Is NaNoWriMo a good idea?

NaNoLogo HookThis is a question not a statement. I can make arguments for both sides of this debate but I do think that there is one over-riding aspect of novel-writing that can not be overlooked. Or can it?

Read on and let me know what you think…

Some simple pros and cons

Before I get to the main course of my argument, here are some hors d’oeuvres:

Pros:

  • It may give a new writer the impetus and belief they need to move on with a writing career
  • It’s good experience
  • It’s nice to feel part of a community
  • It’s 50,000 words more than you had before you started.

Cons:

  • It marks you out as an amateur
  • It’s a side-show from productive work
  • The quality will be poor meaning lots of re-writes

I could argue against most of these but my position (as I said in NaNoWriMo and Me) is a mixture of experience and the chance to explore 50,000 words in December. Since writing that post I have wondered how meaningful 50,000 words actually is…

How meaningful is 50,000 words?

There’s a mantra attached to NaNoWriMo that points out The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Great Gatsby as fantastic and short novels. In my case I want to point out two things:

  1. I’m not Douglas Adams (or F Scott Fitzgerald)
  2. What about second and final draft?

I’m not Douglas Adams (or F Scott Fitzgerald)

All well and good for those whose success I might only dream of emulating but I am not them. I may have spent an afternoon drinking with Douglas Adams (another story for another time) but that didn’t teach me much about writing. There are no doubt many more 50,000 word works that never see the light of day or the caress of the printing press. They also don’t get a look-in from publishers.

Depending on genre a writer might need anywhere from 60,000 to 120,000 words to stand a chance with a first novel. Lets therefore suggest a good NaNoWriMo target might be 80,000 words.

What about second and final draft?

The observation on quality (if you believe it) is that rushing a novel in a month (if it is a rush) means low quality. This may or may not be true but it is generally the case that writers overrun the first draft then trim back for final. A rule of thumb (from a short scan of blog posts and tweets might be 20% trimming.

This means to trim to 80,000 words you need a first draft of 100,000 words. This is twice the target for NaNoWriMo!

Is all lost?

Well no because 50,000 words (if you stick at that target) is still even in part worth having. Note also:

  • Self-publishing and ebooks are breaking the mould of the traditional market. With no print costs why not sell a so-called short 50,000 word story for a reasonable price?
  • Maybe you could set a higher target than 50,000 words? If you only manage 65,000 words then you comfortably smash the NaNoWriMo target and have around two-thirds of a first draft of a traditionally sized novel.

Thoughts – am I mad, confused or correct? Let me know!

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