What is NaNo? (NaNo Prep 1)

~ ~ ~

The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page. — Anne Enright

~ ~ ~

National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo, is a (now international) challenge to write 50,000 words on a new work of fiction during the 30 days of November.

First of all, why 50,000 words—

  • Today, novels for people out of grade-school are usually 70-100,000 words, but 50,000 is usually enough space to sketch a well-planned outline of whole story.

Even so I came across a few recognizable titles that are novels near 50,000 words:

    • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
    • The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
    • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    • Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
  • It’s mathematically doable while still maintaining a life.
    • 50,000 words in 30 days works out to about 1,667 words/day
    • If you use the Wikipedia-cited average for “composition” speed of WPM (19) that works out to less than 1.5 hours of work each night to keep up. And I’ve been known—and know others—who end up in a creative heat that goes both longer and faster than that.
      • Best nights for me have between 2-3,000 words after I put the kids to bed.

In 2010, my husband Jay bought me an illuminated keyboard for my laptop—a noble gesture and romantic gift—as soon as they were available for the PC: My children all shared a single room, and would sit with them, typing in the dark, until after they fell asleep.

Such working ahead was critical because my worst days were only 300-800, and the last three days of the month were always a flurry of putting everything aside to find out what happens to my characters (and reach that 50,000).

So that’s the 50,000 words.

Next is the phrase “on a new work of fiction.”

You’re really not supposed to use this race of “literary abandon” as the chance to round out and finish the 50,000 words you wrote last year, even if that would, in theory, give you one “complete” 100,000-word book.

This is because you’re too invested by that point to “let” the work be horrible.

There is a famous truism in the writing world that says you have to write a manky first-draft. (Actually the original phrase from Anne Lamott is “shitty first draft,” but I first presented this information as a speech, and found another word to play it safe. Now I’m kind of in love with “manky” both as a word and as a concept, so I’ve continued to hang onto it.)

You have to do this (write horribly) because you have to write a first-draft, and if you’re not prepared ahead of time for it to be *horrible* you will despair (and likely give up) before you’re three days or three pages in. You will try to make every word count, or fit perfectly from GO, and you will make yourself into an anxious wreck before anything useful can take root.

What all successful writers will tell you is that good writing isn’t about sitting down and being brilliant, good writing is re-writing.

This could be why I talk so much about personal growth, self-awareness or self-improvement: this is the orientation writers work from. Our goal is to find problems before someone else does. We are our own first critics. Our own first defense.

But we are not (the best of us) trying to be our own saviors. There is a point at which we take this baby we have formed from the scraps and jewels of our minds, and set it into the hands of some other word-lover. Another storylover. And we give them permission to speak freely about imperfection and improvement.

But that all comes much later. For these thirty days, that inner editor, the one we apply before sending our baby to the unfeeling world, it is locked in a box. It is not allowed to poke its useful, ugly head out for the entire 30 days.

Because if you start to wonder before day-31 why Sally would care if Betsy borrowed the dog’s ninja to go grocery shopping, you will lose momentum, and in NaNoWriMo the name of the game is momentum.

You tell me: Have you ever wanted to write a novel?