National Novel Writing Month, the annual event in which thousands of writers around the world all attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November, has ended once again. And on my third try I finally made it all the way to 50K this year. That's 174 frantically typed pages. Ah, what a feeling!
And over the past 3 years that I have been participating in nanowrimo I have discovered various truths that I think are relevant to all novelists who have deadlines to meet. And so here they are, listed in reverse order of importance:
5 things I've learned from Nanowrimo
5. A novel is LONG, and the middle is super tough, whether you're writing it in 30 days or 3 years. But it can be done. YOU can write a novel.
4. No Plot is a problem -- Despite the great title of brilliantly witty Chris Baty's book, "No plot, No problem." It really is essential to know:
WHO your character is
WHAT is going to happen to him or her (generally,) and
WHY that stuff that's about to happen is a PROBLEM he or she will have to resolve.
Until you've figured that out it's best not to get too far with the writing.
3. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. If I'd stopped doing nano in my first or second year I'd never have reached 50K in 30 days, and missed out on the joy of it. Similarly perseverance is important in any kind of novel writing. Many published authors will tell you they still have one or more of their first novel manuscripts sitting in a desk drawer somewhere, and that no one will buy those even though their other novels are now flying off the shelves. So, keep on keeping on. As Richard Bach once said: "A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit."
2. Peer support is essential in any great writing endeavor - this is why critique groups are so essential. (Thanks to Amy, Bish, George, Joan, Jules, Wendy, Doug, and all of the Goalies for being my crit-supporters during nano and all year round!) Afterall, we writers need cheerleaders -- people to say "This is great, I can't wait to read what happens next," or "Hey only 5,ooo more words to go :); piece of cake!" And we also need them to say things like "Wait, that plot line there makes no sense, might I suggest you get the older sister arrested here?" This is especially helpful when we're drowning in that horrible noveling wasteland called "the middle. " It happens to all of us. So, if you aren't a part of a critique group, you can find both online and local Children's Writer's Crit groups by seaching google or better yet, by becoming a member at http://www.scbwi.org/.
And the number one thing that Nanowrimo teaches me again and again each year is that:
1. Writers Write Regardless. Real writers - writers who meet deadlines, who publish, who succeed at getting books out of their hearts and onto the paper, write every day whether they feel like it or not. They do NOT wait for inspiration to strike them -- if they did, they would never get out of the middle! Yes indeed, inspiration is wonderful, but there are those days when just saying "I'm going to write 500 words today" is enough; perhaps they won't be great words, or inspired words. But that is not the point. We can (and should) revise it all later. But to get to the end, to reach the finale, we must write enough to get over the next hill then stop at a place we find interesting, close the manuscript, and smile. We've made progress today. Hip, Hip, Hooray! And we will do so again tomorrow...
*Additional info. on nanowrimo: National Novel Writing Month has continued now for 9 years. Participation is free and novelists of all ages are welcome. Items purchased in the nanowrimo online gift shop, like the mug pictured above (thanks nanowrimo,) provide funds to build libraries in third world countries, and also to keep the annual writing event going strong around the world. The "young writers" program, a part of nanowrimo, also encourages kids as young as elementary school to imagine and plot and then write their own stories. For further information about the event or to purchase from the online store and support this excellent adventure, visit http://www.nanowrimo.org/ .