Facebook gifted me with a memory moment from November 2012, the first year I participated in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. I had made a commitment with two fellow women writers to each complete the 50,000 words in 30 days challenge and had playfully coined the name NaNoWriMettes for our little cadre, harkening back to 50’s and 60’s girl groups. The photo Facebook reposted was of the three of us draped around one another at The Emporium, our Sunday morning writing haunt.
Aside from my dissertation, I had never written anything longer than a few thousand words and while I had plenty of ideas for a novel, the thought of actually writing one was intimidating. Making the commitment with two fellow women writers to hold my hand, write beside me, and encourage me made it seem possible.
And it was! In 2012 we all completed those crucial first drafts. I’d made a vow to myself that at 40,000 words, no matter where I was in the story, I would stop and write an ending. I had heard many cautionary tales about folks who wrote their hearts out and got their 50,000 words done but not a complete draft. At the end of the writing marathon they lost their forward motion and never returned to the manuscript, never writing the ending. When I got to that 40,000-word point, I was unsure about how the story would end, and thought it necessary to write the rest of the story before I would know. My compromise was to write three possible endings. That put me over my 50,000 words and gave me both endings and the desire to write my way to one of them! I kept writing and at about 115,000 words finally had a full draft with the perfect ending chosen. That book is now in its third revision and looking better with each pass. And thanks to NaNo 2014 and my NaNoWriMettes’ sisterhood, there is a solid first draft of a follow up book in what I am now envisioning as a series.
There are plenty of critics of NaNo. I know one woman who claims she will never read or buy a book that was written during NaNo, implying that it would be shoddy work because who could write a draft of a novel in 30 days? I find that an unwarranted supposition and unfairly judgmental. NaNo is not designed to have you complete a finished work. It is the exact opposite. The mantra is “Keep writing, no matter what.” Do not reread, do not edit, and do not revise. Just keep going! The goals are to get into the writing habit, to stay on the page, and to get words down so you have something to revise. NaNo writing is not meant to be polished; it is rather the often referred to messy first draft. Some well known books that began life as a first draft during NaNo include: Sara Gruen’s Like Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, and Hugh Howey’s Wool. I’m certain none of those writers published their first drafts. I’m certain all were revised and edited numerous times. The point is, you can’t revise what you haven’t written and NaNo gets you 50,000 words to revise.
I am with my beloved NaNoWriMette sisters again this year but I am writing in a different way. I have committed to writing 50,000 words in a series of drafts for essays and short stories, even a few blog posts. I am staying true to the philosophy of not stopping to edit. I brainstormed a long list of topics and whenever I feel stuck or have a first draft completed, I just go to the next topic. This is working well. I have no trouble getting the 1,667 words per day needed to get to 50,000. On most days I exceed that number. The beauty of this is that post NaNo I will have so much writing ready for revision. If I revise a piece and need to set it aside for a while before I try again or if I have sent it to another writer for feedback, I have a plethora of other pieces to work on. I am RICH with words and I thank the National Novel Writing Month process and my writing tribe, the NaNoWriMettes for that.
Jude Walsh Whelley writes fiction, memoir, and poetry. She lives in Dayton, Ohio. This post was previously published on her blog, Writing Now.