Thinking #NaNoWriMo? Think again.

Sunday, November 1st 2015 • Advice, Writing

Tomorrow, National Novel Writing Month will descend on us all and Twitter will explode with posts, word counts, and increasing cries of panic as the month progresses. Thousands will rise to the call to write a novel in the month by rushing to their computers and notebooks. Success stories will be pointed to as models. Message boards will be flooded with pleas to read scenes or identify the source of writer’s block (which doesn’t really exist).

It’s a time for creativity to flourish and some of the world’s future bestsellers will be written this month. You’ve probably already signed up for the NaNoWriMo e-mails and are ready to start. But before you do, please consider the following before you begin that new novel.

1. You are joining a community, not barreling into one.
The writing community is, by and large, a welcoming one. Many writers are eager to cheer each other on and offer guidance. Many forums exist to provide feedback on titles, scenes, and more. Feel free to join these communities, but please remember that it is a two-way street. Don’t show up asking for critiques and then disappear. Comment on writing blog posts, send encouraging messages to the #amwriting tag on Twitter, and offer your feedback when you have something to say. The more you participate, the more likely you are to learn something that you can apply to your own projects.

2. Being an author is a job, not a hobby.
I’ve seen it said by agents, authors, and editors that nothing irks them more than to hear someone say that they’ll write that novel “when they get around to it.” Authors pay rent with their books. They put in hours to plan and write the book in the same way that others clock in to work. Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t write a book if you don’t see writing as a career. Writers come from all different paths and walks of life. However, I am saying that you should respect the fact that writing a book is a job unto itself and should be treated like one. Don’t expect this to be easy. It won’t be.

3. No one will respect your writing time unless you do.
Friends, family members, and co-workers will not take kindly to the “I need to write” excuse, or at least not right away. You need to communicate that what you’re undertaking is valuable and that you won’t break your writing time for dinner dates, errands, or anything else. You may need to go clock in at a coffee shop for this message to be clear, especially if you have roommates.

4. Consider an outline or some form of planning first.
Some people like to develop the plot as they go, but I am not one of those people. Having an outline helps me stay focused and speeds my writing along. Consider using the first few days of NaNoWriMo to write out an outline (even a brief sketch) so that the rest of the month will go smoother. Even answering a few questions about what your character wants and what stands in his or her way will go a long way to developing your story.

5. It’s okay if you don’t finish the entire novel.
Aim as high as you want. 40,000 words or 60,000 words. Maybe even 80,000 words. Set goals, do the math for how many words you need to write in a day, and be ambitious. But if December 1 rolls around and you don’t have a completed book, don’t fret. Just keep writing. Remember that setting up a routine takes time, and half a book is easier to finish than no book at all.

6. Don’t query your novel in December or January.
This is the most important point on this list. Agents are inundated with queries in December because writers have just finished up NaNoWriMo books. They’re expecting the books (and the writers who wrote them) to be unpolished. They’re expecting writers who completed minimal research on their guidelines and are new to the game. So, wait. Better yet, put the finished book in a drawer for all of December. Come to it with fresh eyes on January 1 and edit the hell out of it. Then, give the book to beta readers and let them tear it apart. Edit again in February. Then, maybe, if you’re ready, send out a few queries in March. See if you get some bites. Edit again. Repeat until you find success.

In short: use NaNoWriMo to make the best book you can. Set goals and guidelines. Be respectful of the writing community. And above all, write the damn book.

© 2013 Veronica Bane. All Rights Reserved.