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NaNoWriMo and I Agree: Just Write It

11/04/2010

It’s November again, which means that it’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In case you don’t know, the object of NaNoWriMo is to write a 175-page novel (50,000 words) between November 1 and November 30. The emphasis is on quantity, not quality: “By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes.” 

Is NaNoWriMo a stunt? Sure. Does it produce much publishable work? I have no idea. But I think it can be a useful incentive, and I could not agree more with the underlying concept: just write the book, already. 
 
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: setting out to write a book is a risky thing to do. Every day people tell me, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to write a book, if I could find the time.” What NaNoWriMo says — and I agree with — is, the time is now. 
 
If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, or even if you’re just finally sitting down to get started before another year ends, I’ll repeat a few pieces of advice I’ve offered before. 
  1. Write it now, fix it later. I was fascinated by this NPR story about how much work Jane Austen’s editor might have done on her manuscripts. I love reading about Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’d be lost without my own editor, Keith Kahla. No one’s first draft is good. It doesn’t matter. You have to get it written so you can fix it later. 
  2. You have the time, if you’ll make the time. Don’t believe me? Do what dieters do: keep a journal of your day. Mark down the time you spend watching TV, talking on the phone, emailing, Tweeting, etc. Then decide what portions of that time you’re going to use to write instead. Maybe you’ll sleep an hour less; maybe you’ll stop watching the nightly news. It helps if you can make this a regular time slot — the same amount of time every day, at the same time. Get into the habit of writing. 
  3. Treat your writing like a job. It doesn’t matter if no one’s paying you yet. If your goal is that someone will, it’s already a job. If you don’t have an office, set a place aside that is just for you and your writing — the attic, the basement, a corner of the laundry room — and ask your family and friends to respect that. No one thinks twice about interrupting a hobby. You should make it clear to yourself and the people around you that your writing isn’t a hobby, it’s a job. 
  4. Be ruthless about your time. No means no. If you’ve set aside time to write, hold yourself to it. Set a timer if you have to. I have an old-fashioned hourglass on my desk; when the sands are running, I’m not doing anything but writing. No phone, no research, no conversations, no distractions. 
Since I need to get back to my own writing, I’ll continue these thoughts next week. If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, good luck!