I promised two weeks ago that I’d be more scathing about Nanowrimo this week to commemorate the final day of the event. Well, I’m following through on that by looking at some of the bad habits that I see come out of the event.
1. Stopping While the attitude diminished as the event aged, I remember a very vocal contingent on the Nanowrimo forums my first year arguing that words 49,999 and 50,000 should be “the” and “end”. That was, after all, the goal, right? 50,000 words? That’s a novel? In the commercial world…no. While word counts for various categories of fiction are fluid, 50,000 typically falls short of the novel category. Novella, novelette, novelina, novelito, whatever they’re calling not-quite-novel-length works right now, 50,000 words falls into one of those categories. Most modern novels aren’t any shorter than 80,000. So you’ve still got some writing to do.
2. Not stopping It can be hard to know when you’ve gotten to the end while writing that first novel. It snuck up on me my first year of Nanowrimo. Even as I was working towards a specific conclusion, I didn’t immediately recognize it when I got there. Know your climax, don’t overdo your denouement, and don’t feel like you need to keep pushing well past the logical end point just because you’re a little “light” on words. That’s more a sign that something needs to be bulked up inside, not that the end needs to be dragged out.
3. Stopping In the most recent episode of The Shared Desk podcast (that’s Episode 7 if you’re reading this after a week or so), Tee Morris and Philippa Ballantine talked about Nanowrimo, and the participants who stop writing at the end of November and don’t sit down at any fiction again until the next November. While it’s fine to be a hobbyist, I think one of the real purposes of Nanowrimo is to get people into writing fiction, and writing it all the time. You’re allowed to write in months other than November, so keep at it!
4. Not stopping Dial back the enthusiasm a little. Yes, you’ve written, you’ve created, and there’s every reason in the world to be proud of yourself. But don’t go too overboard. The absolute worst habit of Nanowrimo participants is the December 1 query letter. It gives the event a bad name. So if you’re looking up agents, putting together query letters, and about to head out to the post office with your printed manuscript, for the sake of all that is good and decent, stop! Also, stop looking at Smashwords or Amazon Kindle publishing, your work deserves more than being thrown against the wall in the roughest shape possible.
5. Stopping Great, you listened to my first piece of advice and your novel is over 50,000 words. It’s 80k, 100k, 120k, and only then did you write “the end.” Fantastic. You are nowhere near done with the process! If anything, finishing the rough draft of the novel is only the beginning. Chuck Wendig calls a Nano novel the “zero draft” for a reason. Now it’s time to go back and read what you’ve written. Make sure all the plotlines mesh at the end of the book. Make sure characters don’t disappear down rabbit holes never to reappear. Make sure that the spelling, grammar, and formatting are all correct. Make sure there’s a subplot. Now is time for editing! And editing sucks, trust me on this one. However, it’s an essential step along the way. Being a writer isn’t easy, and anyone who says otherwise is lying.
6. Not stopping For god’s sake, you’ve been staring at this manuscript for a month now. Maybe longer. Maybe much longer. You have no sense of scale with it anymore, you’re far too invested in things. You lack impartiality. Were your novel a court case, you’d be expected to recuse yourself from editing, but you’re a writer, you don’t get that option. So instead, step back for awhile. Gain some fresh perspective on what you’ve written. And I’m not talking about a day. I’m talking a week. A month. Get it all out of your head, out of your system, so that you can look at it with fresh eyes and mind.
7. Stopping You’ve stepped away from the novel, that’s great. But part of stepping away is stepping back again. You’ve got your perspective, it’s time to put the nose to the grindstone and get back to work. Because no one else is going to do it for you. Give yourself a deadline when you walk away. If you’re finishing Nano, the first of the year is a great time to step back. The December holidays are fantastic to wiping the mind back to a blank slate.
There you have it, my guide on the seven things not to do as you’re coming out of Nanowrimo and looking to further yourself as a writer. It really is simple, just remember to not stop and not not stop and you’re golden.