Make Your NaNoWriMo Experience Count (4 Excellent Posts)

I’ll be upfront. I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo (and have no desire to), but I’ve observed many writers go through the process.

I know it can help writers put aside perfectionism, procrastination, and inhibitions about writing.

That is: It motivates a lot of people to SIT and WRITE.

One might tend to think: Well, this is a good thing.

Sometimes, I’m not so sure.

When unskilled or unpracticed writers attempt NaNoWriMo, they inevitably end up with a lot of material they can’t use.

Sometimes they don’t realize they can’t (or shouldn’t) use it. Sometimes they even think they ought to submit it. (That’s actually the least of MY concerns, though it does concern some agents on the receiving end.)

My concern is that NaNoWriMo could be immensely productive, for any level of writer, if approached with a bit of preparation.

Technically, such a thing might be called an outline.

But I call it laying the foundations for success.

What’s going to happen in the story?
What does the character want?
What will the turning points be?

Right now, I’m working on a project for Writer’s Digest, a 128-page bookazine (a special newsstand-only “book”) that focuses on how to produce a novel draft in 30 days.

It is possible, but I’d argue you won’t get anything meaningful out of it unless you have an idea of what you want to accomplish.

Otherwise, you’re just writing to write. Maybe that’s OK.

But I’d like you to have something at the end of November you can build on.

Here are a few excellent posts that will help you prepare for the NaNoWriMo challenge in a meaningful way.

5 Things You Absolutely Must Know About Your NaNo Novel Before You Start Writing

5 Resources to Help You Plan Your NaNoWriMo Novel

Let’s Talk About Goals

Three Popular Plot & Structure Methods

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12 thoughts on “Make Your NaNoWriMo Experience Count (4 Excellent Posts)

  1. KristanC

    I’m a NaNo veteran at this point–this will be my 8th year–and it really does come down to how well you know yourself and your writing. No longer a newbie, there’s less romance in it than there used to be — but keeping BIC (butt in chair) every day is my biggest challenge and so, for me, NaNo is valuable and productive. (It doesn’t hurt that my region is extremely active and the go-get-’em enthusiasm among my NaNo and year-round peers is palpable.)

    This isn’t to say that every year has produced something workable; some stories, I realize in December, are worth going back to, some are definitely not. But pushing my imagination to the brink and letting it wander where it may, in a way that I typically can’t do, always serves a purpose.

    Good luck to everyone who tries! 🙂

  2. Verna Wilder

    Thanks for the tips and resources, Jane. I’m a copy editor, and I’ve been on the receiving end for writers who have taken, say, an online course on "How to Write a Novel in 6 Weeks" (for example). Writers who have never been through such a process before think that the manuscript is ready to be edited, but of course it’s not. It’s a first draft. I think that any thoughtful writing we do is worth doing, even if we burn it before the ink is dry on the last word. Several years ago I wrote a mystery novel – three drafts – three really awful drafts. Now I see what my strengths are and what my weaknesses are; I see what I loved about the process and what I hated. That’s really valuable. I’m happier writing narrative essays and short stories, and that’s what I’ll focus on when I do NaNo this year. NaNo gives me a structure, a schedule, and the fun of joining a nation-wide flurry of writing. So I tell people to just go for it and let it be whatever it is. At the very least, we know more about ourselves and our writing process at the end of 30 days.

  3. G.E.Anderson

    This will be my first year with NaNo as well but I’m coming into it with a different perspective. Some will call it cheating but I’m using the program as an impetus to get further along in my novel. Yes, I’m planning on writing as close to 50,000 NaNo words as possible but these will be separate from what I already have.

    I plan on using my already detailed outline but what I’m most excited about is working ‘alongside’ other writers who will inspire me to push further on in my novel–to get that much closer to its completion. What more could a writer ask for?

  4. Tyrean

    Thanks for posting this. I’m going to be writing with NaNo for the first time this year. I know I’ve produced crummy rough drafts before this all on my own, so I’m not afraid of that particular possibility. I am working on an outline, and I am not following their rules exactly – did I miss the fine print on this one?
    I am re-vamping a novel project that hit a dead stand still, with characters taking too many side strips in the first 10,000 words. So, I’ve got characters, I’ve got a fresh outline, and I have a few unusable scenes written that I feel help me visualize my characters. That’s my starting point for NaNoWriMo, and I hope that’s ok.
    I know I’m not going to end up with a publishable novel, but I’m hoping to end up with a finished rough draft that I can polish into something publishable.

  5. Caroline Clemmons

    I learn something every time I read your blog! I sort of discounted Nanowrimo but now I see that I might be ready to benefit. I have the outline, I have the plot points, I have the resolutions–I just need to focus on the goal–and avoid reading blogs (okay, except yours and mine). Thanks for sharing!


  6. Perry

    Hi, thanks for posting this. I have gone into NaNo both times with an outline and produced a great first draft of a book at the end – both over 50,000.

    I also think it’s key for writers to know what they want to get out of NaNo.
    If you want to see if you have the discipline to write that many words, it’s okay and there are lots of tactics for that.

    If you want something that might be eventually published, know what you are writing. That doesn’t mean you have to have a long detailed outline. As you say, it does mean you need to know something about your story before you start.

  7. Elizabeth West

    Ooh, thanks for this. I’ve wanted to try NaNoWriMo. Didn’t last year because I was editing, and wasn’t going to this year because I’m trying to finish a draft and you can’t use something you’re already working on, or so their website says.

    I was intending to use the principle of the thing to help me finish this draft. The tips will be useful. 🙂

  8. Jane Friedman

    @Hillary – Normally, or generally, I would agree with you. But NaNoWriMo is an odd situation — it pushes most people to write far more than maybe they even ought to attempt. It pushes many (new) writers past their natural limit (or ability), and results in material that was produced just to be produced.

    Possibly it is true that even that kind of writing has value. I do question if that energy could’ve been better spent doing something else related to the writing life.

    I’m trying to consider now, if someone held a gun to my head, if I would consider that ANY AND ALL writing can be used or useful. Hmm, the truth is: No. I have to draw a line somewhere. Not sure where. But somewhere.

  9. Colleen Fong

    I write three stream-of-consciousness pages and a blog post every day before my "serious" writing. The pages clear my mind, the blog post gets my mind into a more succinct frame of mind and then I’m ready for the serious work. Even after that, and with the use of outlines, it takes me a long time to winnow my work down to what will be marketable. The entire process is helpful, but I wouldn’t want a professional to see a lot of it.

  10. Hillary

    Not to get all hippie, Natalie Goldman about this but is there really such a thing as writing you "can’t use"? I mean, even writing that doesn’t end up in the final project (regardless of when you wrote it, NaNoWriMo or otherwise) still informs the work as a whole. Sometimes you need that 10 page tangent to find out where your story is really going, that terrible flashback to understand your character’s motivation for a scene that does end up in the final and sometimes that one discarded subplot can end up being a whole novel on its own someday.

    I’m not saying that some preparation shouldn’t go into everything you write because, hell yeah it should, but I have to cry foul on the concept that there is such a thing as writing you "can’t use."

    Every second you spend with your butt in the chair writing is useful, no matter if you wrote it in November or if it winds up on the cutting room floor. It sometimes takes 100 pages to get to that one good page, that is just a fact of writing.