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How Times Have Changed!

NanowrimoTen years ago, when I did NaNoWriMo for the first time, hardly anybody had secured a big-six publishing contract for a Nanowrimo novel. Traditional publishers, agents, and traditionally published writers were scornful of Nanowrimo and the people who participated in it. They belittled the writing, disparaged the idea that anything worth reading could come from so unusual a process, and bemoaned the flood of terrible manuscripts that hit agents’ and publishers’ inboxes beginning on December first. Real writers, they implied (or stated outright), didn’t work that way.

The founders of Nanowrimo shrugged and carried on. The writers of Nanowrimo shrugged and carried on, and told their friends. Nanowrimo continued to grow, almost exponentially. In 2013 more than 300,000 authors participated, and they were anticipating another record-breaking year on the site in 2014 — possibly as many as half a million writers.

In 2014, the “don’t get it right, get it written” Nanowrimo ethos echoes around the world, and what was once seen as a crazy process has been proven to align with that essential that every writing instructor, agent, editor, and writer knows to be true: writing is all well and good, but you must finish what you write. Almost anyone can write the first five chapters of a novel; it’s writing the whole story that takes the dedication, the commitment, the hard hard work.

In 2014, “Nanowrimo” no longer needs to be explained in writerly circles. Its mention at writers’ conferences earns nods of understanding and unity, rather than snobbery and condescension. The number of authors who have published a first novel that happened to be a Nanowrimo novel has grown by leaps and bounds. And more and more well-known authors, like Chuck Wendig and John Scalzi (to cite from my blog reader this morning) are blogging about it, and being featured on the Nanowrimo site during the build-up and the month itself.

Nanowrimo has become a force to be reckoned with. Scorn it at your peril. I think even the dinosaurs of ten years ago have realized this, or perhaps they simply realized that the only person who loses by snobbery is the snob.

I am not doing Nanowrimo this year, because I’m not ready and I’m not about to waste time and words on something I haven’t thought out and planned, because pantsing doesn’t so much work for me, I’ve found. But when the time comes to write this book, I’ll attack it the same way: write a first draft of questionable quality in a month. I might pick a 31-day month for that.

If you are doing Nanowrimo, good luck! Have a blast. Send that inner editor someplace sunny and warm for the month of November, and just have fun writing crap. Make generous use of annotations like (***his hair has always been blond***) and (***look up some stuff about slow-acting poisons***) rather than lose momentum by going back to fix, or risk falling down a research rabbit hole. Use these annotations to summarize scenes you haven’t yet written, but that you know need to be fleshed out in the revision process (this may be especially helpful as you near the end of the month, and need to write the end). Let your characters have outrageous, rude conversations with and about each other. Remember that contractions and hyphenations are the enemy of word count; “won’t” is one word, but “will not” is two, and “mother-in-law” counts as one (in MS Word) but “mother in law” is three. And if you find yourself not knowing where to start every day, finish the day’s writing in the middle of a scene, or the middle of a sentence. Let the character pull out that gun and fire a shot, and then stop writing. That way, when you come back the next day, you have a place to start.

Most of all, enjoy yourself. Writing can’t always be fun, but Nanowrimo is one time when it should be.

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