‘Tis a mere 36 days until Nov. 1, 2015 — and the start of National Novel Writing Month, the annual flurry of typing that, mirabile dictu, sometimes leads to a complete novel.
NaNoWriMo is fun. It’s a great exercise in creative writing and a real-life learning lab to help you grow your craft and connect with other writers. The biggest benefit, though, is that the month-long event forces you to write every single day, to end on 11/30 at 11:59:59 p.m. with at least 50,000 words under your belt.
Some people do NaNo for fun. Others, however, think that maybe this time, this novel is the one that will make its way to publishers or agents.
If you’re writing for yourself, the sky’s the limit: Do what you like, how you like, because no matter what you do, it’s a net win for you regardless of your final word count. But if you write thinking you might seek publication, consider:
- Plot. You need a plot, and you probably need to know what the plot is, in a non-trivial degree of detail, before you start writing. Stream-of-consciousness noveling is, again, a superlative creative exercise, but the final product rarely results in a well-developed story over an entire book-length treatment.
- Point of View. Suggestion: When you plot, you should assign specific POVs per chapter, if you have more than one character POV. Screwing up the POV is hellishly difficult to fix, so nailing it the first time will save you much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
- Characterization. As with plot, you probably need to know who your characters are before you start writing. Many NaNo participants enjoy discovering who the characters are as they go — writers might say something like, “And it turned out that my main character actually likes goat cheese” — but if you want to write for publication, you probably can’t have moments where “it turned out” that you “discovered” something significant about your characters during the drafting process.
- Genre. When you write for yourself, it’s fair game to throw all your darts at the genre dartboard. If you seek publication, however, you are far less likely to find a willing agent or publisher if your work mixes and matches genres like a thrift-store wardrobe. Readers can’t discover fusion work given how book metadata works, so correspondingly those books obtain far fewer (buying) readers, thus scaring away publishers. Stick to straight genres, and avoid the “shocking plot twist” that crosses genre lines. Ask yourself: If you wanted a friend to buy it at the local bookstore, what section would you send her to? And why? And would everyone agree that such a shelf is the right place for the work?
- Proofing. You absolutely need other people to review your work — beta readers — who will help you uncover both your structural and your linguistic flaws. There’s no such thing as a flawless writer, but the mark of a professional writer is that he or she engages with others to fix mistakes before presuming to shop a manuscript.
- Word Count. Yes, NaNoWriMo considers you a “winner” at 50k. However, 50k is a very short novel. Aim for a final product around 75,000 to 95,000 words.
- Writing Prompts. A good write-in host will give you prompts. Good. But a prompt that doesn’t fit with your story shouldn’t be inserted. Or, if it’s inserted, it ought not be retained if it’s off-point.
- Wheat and Chaff. If your 11 p.m. flurry of words intended to meet the day’s tally instead proves to be a steaming pile of word vomit, delete it. (Although no one will judge you if you wait to cut until December 1.)
Eight points. But on the bright side, you still have 36 days to get your plot plotted and your characters sketched before the trigger pulls on Nov. 1. Don’t forget, you can drop in during our open office hours to prepare in peace!