So, it’s that time of year again – the run up to November when a huge selection of writers (both unpublished and published) consider the perils of NaNoWriMo; the frenzy to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month. I find it a brilliant tool to try out ideas and concepts that I think could work as a novel, create characters I need to know more about and determine if plot points are vital enough to make a gripping scene.
But, there are three main things I love about NaNoWriMo:
Everyone involved is trying to do the same thing you are and, as a result, there is a shared understanding for all of our circumstances. When you want to rant about your character not behaving or that your plot is now ruined because your protagonist isn’t doing what they ought to, NaNoWrimos won’t say: “Why are you talking about your characters as if they are real people?”; or “They’re YOUR characters, just write them how you want them”. NaNoWrimos will nod their head and offer some advice, or agree with you or add their own idiosyncratics woes that you haven’t yet experienced but will, because we’re all writers there. Given the supposed solitary nature of writing, NaNoWriMo provides you with instant comrades and a shared experience of something that used to be a private slog, behind closed doors and filled with self doubt.
2) Collective Support
Which brings me nicely around to the second thing I love about NaNoWriMo; everyone is on your side. No matter what happens during November (or either side of it) NaNoWriMos are there for one another. This isn’t about who is the better writer or whose story will turn out to be a bestseller; it’s purely a numbers game. Word after word after word, no matter if those words are the ‘right’ ones. So if you’re only 5,463 words in and it’s day ten when you should have over 15,000 there will be people to cheer you on, to tell you that you can still do it and who will believe in you even when you don’t believe in yourself. When, at a different point in the year you might just throw your hands up and admit defeat, in November you have so many comrades who put their faith in you it encourages you to pick yourself back up and give it another try. And that never gets old.
Finally, NaNoWriMo gets to the very core of what drives people and while this isn’t the central rationale behind NaNoWriMo it can still play a big part. Despite all the camaraderie and support there is still a tiny part of us that wants to write a few more words that those NaNoWriMos whom we adore. As I stated before, it’s not about who the better writer is, or even the one with the killer story: it’s a numbers game and everyone has a fair chance of making it to the big fifty-thousand word marker. On days where you would usually just think, ‘eh, I’ll do it tomorrow’ during November you see that someone you know is three hundred words ahead and suddenly you’re writing again, just to creep ahead of them. Competition is a great motivator and I usually get more done in November than I would in the course of two or three other months of the year.
I’ve taken part three years in a row and, as a result, have three draft novels that I’m moderately proud of. NaNoWriMo taught me how to write; it allowed me the freedom to just get the words on the page and the permission to be a terrible writer for a little while so I could work out how to improve. Consequently, I think that my third novel, from NaNoWriMo 2013, is in pretty decent shape for a first draft.
However, my first ever attempt at a novel – That which is left is lost – took me a whole year to actually complete drafting (Nov 2011-Oct 2012) and it was in terrible shape. Having spent time trying to edit this shambolic manuscript and, in the end, rewriting the whole thing, I’ve realised that taking another month off to start a new manuscript (despite having two potential ideas) is just not feasible. If I ever want to have something worthy enough to offer to an agent/publisher I need to work on polishing that which I already have.
So, as October began I hung my head and admitted that I wouldn’t be taking part in NaNoWriMo this year. I had to focus on the editing process. I had to commit myself to that. Needless to say I felt disappointed.
Then I reminded myself what I love about November (see above) and how motivating it can be. Every November for the past three years I have committed myself to achieving something and, three years in a row, I have accomplished it feeling like I could rule the world. That is exactly what I need right now: something to work toward, a goal to aim for and the support network and focus that NaNoWriMo gives me – but not for writing, for editing.
Therefore I AM going to take part in NaNoWriMo this year, but I’m rebelling: I’m pledging to use the 50,000 target to motivate me to edit my manuscript. For 1,667 seconds every day I will sit down and focus on the task at hand: whether that be rewriting a section, sculpting a scene to perfection or working out when a particular piece of information needs to be revealed. I will do NaNoEditMo. Yes, it’s a little like the much more official ‘Now What’ months – and I may use these resources for inspiration and information. But this way I still get to take part in the madness of November and feel like a champion when I cross the finish line.
And isn’t that what NaNoWriMo is all about; Motivation and confidence and tenacity and determination? I need something, a push to get me editing, to help me make mistakes, to give me permission to try…and NaNoWriMo could be it. It helped me learn to write, now I’m going to use it to pursue my need for editing too.