My long and short fiction skirmishes through Mythic Fiction, Paranormal, Horror, Thriller, Crime, Historical, Literary, SF, Fantasy, Mainstream, Romance and Western. Sign up for my new releases Newsletter or Follow the Blog by email as I chat about all things writing related.

24 October 2013

Beware the Glitter of #NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is prepping to go. Are you signing on for the wild ride?

NaNoWriMo is the shortform for (Inter)National Novel Writing Month which takes place annually. The intention is, within the 30 days of November, to write 50,000 words making up a dirty draft of a novel. It is as much a test of planning skills and endurance as it is of literary endeavour, but there is a lot of help at hand on the NaNoWriMo website, and participants often make lasting writing-goal friendships on the forums. I doff my hat to every one.

The problems can arise in early December when participants get their breaths back and look at what they have. The dirty draft reads quite well in the circumstances. In fact, with a few tweaks and a bit of a polish…

And herein lies disaster.

In a previous life I critiqued fiction, and three NaNoWriMo scripts passed before my eyes. Each had shallow characters, major holes in the storyline, and read as if enhanced film scripts. Was I unlucky? I doubt it.

Each had been written as a dirty draft, except the writer could no longer see that because it was written; it was a whole; it was done. Seeing problems in your work takes insight that beginner novelists in particular lack through dearth of experience.

I know only one selling novelist who starts with a premise and then hits the dirty draft as fast a possible. Once written she identifies the main thread and its theme, the main and subsidiary characters, and excises all non-supporting tangents. Next she researches and plans in full the characters and settings, and only then, with the theme sitting front and central in her mind, does she rewrite the novel without sight of its original incarnation.

This is what dirty drafts are for, to see if the premise holds what is needed. It is not an end in itself but a step along the way.

This year the self-publishing company LuLu is teaming up with NaNoWriMo ‘to help more authors than ever before realize their vision’. Amazon KDP, Createspace, Kobo, Nook Press, Smashwords, iBookstore… all offer writers a way of bringing their work to the floodlit global stage as a digital download or a print-on-demand paperback.

Don’t rush to publish before Christmas. As a writer you owe it to yourself to not just do it, but to do it right.


  1. It's not NaNo, but the writers needing to realize they still need to get their work critiqued, plus do edits at least two-three times before the critique group. Unfortunately, I've see authors not doing NaNo no better in this.All NaNo should teach is get that story down on paper like they would if they would if have a contract of a novel/nonfiction book to finish--after that it still needs to be edited, and all the rest of writing.

  2. You express my thoughts exactly, Pamela

  3. Hi Linda and Pamela, I agree with you about the importance of self-editing. I think NaNo works for those writers who do self-edit and as you say, Linda, to test a storyline. I've never been tempted to try it because I fear all I would see would be the deadline. But if it works... go for it.

    1. Thanks for calling by, Lindsay.
      It's the depth element that I question. Depth cannot be added *afterwards*, it has to be added *during*, hence the need for a rewrite rather than an edit.

  4. I had a go at this a couple of years ago and turned out about 116k as a first draft. As usual, I left the piece 'in a drawer' for a while and then returned to it. It was, of course, full of holes. Some could be fixed, but there was a fundamental flaw that I could find no way round. So, whilst it was an interesting exercise, it didn't result in a publishable book. This year, I'm halfway through the first draft of book 3 of a fantasy trilogy, so I'm going to use NaNoWriMo to help me get that finished. I expect, this time, the exercise will prove productive, because I already have premise, characters, timeline and basic story in place. Wish me luck!

    1. Thank you, Stuart, for giving us your experience. This, more or less, emphasises the point I make in my post. At least you had the insight to identify a flaw as 'fundamental' and realise that no amount of tweaking would help. Back to the planning, eh? I have a few of these myself.

      I do, though, wish you well using this year's NaNoWriMo to complete your fantasy. Learning from experience pays dividends.

  5. Yes, how true. In my experience both as a tutor and in my stint as an editor most writers think their work is ready before it is. Though I still love the idea of deadlines because I am basically a procrastinator as a writer. I love a good deadline to make me write more than I usually would :)

  6. Hi Della. Thanks for dropping by. I've been 'edited' by a number of mainstream magazines and book publishers, and I would say none have given a definitive 'excellent' edit. However, despite mumbles into cuffs, I think everyone in the industry accepts that, even outside of a house style, it's a time versus cost conundrum. All I can say to those considering taking an indie publishing route, is do pay for at least one full edit on at least a decent chunk of a novel. This way they'll get a good grounding in what to look for.

  7. I've been trying to 'edit' my NaNo novel from 2011 for 6 months and just recently realised that a rewrite is the only way to go. I agree that it's a fantastic exercise to test your stamina as a writer and for getting words on the page, NaNo is great.
    But yes, it doesn't produce a publishable novel. If anything, it focuses you on the holes in plot, character and theme which can then be examined and reworked into something with real potential.

    1. You have, Cat, underlined my main concern. Once written it becomes a "whole" entity expecting only a tweak. As you say, it can take a loooong time to realise that just won't do it.

      Glad you reached the right decision for you, and I wish you well with the rewrite. It will become a better book for all the thinking time you've given it.

      Thanks for calling by to give an insight into your experience.