QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, November 2, 2009

Do I Feel a Draft?: The Wordcount Obsession of NaNoWriMo

So yesterday marked the beginning of this year's NaNoWriMo event. Which brings the point of the mega-wordcount exercise up for discussion.

The point of NaNoWriMo (besides having a whale of time writing with abandon), if your ultimate goal is to publish, is not to write a novel in one month (despite what the website catchphrases would have you believe) but rather to write a draft.

Now, to some of you, that might seem like semantics, but it's an important distinction, I think. For two reasons:

First, to succeed at NaNoWriMo (or similar high-paced writing speed goals), you really need to accept the fact that your WIP is not going to be perfect. In all likelihood, your results will be the sort of prose you'll read later on, after you've edited or rewritten, and feel the urge to delete the original file from your computer completely. Or better yet, remove the contaminated harddrive and smash it to smithereens. And then torch the smithereens. And bury the ashes. At the North Pole.

The point of high-speed wordcount generation is simply to create a starting point. A virtual scaffolding. If you do not give yourself permission to let your writing stink at least a smidge, you will neither succeed nor have fun trying.

Second, when you're riding that high from typing those two heady words, "The End," don't let yourself get swept up in the intoxicating notion that you are done with your novel. That first draft is only the first step. Sure, you've given birth and naturally your book-baby is beautiful, but it's not ready to go out and find a job yet. You're going to want to nurture and shape it first.

I can't say enough about the importance of incubation and taking your time. If there is a single mistake that represents the most common downfall of a given project, it is rushing to the marketplace too soon.

So, NaNo or NaNo-No, get out there and churn out some brand-spanking new words, but recognize them for what they are: great raw material for the fabulous novel you will soon be polishing!

Those of you who have NaNo-ed before... what became of your previous projects? How many times did you edit your manuscript after the fact, and how much did they change along the way? And, those of you who are currently NaNo-ing, how's it going? Off with a bang? Or a whimper?

Myself, I wrote The Edge of Memory during NaNo '07 (well, most of it... I banged out 65K during NaNo and finished the draft in December). I let it sit for a month or so before I started editing and I edited it several times before it became the manuscript I submitted to my agent. I didn't get to play along with NaNo last year, but I'm hoping I'll have the chance this year (once I finish up this stinking 28-hour shift and get home to my beloved laptop. ;) ).


Melanie Hooyenga said...

Great post!

I wrote 63K words last year (my first time dong NaNo), then on December 1st worked on the 4th or 5th draft of my first novel. This past July I finally got back to NaNoNovel08 and finished the first draft about a month ago. Today I start the official second draft.

Penny said...

I have done NaNo for the past two years, and the first novel was a mess. Aside from a few interesting characters and scenarios, I scrapped it, but it showed me I could actually finish a (draft of a) novel.

Last year I wrote my second, but I was basing it too much in reality, so ended up writing the true story and winning NaNo with a jumbled mess of facts and character sketches and something that read more like a detective log than a book. I loved the idea of fictionalizing it, though, so I have been stewing in the possibilities all year.

This year, I am writing a work of fiction based on last year's novel. I didn't do any formal planning, but I'm off to a quick start, and I'm surprised at all the cool things that are happening. The writing isn't great, but some of the characters and plot details are, and I am really glad I returned to this idea.

And I am procrastinating working on it right now... ;)

Anonymous said...

It's hard to count how many drafts my novel went through before I was offered representation. Some of the revisions were big, some small, but the final version was very different from the first draft and the whole process took a little less than two years. I worked on other projects during those essential incubation periods and when people were critiquing my novel.

Stina said...

I'm still laughing at the ashes being buried at the North Pole part. I guess even Santa can't steal that WIP and convert it into a best seller.

Suzette Saxton said...

Count me in, though not officially. I'm co-authoring a YA project with my sister.

Stephanie said...

Hi Heather-
You make some great points. This is my first year with NaNo and so far so good.
My sense is that I am a master planner and struggle with execution, a challenge like this might be just the swift kick in the pants I need. I have no expectations this will be even close to a final draft but my hope is it will instill in me the discipline I could use.
Wish me luck!

Windy said...

Great post! And a great reminder that whatever comes out of NaNo at the end of November is probably going to need some time to cure before you decide it is at a query-able state.

Jamie D. said...

This is my sixth year doing NaNo. I've finished three NaNo drafts, and the fact that none of them seemed editable last spring led me to some serious craft-study over the past 8 months, and a solid scene outline (that is already changing) for this year's NaNo. Will this year end with a draft worthy of revisions? I certainly hope so...but every single year has been a learning experience (and a ton of fun), so I don't regret a single one.

If this one does happen to turn out well, it will sit until January before I look at it again. I've got another draft to revise in Dec. :-)

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm doing NaNo for the 2nd time. Last year's draft has potential, but it was more about exploring a genre for me. Kind of doing the same thing this year. It's all about fun and creativity for me :)

Anonymous said...

My first NaNo project in 2006 ended with the delete key. I hated it. I loved the idea, but it just wasn't working out the way I wanted it to. I may rewrite it at a future time, but for now it's on the back burner.

My second NaNo project from 2008 is actually still in the works. I'm close to completing the first draft (had set it aside for a while and then went back to it). I got a good start on it during NaNo, but it's a bit more than 50,000 words.

This year I'm working on something totally different for me, so I'm really interested in seeing how it turns out. I'm a bit behind on the word count, but not far enough behind yet that I can't easily catch up. If I can just write 12k words today, I'd be doing great. LOL