By Jonathan Meyer, Intern
November 1 marks the start of this year’s National Novel Writing Month (wonderfully abbreviated as NaNoWriMo). The event, which challenges people from all walks of life to complete a 50,000-word piece of fiction in 30 days, is in its eleventh year. In 2008, over 20,000 writers were certified “Winners,” meaning they met or exceeded the minimum word count, turned in their manuscript on time, and made sure their work made at least some sense.
NaNoWriMo is the literary equivalent of Hands Across America, except with actual results. Here is an individually guided worldwide event that beckons to the writer inside us all. It emphasizes the frantic thrill of putting words on paper and eschews the endless self-doubt and painstaking craft that normally goes into producing a substantial work. Which is why I am one of this year’s eager participants. I’ve written short stories, profiles, feature articles, and bad poems, and more often than not, I stress over every word. Sometimes these pieces get published and that tickles me to death, but a whole novel? I lack the foresight. To me, it’d be like trying to eat a rib eye in one bite, dry-swallowing the bone down my throat with each keystroke.
But this year, I’m willing to go for broke. I think I’ll take a hint from Emily Heflin, 25, whose strategy was quoted in the Nothern Virginia Daily: “[This year] I'm writing about corpse snatcher monster spiders, young love and pirates, set in space,” she said. “I pick four incongruent concepts and shove 'em all together and see how that works out.”
That’s sound advice for what seems like an impossible task. I see an idea looming blurrily on my literary horizon: A Southern gothic hard-boiled detective novel set on the oil fields of Depression-era Texas starring a motorcycle-riding bounty hunter who can talk to roadkill. Where’s my advance?
“Because of the limited writing window,” the NaNoWriMo website notes, “the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly. Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see how my big stinking manuscript comes out at the end of the month.
But, as a NaNoWriMo writer and intern at the Strothman Agency, I’d like to suggest one thing to my fellow burgeoning Austens and Faulkners: Please do not finish your novel and turn around and query it the next day. Any piece of writing takes time. A novel in 30 days? It can be done, and agents encourage the process. But you can bet it will probably need boatloads of revisions, several new drafts, and most likely a great deal more than the minimum 50,000 words before it is ready to pitch to an agent.
If you are one of lucky, hardworking writers who finish their novel within thirty days, submit to the Strothman Agency. But first, put it in a drawer for a month or so and then come back to it. In that time, you’ll definitely spot a few things that will greatly improve your work in the end. Until then, however, here are a few blog posts to help you get started:
Jessica at Bookends' Guide to Word Count:
40,000 words or less is considered a novella and 50,000 is short for most genres. Depending on what you are writing, you should probably plan on ending up with more than 50,000 words in your first draft.
KT Literary on thinking about your NaNoWriMo as a first draft:
With that, best of luck to all you WriMo’s out there. Keep those pencils sharpened and—most of all—enjoy the hell out of the process!