It's almost October, which is the time when the National Novel Writing Month website kicks on again and everyone who wants to can sign up to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. This will be the ninth year of NaNoWriMo, which takes place every November, so I imagine this will be old news for many of you.

It always gets me excited though. There's something about 60,000+ people doing the same thing at the same time that's just thrilling to me. Plus it usually gets me writing again, as I tend to go through long dry spells. And until I get my irrigation system up and working, I'll settle for the shower of NaNoWriMo to get me writing again.

I have participated the last two years and failed both times, but the third time's the charm. After writing a novel in six days this past Spring, averaging about 10,000 words each day, writing 1,667 words a day should be nothing, right?

The point of this discussion, though, is what do you think about NaNoWriMo? Because not everyone is coming up daisies about it. Some say that NaNoWriMo is an insult to those serious writers who work so hard for so long to produce a novel, and how dare those NaNoWriMo-ers take such an irreverent attitude towards the serious writer's profession.

Others latch onto the misguided belief that NaNoWriMo is all about producing crap, and the world doesn't need anymore crappy novels, so please keep that book inside you.

Now, I know that NaNoWriMo is really about getting the thing finished. The low quality of the work is merely an expectation given the fact that you're not thinking too much about it and just writing it. And everyone agrees that first drafts are imperfect anyway.

But does NaNoWriMo devalue literature? Does 60,000 people writing crappy first drafts make War and Peace less of a classic? Should serious writers tell these participants to stop writing? Does anyone have the right to do that? Or is NaNoWriMo just in good fun, and maybe it's a good thing for so many people to be creative together and get away from the TV for a while?

What are your thoughts?

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I signed up for NaNoWriMo last year at the last minute. I had nary a thought of what I would write about and didn't make an even half-hearted effort. This year I began thinking about it in August. I've got the story idea, which falls outside of the genre of what I usually write. I've done a few character sketches and have a rough outline. I've been practicing on Mondays (my writers group day) by writing complete short stories in the 1700-4000 word range.

The thing that entices me to this format is that it breaks down the barriers that I traditionally have with completing the story. I am an atrocious nit. I will spend precious hours editing and re-editing a chapter rather than "getting on with it." NaNoWriMo forces you to "get on with it." These days I subscribe to the theory of "write the first draft all the way through, then edit while writing the second draft."

So I guess that means I think NaNoWriMo is great. Ask me again in December.
I have participated in NaNoWriMo twice, and I used it as I believe it was meant to be used - to pour water on that frightened seed of possibility and to see what would happen. NaNo is all about conquering fear - putting your Inner Critic to the side and pressing on, no matter how badly you think you are doing.

Does it devalue literature? I find it hard to see how it could. We are not flooded with 60,000 NaNo participants getting published every year. If anything, I think participating shows someone who "always felt he had a book in him" to see just how incredibly hard it is to face the blank page every day. To tell someone that they shouldn't bother writing because they may not take it "seriously" is a horrible attitude. Most of the participants aren't running around pretending to be novelists or mocking novelists. Chris Baty's remarks should be read in the vein they were intended - tongue firmly in cheek. Just my 2 cents.
Unless you're of the Hunter S Thompson school, I think most writers accept that writing is rewriting. The first draft is usually no more than a template for what comes later and getting it down is the hardest part of writing, IMO. So, if NaNoWriMo is used to get stuff down on paper, there's nothing wrong with it. Writers write and too many wannabe writers talk about writing, read about writing, do creative writing courses, but the actual writing...not so much.

John, do you have any figures on how many of the 60 000 participants actually finish their draft? And of those, how many are actually published by a reputable company? I'm guessing the percentages are looooow, so I don't see how NaNoWriMo devalues literature. I suspect those that go through to the end of the draft and then edit, and edit and edit some more until such time that their work becomes publishable, would've done so whether or not NaNoWriMo existed. I suspect these folk are writers and they would've been such with or without the somewhat gimicky but ultimately harmless NaNoWriMo.
I wrote 57,000 words last year in my first attempt at NaNo---I don't agree that it is a mindless exercise. I have sold the story, although the rewrite took nine more diligent months.

I was fortunate in that the story just took off. I will enter again this year.
I did NANOWRIMO last year and it is the best thing I ever did for my writing. I wrote the 50,000 in November and went on to turn it into a complete murder mystery, my first. I found it hugely motivating and it created discipline I found I was lacking. I went into it with a pretty complete outline which really helped. That said, the first draft needed a huge amount of work and it was pretty rough. The editing process has been tedious, but this is also the first long work I have edited of my own and it was a steep learning curve. I am doing it again this year. Again I am going into it with a complete outline, and I should come out of it with half a book. 50,000 is too short for a full work unless you are doing a children's novel so I am using NANO as more of a stepping stone rather than trying to complete a full novel. But whatever anyone might think about it, it gets you putting words on paper faster. Whether people do it just for fun or more seriously it is a great program and you meet lots of incredibly supportive and fun people.
I agree, Tina. It is a great, supportive endeavor. My final edited version came in at a little over 80,000 words. So, a stepping stone it is, but rather a huge leg up. I have to go familiarize myself with the rules. I wonder how much research can be done ahead of time.

I have a plot line and a cast of characters, and am anxious to get started.
It is a huge leg up and it completely removed my inherent inertia. There was this wall that I couldn't jump over in my brain that stopped my from writing. Fear, lack of confidence, lack of work ethic, whatever it was it is not there anymore - Nano ran it out of town. (Now go back and read what I just said, can you tell I ride horses? You say leg up, I say...:) As far as rules go, I think outlining is fine as long as you don't cut and paste something already written. The actual writing has to be new. I think it helps to go in with at least a partial outline. I noticed that the ones that didn't finish usual started with just a character and no idea where the story was going. I know the Nano idea is that it is a complete novel, which mine definitely wasn't. So in that way I was not following the Nano edict. But I made a donation, which a lot of people don't do! I really think it is a worthwhile program and it also gets a lot of young people writing through their classroom section.
The only thing wrong with NaNoWriMo is that out of it will come first novels that their authors consider masterpieces and only a handful will be even puplishable. Those manuscripts will clutter the market so that the serious writers, that is to say writers who work at it day in and day out, will have a more difficult time getting their work read by the bigger houses.

As for books in a month being crap? Hemingway wrote THE SUN ALSO RISES in 26 days. I'm not comparing myself to Hemingway, but when I was younger with more all around stamina, I could write and sell a book a month. That went on for 17 months, and then I was exhausted. I wrote nine books before those 17, selling only three, and I have written 37 books since then, selling 24. Are they all great? Hell no, but some of them are pretty good.

I do believe that NaNoWriMo is a good step for a serious new writer, but please be objective about your output. Let's face it, though, objectivity one's own work, even if we're experienced, is impossible
Very good observation Jack. I wouldn't really worry about logjamming the market, though. That happens during NaQueLetMo. Hacks get good at that and we are all in trouble. ;-)
Nice to see 50,000 words is considered a novel, since a lot of publishers won't look at anything under 70,000 words.
There are some pretty good novels at 50,000 words. Not many are being published lately though, and most of those trying to sell them don't know the market. I say most, not all.
I finished Nanowrimo last year, and I'm really excited to do it again this year. I don't see it so much as the first step in an effort to get published; in fact, no one besides me even read my novel last year. As we all know, there are many rewards in writing beyond getting your book accepted by a publisher. I found that the Nano month made me feel more alive, more in touch with the world around me, more thoughtful, and more excited to write each day than I would be without a deadline.

I have a feeling that many Nano writers are like me: they don't think of themselves as "serious" writers with a hell's chance to get published, they just like writing and feeling that they are racing toward a goal with thousands of other people. I don't see how this devalues literature. Instead, I think it celebrates the joy of creation and helps readers think a bit more about the creative process that underpins everything they read.


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