Welcome to National Novel Writing Month! This month you will be encouraged to write an entire novel in only 30 days. It will involve pushing yourself to your limits to get 1,667+ words written every day, no weekends off, no exceptions. You will probably lose some sleep, miss out on some Thanksgiving festivities, offend your spouse or your dog, and find yourself sneaking a few paragraphs in at the office. But once you've reached the end of the month you will have a fully-fledged first draft manuscript, ready to polish into a shining stone of brilliance. And that's awesome. If you're participating, stop reading this post right now and go hammer out that word count.
...Okay then. Any NaNoWriMo peoples who stuck around: folks, you're on your own this year.
I've participated in NaNoWriMo five times now, and enjoyed it every time, even when I didn't finish. It's fun! Turbo-charging your writing output is exhausting, but damn if it doesn't feel good to see all those words on the page.
Here's the thing:
You still have to finish the novel.
The novel you'll have completed by November 30th? It's still just 50,000 words of rough draft. In today's market that's usually considered a novella, for one thing, but that's quibbling over terminology. What's more important is that those 50,000 words are seat-of-your-pants prose that is almost certainly chock-full of typos, bad metaphors, adverbs, padded descriptions (you can easily add a quick 100 words by elaborating on someone's clothes), and enough plotholes to murder a Vegas tour bus and the tow truck they send out to rescue them.
I've discussed the ghosts of NaNoNovels past before. Suffice to say that none of the four novels I attempted in the past have come off. My latest one, A Boy and his Demon... well I've discussed that too, and I'm still mired in worldbuilding and filling in the details I'll need to put together a coherent universe that will last me through three books. (I am still searching for friendly worldbuilding advice, by the way.) Which is why I'm not participating in NaNoWriMo this year: I'm not abandoning a project that, as far as I'm concerned, is still viable and pretty badass. Even if it drags on for another year.
So what's my point? Am I just writing this to discourage you? Fuck no. Go forth and conquer like a mighty literary giant. But while you're conquering, keep a few things in mind?
1. Take copious notes. I'm serious, every little scrap of idea you have in November should be written down, either in the margins of your notebook or on an index card or a sticky note or typed into a dump file on your computer. You are flying very fast and loose this month and when it comes time to revise, you can't afford to forget anything. If you want to add the notes to your word count I won't tell anyone.
2. Begin and end. Your novel should have both, even if they're terrible. Ideally you should have a fairly solid through-line from one to the other as well. If you can't work out what to write for one section, you are permitted to jot down a brief summary of what you think happens and move on, as long as you still make your word count.
3. Don't stop. A related point: once you reach 50,000 words, keep going until you've got your beginning, ending and through-line. Perhaps your final book is 80,000 words, or 100,000 words, or whatever. Don't stop writing until you've got everything written down, and try to fill in any summaries you were forced to add in November. You are allowed to slow down, if sanity demands, but don't stop.
4. Okay, stop. Once you've got everything down, of course, you can take a breather. Do so. Don't be tempted to start your second draft, because having finished NaNoWriMo you are technically insane and likely to stay that way for at least a month. Use that month to rest and recover. Work on something fun and easy for a bit, go outside, reconnect with friends and family, eat something horrible for you, go run a marathon, whatever. Just don't look at your novel yet.
5. Now go again. Once your month is up and you're well rested, open up your manuscript and take a look. Carry a red pen and, again, take copious notes as you read through. Try to do this as quickly as you can. Your goal is to get a broad idea of what shape your novel is in and where you're going to need to do the most work. You are not correcting spelling and grammar, because you will be tossing out entire sections of the manuscript and there isn't much point yet. Just get a high-level view of your novel. Then, start patching.
There's probably a step six, but if so I'm not done with it yet. And you don't have time to read it anyway! What are you still doing here? Go! Write! Be fruitful and inkify!