Happy November. In the world of writing, November means one thing: NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated.

I have never participated in NaNoWriMo before, but that hasn’t kept me from being deeply cynical about it. This is probably because December always found the writerly listservs to which I subscribe bombarded with questions like, “I finished my novel in November. How do I get an agent?” I would roll my eyes, but others would patiently explain that perhaps a little revision was in order first. I understood their enthusiasm: when I finish a draft of a novel, I want everyone to read it, too. But, I know that it’s not actually ready yet, and a good waiting period for all readers — myself included — is in order. I guess that’s why I was unimpressed by the idea of writing a whole novel in a month. How good could a book written in 30 days actually be?

My ideas about NaNoWriMo started to change as I met more people who had come out of the month with (eventually) working and successful novels. I also took the approach for the first time of writing what I called a “skeleton draft”: the bones of the story to which I would go back and add flesh. Since I’m an adder-onner rather than a pruner,  this approach actually makes sense to me. So, while I took longer than a month to write my draft, I was starting to see how such an exercise could be useful.

I’m also a huge believer that you don’t become a writer by thinking or dreaming or plotting or talking about writing. You become a writer by sitting down and writing. NaNoWriMo provides the structure that people need to make writing a habit.

What really made me come around to the idea of NaNoWriMo, though, was hearing an interview with Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus,  on NPR’s All Thing Considered. She spoke about how she used NaNoWriMo two years in a row to build the world of her novel. To me this seems a perfect use of the month. True, it’s not actually writing a novel. But committing to writing 50k words that explore your world — that seems a priceless luxury.

Now that I’ve decided that NaNoWriMo may not be so bad after all, I would love to participate. However, this year I’m working on revisions of The Water Castle. I’d love to get those done by the end of the month. NaNoRevMo? Maybe next year I will jump in with both feet.

In the meantime, our booklist today will be books that came out of NaNoWriMo. Perhaps the best known success story is Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. The Hub highlights more. Here are several more, some with tips from the authors, that I hope will inspire you to take the plunge.

  • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. See her Bookduck interview in which she dispels my misconception about the project: “There’s often a misconception that NaNo is about writing a book in a month. I mean, National Novel Writing Month. It’s there in the title! But that’s really not what it’s about. It’s about creating a first, very very rough draft that you can eventually — with a lot of hard work — turn into a novel.”
  • My fellow Mainer Deva Fagan wrote the first 50,000 words of Fortune’s Folly in 2003, finishing her rough draft in December. She did a guest post on why it worked for her that year — and why it didn’t in a subsequent year, for Abby the Librarian, who ran a series on NaNoWriMo.
  • Sydney Salter has had two successes with NaNoWriMo books: My Big Nose & Other Natural Disasters and Swoon at Your Own Risk. Like Deva, she worked into December to finish her drafts.
  • Cindy Pon told me: “i wrote 35k of Silver Phoenix (the dreaded middle) using nano in 2006. i never used it with the intention of completing 50k in a month. i only wanted to push myself through the middle and establish a good writing routine. i wrote for about 40 minutes a night, 5 days a week, and averaged between 1k to 1800 words in those 40 minutes. i would say at least 28k of those words i wrote stayed in the novel.”
  • At 19, Jessica Burkhart took part in NaNoWriMo and wrote what would become the first in her twelve book Canterwood Crest Series. If you’re a member, you can read her story at MediaBistro.
  • If it weren’t for NaNoWriMo, it’s possible that Carrie Ryan’s bestselling Forest of Hands and Teeth would not exist: “It was the rule that says you have to start something new that made me write Forest — I already had several other projects going and so I had to come up with something new.”

To all those participating in NaNoWriMo 2011 — good luck and get writing!

Read Write: NaNoWriMo
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