I’m not a huge fan of rules about writing. I don’t write every day, for starters. I neither write what I know nor do I not write what I don’t know. So there are very few blanket pronouncements I would make about writing, and I would never tell people not to do NaNoWriMo, attempting to knock out the better part of a novel in just one month.
But I will say this: I’ve done it a few times, and sometimes it turns out really well, and sometimes it’s a spectacular crash-and-burn failure, and the difference between the two is never whether I actually manage to get 50,000 words onto the page.
So I have some ideas about what makes you more likely to succeed or more likely to fail. Here are my guidelines for what not to do, and I can tell you exactly what happens to at least one writer who tries to NaNoWriMo (yes, it can be a verb) this way. Because I am that writer.
Don’t just say “any word is a good word.” I recently finished the first draft of my next novel, which I worked on as my NaNoWriMo project two years ago. I’m a sloppy writer and a big advocate of just getting words on the page. So what’s the difference between the 25,000 words I eked out two Novembers ago and the 100,000 draft I just finished? About 90,000 words, for one thing. During that November, I tried writing in different voices, from the POV of different characters, and paid no attention to whether or not all the scenes came together. Accordingly, almost none of them did. I did a great job developing characters… many of whom didn’t even make it into the novel. Part of NaNoWriMo’s usefulness is to get past your inner editor, but I left her so far in the dust that she has pretty much shrugged her shoulders and given up on me. Have some kind of a plan, even if it changes along the way.
Don’t just write because it’s November. Six Novembers ago I had plenty of time on my hands (no kids, a husband busy with business school, and reasonable work hours) but only a kernel of an idea. I didn’t take the time to develop the idea, because – hey, it’s November! Now’s the time! I exceeded the 50,000-word goal well ahead of November 30 and once December came I literally never opened the file again. From what I remember, the protagonist liberally quoted Fiona Apple lyrics and referred to her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend exclusively as “F**king Ruby Bruno.” I’m pretty sure it’s not going to fit into my future publications. I tell people that no writing is wasted because you always learn something from it, but I learned less from that novel than from any of my others. I guess what I learned is, well, don’t just write because it’s November. [Read more…]