Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Monday Musing: NaNo

Like Hurricane Sandy, NaNoWriMo is bearing down on us. As I mentioned Friday, I’m still not certain if I’m participating this year, though I have checked out my regional forums in NaNoland. There’s a lot of NaNo chatter out there right now, so I  thought I’d share a few thoughts on my own experiences with NaNo for the benefit (I hope) of those of you who may be looking at doing it for the first time.

– First, it’s about process, not product. A blessing and a curse, this is. Detractors of NaNo argue that NaNo encourages you to write crap. NaNo encourages you to write, period. That’s the real point of it: shut down the internal editor, sit in the chair, and write. NaNo’s greatest gift to me was getting me in the habit of writing, of establishing a process for writing. If you want to write and have never found a way to get yourself started, NaNo can be a great thing.

You don’t have to finish. By this I mean it’s okay if you ‘win’, it’s okay if you don’t. ‘Winning’ NaNo means churning out a 50,000-word novel by November 1. No one says it has to be a complete novel. If you’re a wingman like me, you may not know how big your story is. If you’re a plotter/planner/outliner, you may have an idea that your novel really needs 80,000 words, or 90,000, or a 120,000. Don’t despair. Do it anyway.

Back in 2010, I got too hung up on the idea that my novel had to be ‘finished’, i.e., that it needed a beginning, middle and end. Over the last few days I racked my brain to come up with a proper ending for my story, and really rushed the ending. It wasn’t a bad ending, really, but I may have lost something due to my compulsion to finish. Which leads me to

Winning isn’t everything. It’s okay not to ‘win’ this. For real. Especially if you’re a new writer who is trying to get started. The important thing is to establish the habits that work for you. The daily word count tool is a handy way to track your progress, but it’s too easy to get hung up on making the 1,667-word daily goal, too easy to get caught up in the obsession of ‘winning.’ Maybe you can’t write everyday. Don’t obsess over winning. If you only get 1000 words, don’t feel like you absolutely MUST hit 2,334 words the very next day. Relax, breathe, focus on establishing the habit of writing.

Avoid the ‘Dirty Tricks for Padding Your Word Count.’ On that section of the NaNo forum, you’ll find handy tips like ‘if you make a misstake mistake, don’t cut sentences or paragraphs, just leave them.’ Actually, that should read ‘do not cut sentences’, because to pad your word count ‘do not use contractions, even if it makes your grade school dropout sound like an uptight English professor from the 19th century.’ Another good one was ‘every time a character walks in the room or speaks, use his full name and title’, such as “Joseph Abernathy Caldwell, an investment broker at Goldman-Sachs, picked up the telephone. ‘What is happening, dude?’ said Joseph Abernathy etc.” Every. Time. If you have any thoughts that you might like to pursue publication some day, you probably don’t want to get in the habit of padding word count.

Finally, please, please, please remember that anything you do in NaNo is a ROUGH DRAFT. Please do not start sending your 50,000+-word opus off to agents and editors, or even beta readers or crit partners until you’ve had a chance to read it yourself and clean it up. Do yourself, your friends, and all those agents and editors a big favor and take some time to look it over and honestly go over it. (I will admit I was guilty of pushing to ‘win’ and using a few ‘dirty tricks’, though nothing as bad as what I quoted above, but I knew better than to shove my NaNo off on anyone.)

Anyway, that’s about all I’ve got to say about NaNo, for now. What about you? Any tips, tricks, or things you wish you knew the first time you jumped in? Share, share.

Now, one last thing. Depending on how things go here, I may be back on Friday, I may not. We made out pretty well with Irene and Tropical Storm Lee last year as far as our power (I think it was out for a day); I fully expect we’ll lose it some time today. How long it will be out is the question, hopefully not too long. I know at least one regular here is in what looks to be the direct path of the storm. Good luck, be well, be safe.

12 Responses

  1. I don't NaNo. I'm much too slow and anal to shut off my inner editor. But I do get inspiration from watching others sprint through November. Gets my competitive juices flowing, and I tend to pick up my turtle pace from a crawl to a slow amble. 🙂

  2. NaNoWriMo always seems to fall when I'm wrapping up another project. Bummer! Maybe I'll have CaNoWriMo in a month or two…

    Be safe, Jeff! This Nor'Easter has been beating us for a day or so, and now it's getting caught up in that hurricane mess. We're bracing for 6-12'' of rain/snow. :/

  3. Takes too much time to pad your word count–unless that's all you want to do. I want the story out there so I can edit it.

  4. I love NaNo!! I love so much about it – it's so much fun! 🙂 That word count padding is pretty scary stuff. I don't know if I could write like that if I tried. It would require too much thinking & would probably slow me down 🙂

    Stay safe!!

  5. What a great post. I have never been able to do Nano for various reasons but I think all of this is sound advice no matter what. This actually helped me. Please stay safe!

    Oh and I LOVED Fraggle Rock!!!!!

  6. The last time I did NaNoWriMo I considered trying some of those padding ideas, I'll admit. But they sound really awkward to do and I was afraid if I started I wouldn't be able to stop using too many words. For everything.

    Hope your power stays constant!

  7. Interesting insights. That padding trick of spelling out the whole name every time is a bit scary. I've never participated in NaNo, so that was new to me.

    I hope you fared well in the storm. We lost power for a couple days, but otherwise came out of this much better than last year with Hurricane Irene. Many, many others though are in such tough shape. It's heart breaking.

  8. These are great points, and I especially agree with not padding word count. That is one thing I never really understood…why use a bunch of filler just to 'win'? A person will just have to take out a bunch of crap later.

    Good luck if you go for it!


  9. Hope you've got your power and everyone's safe.

    Sage words about NaNo. Great writing isn't about how many words you can pump out, but it can come from having a regular routine, I think. And I don't understand word padding either, unless you're planning on releasing an unedited mess! I've made a good start this morning – hoping I can keep up the pace!

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