November is National Novel Writing Month (although it’s since become international, as the national refers to the USA) and the initiative started as a way of getting writers who always wanted to write a novel but felt they never had the time to focus and produce 50,000 words during November. NaNoWriMo don’t pretend that 50,000 is a complete novel and don’t pretend that every writer who hits the 50,000 target has a publishable novel. The aim is to overcome the inner critic and get in the practice of writing daily to a target and prove that, even with family and work, writing a novel-length piece of work is possible.
So, if you took part and hit your 50,000 word target, what next?
- Congratulations! Producing a piece work of that length is an achievement in itself and don’t let the critics tell you otherwise.
- Accept that 50,000 words is not novel-length. Novels are usually 80,000 words plus, but having got your 50,000 words, producing the next 30,000+ should be a lot easier.
- Put your manuscript aside and read a few novels, get a feel for how long they are and how they are plotted and written (ideally this would have been done before you started your own novel and would be an ongoing process).
- Read what you’ve written and edit and revise again.
- Don’t even think of submitting your piece to anyone, especially editors and literary agents until you’ve done steps 2 – 6 at least five times.
- Avoid mentioning NaNoWriMo in your proposal or query. It’s a great achievement, but one to share with friends rather than people who you’d like to seriously consider publishing your novel.
NaNoWriMo is a great way of focusing attention on writing and getting your novel kick-started. But you don’t finish there. What you will have achieved during NaNoWriMo is a first draft. There will be typos, gaping holes in the plot, loose ends and your main narrating character will have several out of character scenes. All these are typical in first drafts. You now need to spend December reading, re-writing and revising. Or at least make it your New Year’s Resolution to polish and finish your NaNoWriMo novel.
If you didn’t finish your NaNoWriMo novel or hit your target, don’t give up. A concentrated burst of writing during a month that’s a “siren of sullen moods and fading hues” (John Clare), won’t suit everyone. It once took Ted Hughes “19 years and 19 minutes” to write a poem so anyone who thinks a complete novel can be dashed off in a month is delusional.
Even Ian Fleming took at least six weeks to write a James Bond novel. He’d spend months doing research, making notes, planning, plotting and dreaming beforehand then travelled to his Caribbean island home and did nothing but type for six weeks. Start planning now to write your novel in November 2011.