Wednesday 26 November 2014

November Madness

By Jeanette O’Hagan

Eight thousand words. That’s how many I have left to write between now and Sunday if I want to complete NaNoWriMo this year.  

Some of you will know what I’m talking about while others are still scratching your heads. NaNoWriMo (or NaNo for short) stands for NationalNovel Writing Month. It started in the USA in 1999 by a bunch of writers and grew from there. They are a not-for-profit organisation with the following mission statement:

National Novel Writing Month organizes events where children and adults find the inspiration, encouragement, and structure they need to achieve their creative potential. Our programs are web-enabled challenges with vibrant real-world components, designed to foster self-expression while building community on local and global levels.

The goal is to write a novel (or more accurately 50,000 words) in a month. Those that complete this task are ‘winners’ and are awarded logos (see above), a warm glow and 50,000 words on their latest fiction project. And over the years and across the world, hundreds of thousands have done just that.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that NaNo has attracted a host of critics. When I announced I was doing NaNo again last year, one of my FB followers was quick tell me that I was wasting my time and that real authors didn't bother with such gimmicks (or words to that effect). Having completed NaNo the previous year and loved it, I didn't take any notice and ended up completing a good sized chuck of my third manuscript.

Here are some of the reasons some writers don’t like NaNo: 
  • It encourages the idea that just about anyone can write a novel
  • It encourages people with little knowledge of the craft to scribble out rubbish during NaNo, whack the resulting half-baked mess up on CreateSpace and think they are authors.
  • Writing fast without editing ends up producing rubbish.
  • It didn't work for them (fair enough)
  • It was too stressful.
  • It’s in the wrong month – in the run up to Christmas, the end of school year (Australia) or Thanksgiving (USA).

Some of these arguments border on the elitist. Some of them are valid. NaNo for instance now encourages its writers to make December the month of the edit, and discusses the next steps budding authors can take, including the need for editorial services etc.

NaNo isn't necessarily for everyone. But that doesn't mean it can’t be of great value to a great many other people – including me J and other writing friends I know.

This is my fourth attempt at NaNo (if you count the NaNo Camp which runs in July and allows authors to set their own word goals). I did actually consider not joining NaNo this year as I knew I had a couple of conferences, study commitments, house renovations, a short story anthology submission and guest posts (including this one), and the need to do re-edits on previous WIPs/manuscripts this particular November. I even considered becoming a NaNo rebel and doing edits instead of staring on the next book in the fantasy series I’m writing. But in the end, I couldn't resist starting on the next manuscript.

I had a very slow start for the above mentioned reasons – a craft camp on the first weekend in November, a 5000 word post-grad assignment due on November 10 and the chaos of no kitchen and laundry (now for over a month). But once I settled in during the second week, I began to hit my stride and I rediscovered the joy of writing a new novel, seeing the scenes and characters unfold. 

Now, with five days to go, the finish line is in sight. All things being equal, I should manage 50,000 words by Sunday – but even if I don’t, I still have 40,000 half decent words that I can whip into shape come December, stimulated a number of plot ideas and have another first draft close to finishing. Other NaNo writer friends have had life happen in a big way this November and have achieved much smaller word counts – but they are still winners - for each word written counts towards our overall goals.

NaNo really gives me a boost. I find that I work well with a deadline. I don’t have time to indulge my excuses for why I’m not writing or fudge around with procrastinating on FaceBook (much). The NaNo website has a handy stats page that keeps track of where I’m up to (see above). I need to keep up the momentum because falling too far behind means it’s hard to catch up and because I’m writing significant chunks most days, I get into a writing rhythm. I find I’m more creative and I find the writing more enjoyable.

So maybe NaNoWriMo would work for you. And maybe it wouldn't. We are all different.
But if you do decide to do NaNo (or something similar eg QWC The Rabbit Hole) here are my tips for survival:

  • Unless you are an extreme panster, being prepared helps – either have an outline or some idea of what you want to write before November 1st (or July 1st) clicks around.
  • Don’t forget to sign up :)
  • Team up with some buddies and encourage each other.
  • Read the updates, pep talks or join in on events in your local area (like camps, write-ins) or don’t – depending on what helps you.
  • Don’t aim for perfection in your first draft. Stephen King suggests writing the first draft with the ‘door shut’ and subsequent drafts with ‘the door open.’ (On Writing 2000) We can give our creative selves freer rein if we give the inner editor or critic a short holiday. This year, when I've come across a scene or chapter or research point I’m not yet sure about, I've made notes and continued writing. I will come back to these points but in the meantime I’m painting the broad strokes on my canvas, building my characters and getting momentum with my plot.
  • Don’t listen to the critics who say it’s a waste of time or that you can’t do it. If you want to do it, give it a go.
  • And remember, while getting 50,000 words of your (next) novel written is a wonderful thing – it’s not the most important thing in the world. Be open to what God brings your way as life happens around you – and remember to talk to your family.

And while NaNo is almost over, perhaps some of these tips are still relevant to the ongoing disciplines of the writing journey.

What about you? Are you a NaNo sceptic or are you a convert? Have you any NaNo stories or tips to share?

And now, if you’ll excuse me – I've got some more words on my WIP (work-in-progress) to write….

Jeanette has practiced medicine, studied communication, history and theology and has taught theology.  She is currently caring for her children, enjoying post-graduate studies in writing at Swinburne University and writing her Akrad's fantasy fiction series.  You can read some of her short fiction here. She is about to have a short story published as part of the Tied in Pink anthology next month (profits from the anthology go towards Breast Cancer research) . 

She is actively involved in a caring Christian community. 

You can find her at her Facebook Page or webistes or Jeanette O'Hagan Writes .


  1. I've never done NaNo, but I like the positive attitude: everyone who completes the 50,000 words is a winner. Finishing the first draft of a novel might only be the first step on a long road, but it's an achievement and worth celebrating. Many people say they want to write a novel, but never even manage that first draft.

    Congratulations, Jeanette, and all other past, present and future NaNo winners.

    1. Thanks Iola. I agree that completing the first draft is a huge step even if its really just the first one in a long, arduous journey, and one that many aspiring writers never achieve. NaNo is a great inspiration for doing that for many aspiring writers :)

  2. I'm amazed at what you have been able to achieve and do and survive this month, Jeanette! Well done to you, whether you reach that 50,000 word mark or not. But you will!

  3. Jeanette - I'm in awe of what you've achieved in November. Incredible and congratulations.

    I hope you're able to relax a little in December.

    1. Thanks Ian. It should be a little less pressured. Just hoping we get a functional kitchen before Christmas :)

  4. Congratulations Jenny. It's amazing what you've been able to do this month, especially considering everything else you had on. I had hoped to join in this year, but the nature of my current WIP means a lot of research and I wasn't organised enough to be able to write it this month. Please nag me during next year so that I'll have something to work on during NaNo. And I guess I don't have to ask you what you'll be working on during the retreat this weekend :)

    1. Hi Nola

      Thanks :)

      I could imagine with a strongly historical work that doing a lot of the research beforehand would help :) How planning for the July NaNo Camp :) I'll do my best to nag lol.

      Looking forward to the retreat - a great way to round-off the month of November.

  5. Congratulations Jeanette! It's great to hear your story and how NaNo has inspired you to reach your word count goal. I haven't officially done NaNo but I've done other writing challenges that work on the same principles. I like writing a fast first draft :)

    1. Thanks Narelle. There are definite advantages in writing the first draft fast :)


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