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The NaNoWriMo Experience

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The very word—is it even really a word—strikes trepidation and excitement in the hearts of some writers. Dismay in the hearts of others.

What is it? It’s November National Novel Writing Month. And it’s over! Or is it? Is it just beginning all over again?

First let’s talk about what it is. Here’s what a writer I know says about it.

Rusty Rhoad says:

“287,709 people have registered on the NaNoWriMo website to “compete” in the write-a-novel contest.

So how does it work? To “win,” you have to complete a 50,000 word 1st draft of a novel, or write 50,000 words of a longer novel, during the month of November. If you write every day, that’s 1,700 words a day (I average that, but I don’t write every day).

And what do you get if you win? Why, you have the first draft of a novel! If you register on their site and then confirm that you completed your work, you can also get a certificate. But writing your own novel is the real prize.”

Here’s what I say:

What? A book in a month? Suicidal. Crazy. And very doable!” Oh, I forgot to add: “Not everyone can do it. It? What is it? It is winning. It is when you complete 50K words in that one month and can be crowned a winner!

Rusty researched this. 13% ‘won’. I didn’t win. But I put a lot of words down on paper. Not sure I’d show anyone that first effort.

Why not?

And why are we talking about a November event in December? Because writing a book is only half the work. The back half, the editing, cleaning up, polishing, that’s where the real work starts.

So just when you thought you’d get a break from that book. That you could indulge in some eggnog and mall-shopping…

Guess what? You’re not done!

But before I get into all that stuff that has to happen after NaNo, I took a few moments to interview some authors about their NaNo or Non-NaNo experiences.

Will Graham, Melissa Ohnoutka, and Rusty Rhoad who was kind enough to let me quote him above.

Here’s what they had to say!

Do you NaNo? Have you ever? Have you won?

Melissa Ohnoutka: I am absolutely a NaNoWriMo addict! 2007 was my first year to participate, and I've done it every year since. I've won several years, used it to finish up edits on two other books, which I went on to publish, and upped the word count on three different books in 2013.

Will Graham: Yes, almost every year! I started back in 2005, if I remember correctly. It is a heck of a motivational tool to keep going, keep pushing. This year I broke the goal of 50,000 words, but have been editing and a lot of them have already been cut. However, it is pushing me to write better, plot better, and structure better.

Rusty Rhoad: Looks like I’m the odd man in this assemblage—I’ve never participated.

Does a normal week or month of writing for you equal a NaNo Month?

Rusty: Never. My novels are generally around 100,000 words, and that takes me 4-6 months to complete the first draft. And on first rewrite, a lot of those still change—20-30%, maybe? But that means a lot of them stay as well. So I’m OK with that pace. Besides, I’m not good enough to have editors with deadlines.

Will: Oh, lord, no... :) But that is part of the draw of NaNo. You give yourself permission to put the 'Real World' on hold and concentrate on your work. Sometimes it is quite the juggling act, but that is the point: a writer CAN do this, it CAN be done!

Melissa: It's a crazy, chaotic 4 weeks, but the progress I make each time makes my production for the previous month's look really sad. :)

Where did you hear about NaNo? Why did you choose to do this—or not do this?

Melissa: I believe my good friend Will Simon is to blame for all this! LOL

Will: The first one I did as a dare; after that it is tradition! A writer friend steered me toward it way back when and it seemed like it would be fun. It is fun, but NaNo is also a great deal of flat out work.

Rusty: Not sure where I heard about NaNo first, but it was well after I had established a writing discipline on my own. I was intrigued by the idea, but to be honest, also a little horrified. You want me to turn my inner editor off and pour words onto the page? To what end?

I have chosen not to participate for a number of reasons. First, I don’t need the incentive or the external discipline. I love writing, and I do it almost every weekday. Even when I was working (I’ve been retired for almost two years now), I wrote over lunch every day. When the clock struck noon, I never said, “Nah, I don’t feel like it today. I’m really into this book I’m reading; I think I’ll just do that instead.” Not once.

Second, many people aren’t successful at writing because their inner editor tells them that they’re not good enough. Those are generally the people for whom NaNo works the best. But those who know me can attest that, despite my many flaws, a lack of self-confidence is NOT one of them. I love my inner editor. Occasionally she nags that I can do better, but she’s always right. By now we’re old friends and/or lovers—and I’m never tempted to respond to her criticism by some passive-aggressive stunt like not writing.

Third, the process of writing to me includes lingering to savor when appropriate. When my characters are frolicking and dancing, sometimes it’s all I can do to keep up with getting the words down on the page. But other times, I stop cold to find the perfect word. Or research that one fact that turns a sentence from a blase generalization to a poignant feast of detail. Writing without doing that would be like eating food without salt—and my beloved hot sauce.

And last, I’m a little superstitious about fiddling with the process. Like the baseball pitcher who goes through the same routine every day he pitches, including wearing the same socks. I’d hate to change something that works so well for me, only to discover when I got back to it, it didn’t work quite so well.

Thank you to these authors!

I’m hoping to secure an interview with at least one Houston NaNo Municipal Liaison so we can hear more about what goes into this huge undertaking!


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