Let the NaNoWriMo Madness Begin!


When I was a boy… Ok, I’m kidding. But, when I started writing this post, it occurred to me that it was that kind of story. Anyway, back when I first heard about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated) in 2006, it was still in its fledgling state (launched in 1999, it was still fairly small back then). I heard about it and jumped on board with a ton of enthusiasm, as most do at first. Then I realized just how hard the task is. 1666 words a day for 30 days during the month of November. Yeah. It’s no small task. I won once… and that was working at breakneck speed to crank out 20,000 words in the last week alone.

Nowadays, NaNo has grown in notoriety. This year, according to the website, more than 400,000 writers will participate. And, with the enthusiasm comes the naysayers.

“You shouldn’t be trying to write a novel that quickly.”

“What good can it be in that short a time?”

“It’s a gimmick and real writers would never participate.”

I disagree for the most part with all of the naysayers. Anything that gets people to write is a good thing in my book (pun intended). Is this a pace you should keep up? Sure! If you can! I’d love to be able to crank out 1666 a day! Especially at the first-draft stage, which is what NaNo is really all about. You’re goal isn’t to write a polished/finished novel in a month. You’re cranking out 50,000 words of a first draft. You’re putting words to paper with the expectation that what you’re creating will need significant revisions… in December… and January… and February. First drafts are supposed to be crap! But, how great will it be to have a completed (or near completed) first draft at the end of the month!?

So, if you’re taking part, good luck. Have fun. Bond with your fellow WriMos. Learn as much as you can about your writing and the writing process. Crank out the best crappy first draft you possibly can. Keep your expectations low. Put words on the page and don’t worry about revising. There’ll be plenty of time for that.

Not taking part? Do your writer friends who are participating a favor. Don’t mock their intentions. Cheer them on! Let their milestones fuel your own writing endeavors. Be happy that they are writing! Will their NaNoWriMo book become a novel? Who knows? In today’s age of self-publishing, I’d never dare to say no. With the right editing, anyone can publish their work. Don’t rain on anyone’s parade.

As a last point, rushing to write a novel may be fun, but it shouldn’t make you think that you can rush the important parts. Revision, editing, proofing, beta reading, more revision, etc. Use NaNo to get the foundation, but don’t slap up paper walls and call it a house. 😉

Have you done NaNoWriMo in the past? What’s you best advice for finishing? Let us know in the comments section and thanks for stopping by.

My Creative Writing Mentor

I attended The Richard Stockton College of NJ for my Literature degree. My literature department was an awesome group of individuals who are still spreading their awesomeness to this day. I was also lucky enough to study creative writing under Stephen Dunn, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. I took a total of 3 classes with him before he retired from teaching full time the year after I graduated. I will always remember those classes. They crafted the building blocks of my writing career.

Stephen was a tough teacher in the sense that he was not one to give praise lightly. If your writing was awful, he wasn’t afraid to tell you so. Sometimes gently. Sometimes not so gently. A friend of mine (who is now a wonderful stand-up comic in Chicago) submitted a short story, to which Stephen said, “Keep the first line and throw out the rest.” Ouch. I had my fair share of callouts for clumsy writing, as we all do during those formative years (wait, aren’t they all formative?). But, it was all worth it to get work back and see a “Nice” or “Really like this” written in the margins. I strove for comments like that and doing so pushed me to be a better writer.

I found my writing strength while studying with Stephen. If there was one thing that always caught his attention, it was my dialogue. There was something natural and honest about it. You could hear the characters speaking that way. I still cling to that strength in my writing today. If I’m having difficulty, I turn to dialogue. Sometimes the natural progression of the story may stall, but having the characters talk it out will move it along. It can lead to a first draft with many conversation-heavy chapters, but it’s often easier to go back and edit.

I also had to take a semester of poetry writing for my creative writing track. While I don’t quite remember his overall assessment of my ability in that form, I seem to remember sharing a laugh at how prolific I was. I approached poetry with the “why write 1 good poem, when you can write 20 mediocre ones” mentality. In one semester, I probably produced close to 60 pieces of poetry when the class requirement was 15-20. It was fun, but we both knew that poetry wasn’t quite my thing.

Writing fiction wasn’t much different. For the final paper, I was always working on part of a novel. When others were submitting 10-15 page short stories, I was submitting the first 40 pages of a novel. I rarely read my end-of-year work aloud in class (due to size) and when it was time to review my work, I was the guy who always got the death stare from my classmates. “Like I didn’t have enough reading to do this weekend!” I guess it was a glimpse into the future. I was destined for the long form. The first 40 pages of the first draft of my novel, Multiples of Six, were written for his class. I threw out about 30 of those pages after I realized they were all backstory. Live and learn!

Lastly, I don’t know if he does public speaking anymore, but listening to Stephen read was often the highlight of the class. He could turn any line of words into something magical. If you ever have the chance to attend a poetry reading of his, I highly recommend it. Definitely a magician with words both written and spoken and I’m glad to have been able to share some time learning the craft from him.

Do/Did you have a writing mentor? Let us know in the comments and thanks for stopping by.