Nanowrimo is an acronym that stands for National November Writing Month. It is a casual initiative in which you challenge yourself to write 50,000 words in one month, which is an average of 1,667 words a day. To give you an idea of that length, 50,000 words is about the length of The Great Gatsby or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe is a pithy 36,000 words by comparison.
Although there is an official Nanowrimo website where you can declare your progress and sign in to update, you don’t have to: basically, if you want to do Nanowrimo, you can jump right in, right now, write 50,000 words before November 30th and you’ve won. You don’t need to actually get an official stamp of approval to start or finish. The rules are also quite loose: the main rule is that “if you believe you’re writing a novel, then we believe you’re writing a novel too.” What is in the 50,000 words is up to you, as long as you wrote it. There are no prizes, and no further measures beyond that 50,000 words, not even for quality of writing.
Now, as you can imagine, there’s a fair few people in the writing and publishing industry that hate Nanowrimo. And they have pretty good reasons to do so: Nanowrimo actively encourages quantity over quality, after all. I remember browsing through the forums of the official website and the most popular discussion was methods on how to pad out your writing and eek out those few extra words to drag you over the finish line. Now, as we’ve covered multiple times, there is nothing wrong with writing rubbish if it’s your first draft. The problem is that there a lot of people going through Nanowrimo who don’t realise that writing rubbish is actually the easy bit: it is the editing that is the real work. Couple that with the euphoria of finishing a novel (even if it’s the first draft) and that sensation that your first draft is actually awesome and ready for the shelves right now means that people blunder straight into the next step of agent-scouting far too early.
As has been discussed in a previous blog post, agents have a pretty hard time slogging through bad manuscripts as it is, so I can only imagine how much bigger that slush pile of envelopes gets in December and January, stuffed full of undercooked stories that may have good ideas but are crippled by wordiness, padding…all of the signs of a story that is quite clearly just trying to bulk itself out to that 50,000 word limit that Nanowrimo pushes.
The other, slightly more selfish reason is that we writers really don’t need any more competition than there already is. It’s no secret that readers are becoming a rare breed, let alone frequent readers, and having a growing pool of writers fighting over the attention of a shrinking pool of readers isn’t appealing to anyone. Oh sure, for established authors higher up the food chain with a loyal fanbase it may be easy for them to say “Sure, get writing!”, but for those of us who scramble for the attention of even one reader, the idea of having to fight even harder to make ourselves heard over the thousands of new voices that crop up around November is bound to stir up negative emotions.
Having said all of that, there is actually a lot of good to be had from Nanowrimo. I am participating in Nanowrimo for the third time this year. Kami was born from a Nanowrimo project. But while that initial spurt of pure output is important – and Nanowrimo is very good at making you ignore your inner-judges and fears of ‘is it good enough?’ and just get writing – Nanowrimo works best when it is understood to be part of a larger process. Before that 50,000 words should be a planning stage, and after that there needs to be a rigorous editing stage…if the book is finished, that is. Kami isn’t 50,000 words, but 70,000. And to be perfectly honest, 50,000 words isn’t as long as you think it is. It usually clocks in at a rather slim 200 pages.
If it is understood that there’s more to writing than writing, then I’m all for it. I don’t care if it adds more competition to the field: if that author has ran the full gauntlet of planning, writing and editing then they deserve as much of a chance at getting noticed and published as I do. And who knows, maybe that author has that novel, the one that will inspire a whole new generation of readers that we are all so desperately looking for.