with longer novels have had two months to work it out. What could happen then?  Sure, we’d lose the witty title because it wouldn’t line up with Christmas anymore, but what could we gain?

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Something like this probably exists already, there’s bound to be a niche group somewhere that is trying to carry this out. But we need to do a better job of finding these movements and sharing them to the larger community in the same enthusiastic fashion we do NaNoWriMo. Writers are outcasts and oddballs a lot of the time. There aren’t many of us who have a healthy and thriving support group. There are people out there who need support, who need community…

Because, let’s be honest, a lot of us are (or at least know) someone who has had moments like these. They (we) need helpful people in our lives.

(I write novels. I do also plan to work on a third one this month and will probably finish it on my own. But you know this all sounded like a good idea. Also, no, I’m not sorry for the pun.)

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