Shhh! Can you hear that? That faint clickety-clack you hear comes from a flurry of writes attacking their keyboards in the attempt to get a 50,000 novel out of their brains on into a Word file before the clock hits 00:00 on December 1st.
It’s November 1st, which means it’s the big kickoff day of National Novel Writing Month. Affectionately known as NaNoWriMo, this event has been going on since 1999. I first heard about it in 2001, when my literary ambitions began in earnest and with every passing year the event has picked up steam (and caused literary agents increasingly large amounts of hell in the first couple weeks of December.)
I thought about participating in 2001 when I first stumbled upon the phenomenon and in early 2002, I did participate in ivillage’s The Writing Life board equivalent of the event called WriLiMarCha (Writing Life Marathon Challenge). With WriLiMarCha, I got to about 11,000 words written in the course of 15 days. My sophomore year of college I had a crazy idea to do NaNoWriMo and my schoolwork and my extracurricular activities. That lasted about two evenings.
I have never completed a 50,000 word novel in 30 days and as time has gone on, I’ve come to believe I never will. I have my reasons for not participating in NaNoWriMo each year, not least of which is my belief that NaNoWriMo is crazy. And not in the normal, (healthy?) “writer slightly off their rocker” way but in “that’s truly insane” way. To completely NaNoWriMo on schedule, writers are signing themselves up for churning out an average 1666.66667 words a day, every day, for 30 days straight.
I’m not saying this is impossible. Obviously it’s not, because tons of people do complete (albeit it in a sleep deprived, coffee driven way) this seemingly impossible goal every year. My chief qualm with NaNoWriMo is not “how?” but “why?!”
Lots of people already have a novel (or two) tucked away in a drawer. When this month draws to a close, a lot more people will join the drawer-hiding-novel ranks. Although truthfully, successful NaNoWriMo participants won’t really have a novel to tuck in their drawer. Rather, they’ll have a 50,000 word fiction something in their drawer.
Opinions are mixed on what should be considered a novel’s average length, but it’s usually considered somewhere between 80,000 – 120,000 words. However there’s a pretty firm consensus that 50,000 words is not a novel. That’s a novella. (If you consider that 250 words is considered the standard page length, 50,000 words only gets you 200 pages.) Unless you're Steve Martin, most works of published longer fiction are more than 200 pages. I have a hard time seeing the point in spending a month slaving over 50,000 words of rough, unedited prose which you’ll need to edit within an inch of its life, not to mention add 30,000 words of text to, before a literary agent will consider it a novel.
To me NaNoWriMo strikes a certain martyr-istic chord. And I’m just not going for St. Ada . (There already is one.) I like to incorporate my writing into a life. A life that involves eating, sleeping, blogging, exercising, and spending time with my family.
I’d rather work in a steady, slightly less manic way. And I’m not saying the five years it has taken me to get my current novel from idea to query-able piece of fiction was a great timeline to follow. I’ll probably try to expedite the writing process of my next novel a little bit in comparison. Still, I’m going to give myself a little more than a month to get that next rough draft done.
This November, I won’t be writing a novel. Instead, I’ll be writing a synopsis of my novel du jour and sending out queries. But good luck to all you crazy NaNo-ers out there. God love ya.