About NaNoWriMo – Three Ways to Thrive, One Sure Way to Suck

Beginning next week, if you hear what sounds like a flock of Hitchcockian birds descending on your neighborhood, that’s just the collective sound of thousands of keyboards on frantic overload. 

Because about 50,000 writers will be pounding away on a new novel, sweating blood to finish within 30 days as part of National Novel Writing Month.

If you’re one of them, good luck with that. 

I feel I should weigh in on this, since the mission of Storyfix is to empower authors to write successful novels and screenplays.  But I’ve been hesitant about it, because in some ways the whole proposition rubs me the wrong way.

You see, I take this novel writing thing very seriously

And that’s the problem… only a fraction of those 50,000 writers do, too.

I say this with love and empathy, by the way.  Not every person who wants to try their hand at a novel is a serious writer.  Nothing wrong with that, a lot of people play golf, too, and never aspire to a tour card.  And it’s likely a fine way to test the literary water, get your feet wet, see what it’s like to play God on the page. 

But if that’s you, then you don’t yet qualify as being serious about it… at least not yet.

It’s like going on a diet – whatever gets you in the game is good.  If there was a National Gut Losing Month out there, I might choose in, too.

But – and this helps make my point – it wouldn’t work.  Not for me, not for anyone truly serious about losing weight and keeping it off.  Because, if you know anything about shedding fat, diets don’t work.  Only a lifestyle-change can produce the results you seek. 

Only getting and staying serious works.  And part of being serious is knowing something about what you’re doing before you begin your program.

Same with writing a novel, in an analogous sort of way. 

There are only two possible camps here. 

In one there are those who just want to have a little fun with NaNoWriMo, experience the process, and hopefully end up with a pile of paper they can use to legitimize their claim that, yes, they’ve written a novel.  Their feet will be wet, and that will be that.

But if, at the end of the 30-days, you plan on stuffing your manuscript into an envelope and sending it to someone in New York – and many of you do – you need a reality check.

The other camp, much smaller, is composed of those who are serious about writing a novel and getting it published, and are using this “official” month as a catalyst to get it going. 

I have no quarrel with the former.   Have a gas.  And to the latter I also say, good luck with this.

Because you can’t really write a publishable novel in 30 days. 

Even the late Michael Crichton, one of the most prolific and successful of our modern novelists, took six to eight weeks of long, isolated days to get it done, and he was a freaking genius.

Credible advice for the serious writers signing up for this experience. 

First, writing a publishable novel is a function of knowledge.  Not the kind you get from having read a box full of novels in the last year, but the insight that comes from studying the craft and getting inside the discipline of it, which is largely invisible to readers. 

It is the rare prodigy that can read a novel and intuitively understand the inherent structure and criteria required to produce something that a professional reader – an agent or editor – will stick with past page 10.  Something that sometimes takes proven professionals years to finally master.

If you’re that prodigy – I’ll say it for the third time here – good luck with that.

If you’re not, then you need to bring a bag of tools to the table.  And you have one week to ramp it up.  It’ll take you more than 30-days, but if you follow this advice at least those 30-day won’t be wasted time.

Many sites are writing about this. 

Both Jennifer at Procrastinating Writers and Suzannah at Writeitsideways are offering a ton of good information, and they’re both credible.  Not so with a few other writing sites.  One so-called guru, who has done NaNoWriMo all of once (and has never published a novel, by the way), is offering to “share (his) secrets on how to be successful during NaNoWriMo.”

This is like Harrison Ford, who flies a small airplane on weekends, offering to “share his secrets of aviation success” to a crowd of graduates trying to enroll at the Air Force Academy to fly F-18s.

This will help.

One approach to ramp up is to cram on all the archived posts here on Storyfix.  There are over 91 articles available here, and about 85 of them are directly relevant, especially my 10-part series on story structure and my 7-part series on characterization.

This can work, too.

Another way to succeed in this endeavor is to go into Day 1 of the process with your story almost completely planned out.   Beware anyone telling you that you can over-plan your story – trust me, if you want to write a draft in 30 days that stands a chance at being anything other than complete chaos, you cannot over-plan.

Even professionals who use their drafts to explore and discover their story – a viable approach, by the way – can’t do so in 30 days, and they need to bring a steep learning curve even to stand a chance.  It just ain’t gonna happen here.

This will work, too.

Another way to succeed is to break the NaNoWriMo month down into two parts:

–         a 10-day planning phase in which you do the aforementioned story planning;

–         and then a 20-day intense drafting phase in which you write 2,500 words per day.  A very doable output, by the way, at least for a serious writer, and especially if you have confidence that the day’s pages are precisely what the story needs at the moment at hand.

Now let me tell you what won’t work.  

If you begin the month with no real idea how your story is going to be built, or worse, how it’s going to end, and if your plan is to feel your way into it by writing 1,667 words per day and seeing what happens next, your manuscript will be a complete mess.

Yeah, I know, sounds harsh.  And it’ll piss a few people off.  But the absolute sure-thing truth is that such an approach will yield a story that will require a massive rewrite.  Because, unless you’re Stephen King (who isn’t entering) or Michael Crichton (who isn’t entering because he’s dead), there’s not a remote chance in hell that your story will have the requisite balance, foreshadowing, structure and nuance it takes to even qualify as a first draft. 

Cynics might respond by saying that any draft will require a rewrite.  And they’re correct, which is why the whole NaNoWriMo proposition makes we queasy.  If they called it National First Draft Writing Month it would go down better. 

As is, the implication is that you can spend the month in a manner that will take you further down the writing road.  And you can, but only if you bring an understanding of story architecture and criteria to the party. 

You won’t learn it by writing, and more than you can learn surgery by just trying it, or by watching Grey’s Anatomy.  You must learn story architecture before you can write something good enough to submit.

Beware of Poseurs

Be careful who you listen to on this front.  Listen to Jennifer, listen to Suzannah, listen to me.  Don’t listen to self-proclaimed gurus who are taking time out from their busy blogging celebrity to irresponsibly grace you with self-anointed wisdom in an arena they know nothing about.

Or, just have fun with it.  Who knows, you might discover a talent you didn’t know what there, or at least, understand why something that looks so easy from the reader-side of the proposition, isn’t.



Filed under Guest Bloggers, Six Core Competencies

41 Responses to About NaNoWriMo – Three Ways to Thrive, One Sure Way to Suck

  1. Chris

    Couldn’t agree more.

    I’ve done NaNoWriMo the last 2 years, and however fun & exhilarating it can be, the result has been 2 very unpublishable novels.

    I came by StoryFix just as your Story Structure series was coming out – it rang very true for me, and now entering NaNoWriMo for the 3rd time, I’m outlining the story already (you ARE allowed to do that before November, just no prose) and God forbid, I even know how the story will end before I’ve written a word! It’s my first experience at doing so, and far from making the actual writing seem like a tedious afterthought, it’s juiced me to get this story written!

    And whatever you do, run from anyone who tells you that the secret to winning NaNoWriMo is to give all your characters really long names and titles which you repeat in full every time the character is present … if you’re at all serious about writing a novel (as opposed to just writing 50,000 words) that’s just not helpful!

  2. Shirls

    Larry I think you’ve just rescued me from a month of wasted effort. I’ve given Nano a go for three or four years and never could bear to look at what I’d written because I knew it was bad. So armed with Story Structure I set out to design my next attempt. Hey, it’s not so simple after all! But I am learning and I’m simply going to get this solid foundation done before I even think of starting to write. Which I can see will NOT be on November 1.

  3. But if, at the end of the 30-days, you plan on stuffing your manuscript into an envelope and sending it to someone in New York – and many of you do – you need a reality check.

    Are there actually people that think they can do this? I mean I took my NaNo from a few years ago and have built on it and it’s now long enough for me to go back and take the long knives to and that’s been a process of two years (that still isn’t done).

    I plan on doing NaNo again this year though I use it to give me an incentive to bang out something long enough to play with and not to produce a finished product. I’ll still be working on it throughout next year. It will be publiushable eventually. And I do spend time planning and outlining.

  4. Great reality check, Larry. I’d love to hear why some people enter NaNoWriMo. Maybe it helps people to create a starting point for a real novel. Note I said “starting” — not even halfway. Many writers have started a book with a draft that looks nothing like the finished product. Maybe NaNoWriMo can be that first draft.

    But it doesn’t surprise me if some folks think it’ll lead to submissions and finding an agent (unless they’ve worked on the project long after NaNoWriMo ends).

  5. Patrick Sullivan

    Yeah I’ve tried without ANY planning (first 3 attempts) and with decent amount of planning (last year). Ended up with 52k words last year. At some point I want to go back and see if it’s salvageable but have not taken the time yet.

    Meanwhile this year I’ve been thinking about this idea for months trying to get it to click, and I think I’m close. I’m also trying out the notecard method for laying out scenes from Screenplay, and the whole idea as a way to build your story structure is pretty fascinating, and forces you to think about everything else. To anyone who hasn’t tried it, the method is certainly at least interesting and worth a try once to see if it fits your mental model.

  6. Patrick Sullivan

    Meryl: yeah there’s almost no way anyone who’s been published from work started during NaNo published exactly what was done on Nov 30. If nothing else you’d need to do serious editing, but then, how many authors don’t need to at least go back and strip out excess words?

    At most NaNo lets you generate either the rough draft or the beginning of a rough draft. IMO anyone who treats it as something more than that is either amazing or crazy 😉

  7. Mary E. Ulrich

    Great post about “November insanity month for writers”–liked the diet analogy. Is there a spot to send this to Twitter or Digg?

    Couple friends are entering, I’m just holding their hands-er, cocktails.

    About that “National Gut losing month”????? Isn’t that another name for January and resolutions?

  8. I am mostly there to cheer my friends on and encourage and get them involved in word wars when they need it. I have only written one novelette in the years I have been participating and that was in 2007. My problem is that I was still writing after the end of November because I had so much going on in November with work, kids, and other things that I didn’t really have as much time to dedicate to writing. I did end up with about 56,000 words two weeks into December but that was okay with me. I write short stories and don’t ever see myself writing novels. Even my children’s series that is now being published are nothing more than short stories and my 56,000 word novelette will be edited and revised one day and hopefully published. I will be participating again this year and writing along with writing some of my state stories and working and doing book festivals this go around, but I will be setting a smaller goal than 50,000 words since I will be working with the class in Utah that I’ve been doing virtual class visits with in the Young Writers’ Program. We will all set goals and try to achieve them.

    I have a hard time outlining my stories since they are usually short and not worthy of an outline. I have a picture, a caption for the picture and an idea of what my story is about and maybe even a few characters but until I start writing, I won’t know where the story takes me other than into the fog – lol (literally, the picture is one of Harris Burdick’s called “Captain Tory” and it is about a schooner appearing out of nowhere from the fog).

    I think the biggest reason for participating in NaNo is the challenge of writing those words over a short period of time. All my writer friends know that they can’t even come close to finishing a complete novel in the 30 days and most of them strive to hit 75,000 or more words in the 30 days. They all know they have a base for a novel at the end of 30 days. A good many will write until the story is finished and then partciipate in NaNoEdMo in March. This gives them the needed step away time from the novel before they start editing. But editing for 50 hours in 31 days is a lot tougher than it sounds. I’ve only know one or two people who have really stuck with it and edited a complete (90,000 or whatever they ended up) novel in that time frame.

    If you are participating and need a cheerleader, then you can always look me up – I’m elysabeth42 – and I’ll do wars (usually I am working but will challenge myself to complete so many tasks during the time set as the person writes so many words). So it’s all about setting goals and striving to achieve them, not necessarily finishing a novel or better yet, first draft – E 🙂

    Elysabeth Eldering
    Author of the Junior Geography Detective Squad (JGDS), 50-state, mystery, trivia series

    STATE OF WILDERNESS, Book 1 of 50 now available.
    STATE OF QUARRIES, book 2 of 50 now available
    STATE OF RESERVATIONS, book 3 of 50 coming 2009
    STATE OF ALTITUDE, book 4 of 50 coming 2010


    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/jgdsseries/ (series newsletter forum)

  9. Ruth

    This is my first year doing NaNoWriMo. I waited until 1) I had a plot in mind and 2) I actually will have time to do it. No big literary aspirations, but we’ll see how it goes.

    I’ve been working on plotting it out, I’ve got a basic outline, chapter structure, and am working on creating a better architecture. Your posts have been helpful for that.

    From my experience, most people in it are in it for fun and for doing it (or maybe that’s just my friends) rather than for publishing it. As someone who’s rather serious about quilting and creating websites, I think it’s like the people who decide to make one quilt because their grandmother quilted or the people who want to build a website to see if they could do it. There are a lot of those people out there–many will get frustrated and give up along the way, some will make it through and move on to something they’re more interested in, and a few will say “wow, I want to get better at this!”

    I’m doing plenty of prep, because I figure that even if this is a one-time hurrah, I should put the effort in to doing the best I can with it. 🙂

  10. Ruth

    Whoops, wanted to add @Patrick,

    “At most NaNo lets you generate either the rough draft or the beginning of a rough draft. IMO anyone who treats it as something more than that is either amazing or crazy”

    exactly. 🙂 I took some time last summer to read the book written by the guy who founded it and he was very clear about that. I’ll do my best to make it a good rough draft, but however unsucky what I turn out on Nov 30th will be, I don’t expect it to be anywhere near publishable!

  11. I already blog, so I’m used to the habit of writing something every day. However, what I’m not used to is writing novel content every day. I keep putting it off. Although I have no allusions that my nanomo…whatever you call it, book will be a masterpiece, I am going to use the time to #1 create a better writing habit so I can write that book I’ve been after, and #2 finally tackle the goal instead of waiting for the right time. Truth is, there’s never enough time unless you make the time.

    I see your points though…your opinion of novices reminds me of mine towards triathletes that “just want to have fun.”

  12. Thanks so much for the credibility shout-out, Larry! I really appreciate that you think so highly of me and my blog. 🙂

    I have to say I totally agree with you on this one–NaNoWriMo is definitely NOT the place to write a masterpiece. It’s definitely NOT the place for writers who want to publish their novel at some point.

    But what’s great about NaNoWriMo (and how it ties into my blog, Procrastinating Writers), is that it’s a challenge to get procrastinating writers to finally sit down and write something! And in this way, I think NaNoWriMo is a HUGE success.

    But yes, writers definitely need to know that they can’t just write their first draft during NaNoWriMo, fix up spelling and typos and send it off to a publisher. Not if they’re serious.

    I’m using NaNoWriMo this year to write the first draft of my second novel, which I’ve been putting off for most of this year. But I’ve also been planning it for most of this year, so I think I have a good jumping-off point to get it written.

  13. I don’t think it’d be cheating to do the planning before the start of NaNoWriMo.

  14. Most of what I’ve read about NaNoWriMo says not to expect anything anywhere near a submittable manuscript. That this is strictly to be a means for getting words on “paper” – strictly a rough draft. I think many people choose to ignore those statements, but they are there.

    It was initially set up to be fun, a bit of a lark, more than anything serious, but it has become a serious endeavor for many people. I think it is geared more to the organic writer who expects to work through more than one draft, with the material produced during NaNo being seen as nothing more than a really rough 1st draft.

    I do see where approaching it with your system/method would help to produce a much better preliminary draft.

    As long as a person goes into it as a way to make themselves sit down and get the story out onto their word processor (or paper) knowing this is not a finished manuscript, then it has served it’s purpose.

    I’ve signed up for the first time this year. I have several friends who have done NaNo in the past to make themselves finish a fanfiction story they’ve been puttering around with. I never bothered with it for that but I’m wanting to get my rear in gear to write a mystery book, so I’m taking the plunge to see how it goes. If I’m not happy with what I end up with as a first draft, then I won’t do it again.

    I have kept trying to do things your way around, but every time I sit down to do an outline, any ideas I had in my head for my story fly away and I end up sitting there staring at the blank word processor screen. Someone suggested (in their blog) using a program called “Inspiration” with which you do a bubble diagram. I found this to be surprisingly helpful for brainstorming and a perk is that you can change the view and see your diagram done as an outline. Using “Inspiration” has really helped me with the mystery story I’m wanting to write.


  15. This is my first year with NaNo. I don’t get much time with fiction due to non-fiction writing. This is why I’ve signed up, to force myself to spend free minutes working on fiction.

    I don’t have a plan, but I really liked your idea of taking the first few days for planning. I think I’ll follow your advice on that.

    I have five novel ideas–some I’ve had for awhile, some are new. I’m not real sure which one I want to use yet. I think it’s going to be the newest idea, since it’s still fresh in my head.

    NaNo, for me, is getting my butt back to writing fiction on a daily basis–even if it’s just a line or two here and there. I know many people who can make the transition (mentally) from fiction to non-fiction, but I’m not one of them.

    If I start the day with fiction, that’s all I can think about, and vice versa with non-fiction. So, I hope NaNo will help me in that aspect because I will be forcing myself to change gears during the day.

    Thanks for this great insight. You made a lot of good points that I’d never considered.

  16. Larry,

    Good post.

    I plan on experimenting with National Novel Writing Month (dare I say Novel FIRST DRAFT Writing Month) for the first time this year.

    My experience earlier this year bears out your conclusions to some extent.

    I decided in June to finish something in 50,000 words just to see if I could produce that amount in 30 days. I did. Very encouraging!

    I am now in the rewrite stage.

    I don’t know the value of NaNoWriMo to me or if it will have any value.

    What I do know is that it’s easier for me to edit and rewrite something that exists than it can be to come up with something in the first place. For someone who commonly goes through six, seven, eight or more rewrites, just getting something on paper is a huge boon! If 30 days of concentrated effort will help accomplish that, then so be it.

    Before this thing gets started, I plan on looking at your story structure series, since I have planned myself into oblivion on every idea that looked “hot” for a day or two.

    Thanks for the comments.

    Best wishes,
    Carrie L. Lewis

  17. Hmmm… what to say, what to say. First I thank you for all you have said here because I feel so much better! I can never just type a bunch of words. My brain doesn’t work that way.

    I have to analyze and know where I’m going! Consequently, I have never gotten even close to the 50,000 mark. Yes, I did try. I can’t fly blind, sorry. No, not sorry.

    BUT, in defense of NaNoWri Mo, it has given me focus long enough to come up with an idea that I’ve been coddling for over a year, maybe two, and one that I am hoping to finally put in order.

    Your advice about the planning stages etc. is wonderful! OMG! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I know, there’s so much more to go! But, at least I have a catalyst to keep my procrastinating a** moving! 🙂 And now I feel better about not quite hitting the mark — well, not in word count anyway!

  18. Thanks for referring your lovely readers to my site!

    As you know, I feel pretty much the same way as you about the whole thing. If you go into it believing you’re coming out with an actual novel, you’re deluding yourself. But I do think it’s a good exercise in productivity for people just starting out, or for those who have realistic expectations of what they can produce in a month.

    Excellent advice, Larry. Thank you.

  19. rae

    Why are people leaving the planning until November? You can plan before then, you just aren’t allowed to start writing the manuscript until then.

    I’ve done nano a few times, I’m well aware that it’s nothing more than a first draft. There are some people who think they can get a publishable novel out of it and there are some shifty people out there who will publish it. Don’t believe me? Check out the bewares and background checks forum of absolute write for tales of writer woe.

  20. Larry, and all the others,
    This will be my first time, too, and I was amazed that I had already planned it the way you mentioned, with the exception that I was going to plot before Nov 1. Now I think I’ll use the first 5 days. I figured 50k words wasn’t a whole novel anyway, but my guess is National First Draft Writing Month, or NaFirDWriMo, didn’t sound as cool.
    Also appreciate the links to Jennifer and Suzannah, I found great stuff there and linked to there.

    I also thought it might be motivation to my writing group to get off their duffs!

  21. Monica

    I will also be doing Nanowrimo for the first time this year. I’ve encountered a lot of people at the site doing it for the fun of it, but I am doing it with serious intent – to produce the beginnings of a first draft, that is (since a novel will be longer than 50k).
    For that reason, I started outlining and planning in early October. I only came across your site about a week ago, unfortunately. But I can’t tell you how much your Story Structure series helped my story!
    I’m now pumped to start the actual writing, and while I still have moments of ‘what-have-I-gotten-myself-into,’ I feel pretty prepared for sitting my keister down and writing.
    In the end, I think this is a motivational tool for many people, to change their writing habits, to push them through a block or bout of procrastination. For me, it feels highly motivational and should keep me going through the month. At the end, I’ll probably have to keep going to finish the draft through to the end, but then I will have a first draft, and that will be something that might have taken me months to do without the push of Nanowrimo.

  22. Hi Larry,
    I’ve read a few posts about this, and I suspect one of them was the one you referred to, a simple wee piece telling me how to do write a novel in 30 days. I smiled.

    I wondered, amidst the flurry of excitement about NaNoWriMo, why I wasn’t remotely interested in diving in, even though you’ve kindled a desire in me to consider writing fiction again.The process seems to generate a great community atmosphere, but even that hasn’t enticed me.

    Your post echoes what I came up with. I simply felt it wasn’t enough time for me to write a good draft, far less a novel.

    You know I write every day, but I have no illusions about my skills so I’m enjoying learning as well as practising.

    By the way, I hope your new ebook’s out soon. It’s my Christmas pressie to myself!

  23. I wonder if agents are bracing themselves for a potential glut of NaNo manuscripts in December & January. It seems that manuscripts that have been worked on to perfection for years and are submitted around this time may get lost amidst a glut of NaNo manuscripts in agents’ inboxes.

  24. Thank you! I thought I must be a total loser since it took me 6-8 weeks to do a first draft of a novel. I didn’t sign up for NaNoWriMo because I’m too busy editing and promoting the two books I have finished. (Not counting the first six practice novels that stunk.) A person’s first novel normally isn’t that good, but one written in 4 weeks? Getting people to write short stories might be more realistic.

  25. Okay, NaNoWrMo will not leave any serious writer with a completed novel – true. However, I’ve outlined my next project based on StoryFix. And by outlined I mean o u t l i n e d… And I just moved back to Denver and am need of Writer Amigos and Writer Amigas so I’m doing it!

  26. As one that only heard about NaNo a few weeks ago, I most definitely have no expectations other than to force myself to finally sit down and see what becomes of a month of typing. If I can stay focused enough to reach the deadline with 50K words of semi ledgible storyline on ‘paper’, then I will be more than satisfied.

    The main reason I have never actually sat down and written anything previously, besides being the king of procrastination is the fact that in my mind, to create a truly publishable Novel would take much more time (and knowledge) than I currently have available.

    No delusions here, just want to accomplish a long time goal.

  27. Patrick Sullivan

    @Lake: Hah a fellow denverite on here, haven’t noticed you on the Denver NaNo forums but I’m probably just blind 😉

    Need to finish my scene cards but haven’t gotten around to it yet, not a good sign.

  28. Yup, you’re right. You’re not going to have a publishable novel in a month. I’d be very surprised if there are many people who expect to. But NaNoWriMo is a wonderful chance to have some fun, experiment, solidify the ‘habit’ of writing, and hopefully create a rough draft that you might be able to polish up and publish one day.

    You are allowed to do as much research and planning as you want ahead of time. This will be my second year doing NaNo. The first year I had a rough outline, but this year I’m planning things out in a bit more detail.

    Your posts on story structure have come in very handy – Thanks. I only found the blog recently and I’ve been running my NaNo idea through the structure to see where I’ll need to modify things a bit.

  29. Ellis Silver

    If you’re entering NaNoWriMo you really must get The Fastest Way to Write Your Book from the ideas4writers website – it’s not too late as they do an e-book version you can download. 50,000 words is nowhere near long enough for a commercially viable novel, but by using The Fastest Way I was able to produce over 90,000 words during each of the last 3 NaNoWriMos. I’ll definitely be entering again this year. I’ve just spent the last few days re-reading The Fastest Way to prepare myself. I’m itching to get started now! Counting down the hours!

  30. Dixiegirl

    Well, official count as of today is 100,000 entrants.

    I don’t know of anywhere on the site they say you will have a “publishable novel” at the end of 30 days.

    I’ve done it three times, exceeded the word count twice, and expect if I want them published, I’ll have to work a whole lot on both the successes. But the stories I wrote are good stories. The rest is up to me.

    It isn’t nationwide. It is international so how many will succeed we will never really know.

    We do know that numerous participants have gone on to published NaNo novels. That is encouraging. Well, I see it as encouraging. But then, I thought it was all in fun.

  31. m miniatt

    I agree you cannot write a novel in 30 days and expect that copy to get published. What you get is a good rough draft.

    NaNoWriMo proved to me that I could finish a story line. Since doing my first I have the rough drafts done. I went one step further and am taking a class on how to edit. Sorry nothing on the internet really teaches you how to edit, you have to learn from a pro, one on one. So now I work on getting the stories published.

    Its a good beginning, but only a beginning.

  32. Larry is right. As a one time NanoWriMo winner (And one time “loser”) I can tell you that going into the month even having spent 3 or 4 hours outlining the bones of your story is going to make the difference between a pile of goop on December 1st, and a pile of goop that might eventually amount to something. Either way, you’re not finishing the month with a publishable novel (if it helps you to get through it to think so, then by all means fool yourself) so be ready for weeks/months of editing, polishing, and possibly (only possibly) eventually realizing that while you had a fantastic time, and a great achievement, what you have just succeeded at is very quickly getting one of your bad novels out of your skin.

    Remember, a scene that doesn’t do the following (and a novel that doesn’t either) is probably not going to hold the interest of anyone who’s not in the book:

    Action to overcome obstacle
    Results of overcoming or not overcoming

    Show us the world you imagine, introduce us to your characters, make them real (we only will care about the next step if we love or hate them), throw them into a world of shit, make them figure their way out, and surprise us with how things turn out – how the world you’ve created is different now that we’ve let you tell us this story.

    Good luck!

  33. To everyone who commented here… just want to wish you luck and great success with your Novel Writing Month. We’ve heard you comment to my post with two consistent themes — those of you who assure me there are no illusions of greatness and that NaNoWriMo is a worthwhile catalyst, exercise and learning experience, and those who echo my caution that unless you plan your story carefully you’re likely to end up with (as Jerry just suggested) a “pile of goop.”

    My intention was always to get your attention and perhaps alter your perspective so that this experience moves you toward a goal that is something more than merely having fun. Maybe it’s me, but working that hard on something and ending up with a pile of goop isn’t much fun, but coming out the other end with a pile of potential and a steepened learning curve… now that’s a good time.

    I wish you all well in this month of storytelling bliss. May you feel the powers of story architecture infuse your story with structure and art, and may you end the month with 50K words or more that make you lose sleep because you can’t wait to polish it into something that becomes the fruition of your writing dream.

    If you get stuck, I invite you to return here and consult the posts on structure and character. And, to find a buddy and talk it out, that’s often a quick fix.

    If nothing else, you’ll discover how damn hard this can be. The more you know about story architecture, the harder it is to kid yourself about what’s working and what isn’t. But if you do know this stuff, even a little, you’re gonna be shocked and delighted at how close you’ll get to the target come November 30.

    It begins today. Play hard, it’s the only way to win. Good luck to all!

  34. Pingback: Links: Halloween 2009 Edition | Meryl.net

  35. Patrick Sullivan

    I’d just like to say that, while I didn’t spend enough time on all the details of the story structure (all the main points plus some extra scenes) it’s still made things a ton easier then I had in years past.

    I’ve already hit 5499 words and only really put 3 or maybe 4 hours of keyboard time in actually pounding away at word count. And knowing where the story is going to atm (aka Plot point 1) and what that sets up has helped me in other ways like how I write the characters a ton.

    <3 all the content and advice on this site and your ebooks that have made this easier.

  36. Pingback: A Long, Drawn-Out Story | Love What You Write, Write What You Love

  37. Pingback: Must-Read Writing Articles for NaNoWriMo

  38. A good novel obviously takes more than 30 days, i am not a writer, although I want to be one.. but I spend my hard earned money buying books and I’ve had my share of reading procrastination-laden, deadline-pressured words..

    I appreciate the really useful wake up call, and also gives me hope in someday reading the beautiful things writers can come up when and if they are not inhibited by such things as procrastination and deadlines..

  39. I’m not sure how this post is really a ‘wake-up call’, since this is my first time participating in NaNoWriMo and I’d figured out within two minutes of visiting the site that writing a publishable novel in 30 days was NOT the aim of the month.

    However, I guess there are some very delusional people out there.

    I’m not sure why you’d use the term ‘National First Draft Writing Month’, either. If you’re going to use this definition, it means that no one has written a novel – ever. No one has ever sat down and written out The Novel on the first try, word-perfect, with no need for editing or re-drafting. So while we’re at it, we may as well get rid of the term ‘novelist’ too, and replace it with something like ‘draftist’, or ‘revisionist’.

    I think the point that I’m trying to make is that a novel doesn’t have to be publishable to be referred to as ‘A Novel’. There’s not some magical line that’s crossed between ‘50,000 words of goop’ and ‘novel’; I don’t believe it’s as clear cut as that, though obviously there is a difference.

    I suppose my hackles were raised a bit at your proclamation that “There are only two possible camps here.” Um, no, not necessarily. I’m a Serious Writer (TM), and yet I’m doing NaNoWriMo for fun. I’m sure I’m not the only person in this third camp, either. There can be a whole lot more to NaNoWriMo than the two approaches you’ve listed here.

    Despite these quibbles, I whole-heartedly agree that you can’t write a publishable novel in 30 days (though I doubt that anyone who seriously believed that was possible is ever going to be disuaded from the idea).

  40. @Jennifer – thanks for commenting, and I appreciate your position. Don’t agree with some of what you said, but that’s what makes the world go around, right? Also visited your website… very nice.

    I do think that you misunderstand the term “first draft.” Every novel, every book, has a first draft. Doesn’t matter if the writer is new or if the writer is John Grisham or Edgar Allen Poe, the first cut at the manuscript, ANY manuscript, is a first draft. When you begin your first novel, your first attempt at it will be a first draft. When you write your second novel, your first cut at that one will also be a first draft. Same with subsequent new projects… they’ll all have a first draft.

    It’s not a writer’s first-ever attempt to write a novel, as you imply, it’s a writer’s first-pass at ANY given project.

    Given that, NaN0WriMo is indeed a “first draft writing contest” (not really a contest at all, you’re only competing with yourself). Every time. Unless you somehow manage to finish it and then write the second draft of that project within the 30 days. But nobody does that.

    My point was that first drafts rarely sell. So if the writer’s intention is to write a book that may one day stand a chance at being published, then the month is a productive way to generate a first draft. That first draft is the very best outcome of NaNoWriMo. You really can’t expect more than that from it.

    It’s all good if it gets you writing. It’s not if one is kidding themselves about the process. Every completed draft is a good thing, something the writer can treasure. Even if it doesn’t ever get published. Still worthwhile. I wrote six novels before I published one. And I love ’em all. Because they took me forward.

    My objective is to help writers get published. If you believe you read that I’m somehow diminishing work that doesn’t… not my intention. It’s all a process, a stepping stone to moving forward. Whatever that means to you.

  41. I’m a bit late to catch the bus but I wanted to say my bit. I love nanowrimo for two reasons. (completed 3 times 2003, 2006 & 2009 and planning for 2011)

    The first is that as a would be writer I spent years writing my first unpublishable manuscript, yet in nanowrimo I succeeded in doing the same in just 30 days. At the end I knew I could write 50,000 words in a short time whereas before I looked at the blank page and considered years as the time needed to write a novel length work (I know 50,000 words is a bit short for a novel). This ‘success’ completely changed my attitude to writing. I could write lots of words in a short time; a mental barrier had been broken through. Now all I had to do was learn to write well.

    So I’ve read books, done classes and got an MA in Creative and Critical Writing.

    The second reason is I firmly believe in two sayings when I write. ‘There is no such thing as good writing, only good editing.’ And ‘You can’t edit a blank page.’ Nanowrimo gives me 50,000 words to edit. They might be rubbish words and they might be in the wrong order, but they are a lot easier to work on than a blank page.

    Now I plan nanowrimo. This year I have my ‘concept’, ‘character’, ‘theme’ and ‘structure’ in mind. And I am looking at ‘scenes’. They all need work but come November 1 I’ll be joining the other birds and writing something that will use next year. I don’t need nanowrimo to write just as tens of thousands don’t need the New York Marathon to run (Your book Story Engineering tells me you love analogies Larry) but it’s fun and like running it’s more fun if you prepare properly.

    I love Story Engineering by the way. A few too many analogies at the beginning for me; I’ve bought the book I don’t need to be sold the idea that many times before I get to it. But it’s excellent and well worth multiple reads – ranks alongside Story by Robert McKee and The Writers’ Journey by Christopher Vogler on my shelf.