Book Reviews and NaNoWriMo

October 31, 2012 at 11:54 am (NaNoWriMo, Writing) (, , , )

Here’s where I could apologize for the paucity of book reviews recently- except I’m not going to. I’m going to explain it, instead, because it’s going to continue for a little bit.

During October, I wrote the first draft for a new project. I work full time, had other engagements that necessitated being away from my writing habitats or even out of town entirely, which should give some indication of the quasi-obsession needed to come through eighteen scattered days of writing with 95,000 words. It doesn’t give much time for reading new things- some days I come away from my writing computer so thoroughly fried in the brain that I can’t do anything other than stare mindlessly at the tv or re-read old favorites I can nearly recite.

I’d intended November to be a month of decompression, binge-reading and not even looking at anything I’ve written. I like to let first drafts sit for a few weeks before I go back to them, and with a couple of things coming up this month, it seemed like a brilliant idea. I’d get to read all the amazing books I’ve been stockpiling, catch up on reviews, and the only chances for my brain to be fried would be coming home from work as we key up into retail hell (also known as the holiday season).

Then I signed up for NaNoWriMo, or NaNo.

If you haven’t heard of it before, that stands for National Novel Writing Month. Every November, huge numbers of people come together in an online community- that sometimes stretches to local or regional write ins and physical check in support groups as well- with the goal of writing 50,000 words in the month of November. For the most part, 50K isn’t a novel, but it’s a good start, and you have a ton of people cheering you on and helping you stay accountable.

NaNo on the whole has its ups and downs.

Some of the ups: similar to the Butt-in-Chair philosophy, it’s a way to just WRITE. To train your brain and your muscles, to develop habits that could stick with you, to find how you can be productive. Or how not. The accountability is fantastic, the community is amazing, and a lot of fantastic books are born as NaNo projects. It’s also a great push for those who’ve been trying to make themselves write.

Some of the downs: a NaNo project is not truly a novel. It’s a sprint, a sloppy mess that takes a lot of time, attention, diligence, and personal responsibility to shape afterwards into a novel, and even more into a good novel. Too many people hit that 50K and with little more than spellcheck start sending it off to agents or editors as soon as it hits December 1st. And NaNo doesn’t work for everyone- many can’t create that kind of word-vomit, or else are quintessentially opposed to creating a crap first draft in the name of later revisions if simply taking the time in the first place will create a quality draft.

NaNo requires a pretty serious time committment. If your goal is 50K and you write every single day, that’s a little over 1600 words a day. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot, and maybe for some people it isn’t, but that’s EVERY DAY. It doesn’t matter if you’re sick, if you’re tired, if you have eight million things you have to do, if you’re out of town, at a wedding, a funeral, having a baby, whatever, you have to average 1600 words a day. Of course you have the choice to skip some days and binge on others, which is fine as long as you keep that average in mind.

I like NaNo on the whole, but I had no intention of signing up for it. I was going to take the month for decompression, remember?

But then…

I kept seeing people on twitter who were SO EXCITED about NaNo and the community. I saw comments from people who are going to try writing for the first time. I saw posts from authors I love talking about NaNo projects, and the realization that whatever’s conceived in this month could be my next favorite thing from them was kind of enthralling. I was getting excited about NaNo, but I didn’t sign up because I didn’t have an idea that was ready. Then something I’ve been mulling over for two and a half years shifted and settled into something right, and I realized that if I was willing to be more than a little insane, I could finally rewrite this thing. This will be my first NaNo, though probably not my last.

Here’s the thing, though: NaNo is pretty much how I write everything.

Writing is perhaps one of the most idiosyncratic and individual processes out there. Everyone approaches it and does it differently. That being said, I’m a queer duck. By the time I actually start writing a project, I’ve been thinking about it for weeks or even months. I know the characters, the bulk of the story, the settings, the major story and characters arcs, half the time I’ve even got speech patterns set by talking -literally talking, out loud- with my characters. When I finally sit down to write a new project, most of it is already comfortable and familiar in my skull. Opening up that wordfile is like opening the floodgates.

I don’t write every day. Usually it’s on my days off, a little on the easiest work days if I can come home with most of my brain function intact, and on the mornings of days when I close. First drafts usually take me between four and six weeks of stretched out time- usually 15-25 writing days. For me, doing NaNo isn’t much of a stretch.

FOR ME.

What this does mean, though, is that I won’t be doing nearly as much reading through November as I’d like to be, which means there won’t be as many book reviews. I’ll still be posting on Sundays, and likely I’ll post some NaNo updates on Wednesdays. If you’re doing NaNo, feel free to add me as a writing buddy, I’m signed up at Dot_Hutchison . Feel free to check in here when I do my updates- accountability (a more positive spin on peer pressure) is one of the great components of NaNo.

If you’re a writer and you’re not doing NaNo- no worries. Life sometimes causes obstacles, and the simple truth is that NaNo doesn’t work for everyone. Some people come out of it feeling energized and triumphant, some come of it feeling depressed and miserable.

One last thing I’ll say about NaNo in this- if you ARE doing NaNo, and if you ARE interested in getting published- DON’T SEND OUT YOUR NANO NOVEL IN DECEMBER. Seriously. Take the time to make sure your novel is the absolute best it can be. You’ll need to flesh out, to tighten, to check for consistencies. You’ll need to polish the language. You’ll need to actually research agents or editors, whichever’s your thing, to make sure that you’re querying intelligently. If you come out of NaNo with those 50K words, you’ve done something amazing. Don’t waste/ruin that by sending it out before it’s ready.

NaNo is largely about discipline, about the ability to train yourself to a task. Maintain that discipline in other areas as well. It’s something you’ll have to learn anyway if you do acquire an agent/editor/self-publisher, and you’ll be pleased by how much better your book can be.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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7 Comments

  1. Brittany said,

    Good luck with NaNo! This is my first year and I’m TERRIFIED. I feel like I can’t settle on a plot and things are just changing left and right so we’ll see how it goes. I probably won’t make it to 50k because I do have a lot going on, but it’ll be a good start.

    • Dot Hutchison said,

      Good luck to you too! And don’t let NaNo freak you out- it’s one of those very rare things where the spirit and the effort truly are what’s important, not whether or not you make that goal. You do it one year, you see what works for you, what doesn’t, and then next year, if you want to do it again, you have a much better idea of how YOU should go about it.

      • Brittany said,

        Thanks so much for the encouraging words!! :)

  2. JusB said,

    You definitely are an inspiration.

    It goes without saying that I love to write, that I thrive on writing…however, I was never really encouraged to write until these last couple of years. Before that, I was told to spend more time on other things, to not waste time at my computer. It’s still hard to give myself permission to write, but I’m trying.

    Thanks again for this post. Good luck with NaNoWriMo!

  3. vmcarswell said,

    This is the first time I will be participating also. I am super nervous and have to make sure I stay motivated and no procrastination. I even took some time off from work to focus on this. Good luck! And if you want to add me as a writing buddy: http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/participants/vykic37

    • Dot Hutchison said,

      One of the NaNo tips they give out is to tell people in your life you’re doing it- people who will help you stay accountable. Sometimes it’s easy to brush people off online- you don’t know them, you’ll never see them, you don’t need to answer to them. But you tell your best friends, your coworkers, your classmates, your family, and suddenly you have a lot of people with an active interest in helping you stay focused.

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