I regularly participate in the annual writing rumble known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). This is a worldwide event where people dedicate themselves to writing a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. I'm a rebel in that while I do work on a new novel, I will also scratch out as many short stories as I am able in those thirty days.
I participate every year because for 30 precious days, writing is the only thing I "have" to do.
My friends and family all know that November, in our house, is referred to "National Pot Pie Month," so if you drop by expecting a hot meal from Grandma, it will probably emerge from the microwave in the form of a formerly frozen hockey puck.
I usually have my “winners’ certificate” by the day they become available, but I continue writing every day through the 30th and update my word count daily.
NaNoWriMo is a contest in the sense that if you write 50,000 words and have your word count validated through the national website you ‘win.’ But it is not a contest in any other way as there are no huge prizes or great amounts of acclaim for those winners, only a PDF winner’s certificate that you can fill out and print to hang on your wall.
It is simply a month that is solely dedicated to the act of writing a novel.
Now let’s face it–a novel of only 50,000 words is not a very long novel. It’s a good length for YA or romance, but for epic fantasy or literary fiction it’s only half a novel.
But regardless of the proposed length of their finished novel, a dedicated author can get the rough draft--the basic structure and story-line of a novel--down in those thirty days simply by sitting down for an hour or two each day and writing a minimum of 1667 words per day.
With a simple outline to keep you on track, that isn’t too hard. In this age of word processors, most authors can double or triple that.
As always, there is a downside to this intense month of stream-of-consciousness writing. Just because you can sit in front of a computer and spew words does not mean you can write a novel that others want to read.
Every year many cheap or free eBooks will emerge in January, testifying to that fundamental truth.
The good thing is, over the next few months many people will realize they enjoy the act of writing and are fired to learn the craft. They will find that for them this month of madness was not about getting a certain number of words written by a certain date, although that goal was important.
For them, NaNoWriMo is about embarking on a creative journey and learning a craft with a dual reputation that difficult to live up to. Depending on the cocktail party, authors are either disregarded as lazy ne’er-do-wells or given far more respect than we deserve.
For a very few people, participating in NaNoWriMo will give them the confidence to admit that an author lives in their soul and is demanding to get out. In their case, NaNoWriMo is about writing and completing a novel they had wanted to write for years, something that had been in the back of their minds for all their lives.
These are the people who will join writing groups and begin the long journey of learning the craft of writing. Whether they pursue formal educations or not, these authors will take the time and make an effort to learn writing conventions (practices). They will attend seminars, they will develop the skills needed to take a story and make it a novel with a proper beginning, a great middle, and an incredible end.
They will properly polish their work and run it past critique groups before they publish it. They will have it professionally edited. These are books I will want to read.
Every year, participating in NaNoWriMo will inspire many discussions about becoming an author. Going full-time or keeping the day job, going Indie or aiming for a traditional contract—these are conundrums many new authors will be considering after they have finished the chaotic month of NaNoWriMo. While few of us have the luxury to go Indie and write full-time (my husband has a good job), many authors will struggle to decide their publishing path.
However, if you don’t sit down and write that story, you aren’t an author. You won’t have to worry about it. With that in mind, November and NaNoWriMo would be a great time to put that idea on paper and see if you really do have a novel lurking in your future.
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Connie J. Jasperson is a published poet and the author of nine novels. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies. A founding member of Myrddin Publishing Group, she can be found blogging regularly on both the craft of writing and art history at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.
This article was first published on Sept 10, 2018 on Life in the Realm of Fantasy as What is NaNoWriMo and Why Bother With It? © 2018 Connie J. Jasperson
It has been reprinted by permission.