Octofinisho: Early NaNoWriMo Advice

I’m four years removed from my first NaNoWriMo. For those who are unaware what this term means, it refers to National Novel Writing Month, a world wide competition that supports and motivates people to write 50,000 words in a month. For some, this is a great program. Prior to my first experience (and “victory”) with NaNo, I hadn’t finished a novel, or even five chapters in one book. Since, I’ve completed two novel drafts, a novel rewrite, and am currently working on draft 5 of Kaimerus, the novel I recently paid C.L. Dyck to edit.

While I believe NaNoWriMo has merits to its existence, it also presents major pitfalls. Not only don’t some people ever edit what they write in November, but most won’t even finish the book they started.

If this is you, please be honest with yourself: participating in NaNoWriMo is not in your best interest.

Finishing the novel you started last time is.

I’m giving this advice with twenty days left in October. If you wrote fifty thousand in 30 days last year, I’m confident you can write another twenty thousand in twenty days. If you need to write more words than that, give it your best shot.

Here’s the thing: in the grand scheme of literary achievements, winning NaNoWriMo is little more than a glorified writing spurt. We all have them, but it’s persistence and editing that will make you successful, not finishing another NaNoWriMo. I’d be more impressed with 90 days of 1,000 words a day. At least then you’ve developed a sustainable habit.

What are you going to do with another fifty thousand words in a different story? Sure, there are benefits to having multiple projects, but now you’ve lost momentum on your first book. Writers don’t need more temptation to abandon projects before they’re finished, and I’m afraid competing in NaNoWriMo with an unfinished book is only strengthening that bad habit.

The one crazy thing about writing advice, is no advice is correct 100% of the time. So, maybe you’re the one that is going to turn this new book into Fairy Popper: Tinkerbell’s Assassin, New York Times Best Seller.

Chances are, it’s just going to end up being another first draft that never gets finished.

I’ve been dedicated to a writing career for four years, and I still feel like I’m so far away from success. I more or less wasted a year brainstorming new stories when what I should have focused on was editing my first novel. I really just want people to utilize their time wisely. After the benefits of finishing my first novel (350 days after my first NaNo Nov. 1), the drafting process is now the most beneficial. Don’t neglect that growing stage for the thrill of writing another first draft.

For advice on completing your book, I recommend listening to a quick, fifteen minute podcast by the Parsec Award Winning Writing Excuses: 6.18 “Hollywood Formula.” That podcast showed me how to create a great ending to Act Two, and then from there it should be downhill resolving all the threads you’ve woven into your story.

Consider finishing before NaNoWriMo the carrot on the end of your stick.

About Timothy C. Ward

Timothy C. Ward is a Hugo nominated producer for Adventures in SciFi Publishing, who has been lost, broke and surfed with sharks on the other side of the world. He now dreams of greater adventures from his keyboard in Des Moines, Iowa. This summer he released two novels: his second Sand Divers book, Scavenger: A.I., where two parents use an ancient technology to fight a reproducing A.I. while trying to resurrect their deceased infant; and Godsknife: Revolt, an apocalyptic battle for godhood in the rift between Iowa and the Abyss.

18 comments on “Octofinisho: Early NaNoWriMo Advice

  1. […] Octofinisho: Early NaNoWriMo Advice (newauthors.wordpress.com) […]

  2. My thoughts exactly. I’ve thought about joining in just for the camaradarie, but I’ve already been down the path of hurrying through a rough draft only to still be tinkering with it 10 years later because the first cut was so bad. I’ve found there’s no point writing when I’m worn out or exhausted which is what trying to pound out that many words in a month would do to me.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Jessica. I’ve seen you over at Duran’s blog quite a bit.

      Ten years? I’m impressed with your persistence. How’s it coming along?

      I’m also working on the issue of whether or not to write when I’m worn out. I am worn out much more than I’m motivated, so I’m afraid I wouldn’t get much done if I didn’t write when worn out. I’m trying to make sure I get more than seven hours of sleep, which makes a big difference.

      • Yes, 10 years is a long time, good thing I’m stubborn! But, this is the novel I used for learning, so as I become a better writer, the story goes through more iterations. I think it’s very close now. I hope so!

        As for being exhausted, I have to eat right and sleep right first, and then *write* second. I tend to write in half hour to 1 hours spurts thoughout the week also, which helps me reduce burnout. That way when I do write, there’s less editing required in the long run so I’ve saved myself a ton of time.

  3. That was certainly great perspective. I plan to do my first NaNoWriMo this year, but I’m only 6000 words into my first MS. I’ve been tinkering with plotting and now I think I its time to focus on writing. For me, the timing is good. But I agree that its more beneficial to finish the project you started before moving on to a new one. I’m looking forward to the editing stage. 😉

    • Good to meet you, Lisa. I’ve been in that spot before, having already started writing a novel close to when Nano started. I ended up trying a new beginning using the notes I took in prep, and that is the novel I’m currently editing. I’m excited for you to finish your novel, with or without a nano victory as part of the process.

  4. I tried Nano three times–failed three times–didn’t finish any of the novels. Sad how true your words are! However, it is a great exercise in BICHOK and how to get your creative juices flowing…just write!

    • So, did you find that the rushing aspect ruined the novels? You’ve written novels since. What is your balance between BICHOK and a finished novel?

      • Yes, rushing ruined it for me. I’m not a plotter (mistake in attempt #1). As a pantster, of course, I plot as I go. It turns out I like to stew on plot points and conflict as they come up. If I rush that stewing time (mistake in attempt #2), I end up with a garbled mess that I can’t write myself out of, at least not during NaNo. The last time, my problem was that I was writing one story, but my mind was on another one that I needed to rewrite.

  5. […] Octofinisho: Early NaNoWriMo Advice (newauthors.wordpress.com) […]

  6. I did the two Nano summer camps this year (finished both novels, but one was a fanfic so it didn’t count). The first one needs some revision, but upon rereading it, I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked the characters and story. Whipping out a new draft of it will be like eating frosting straight from the can. Delicious. (Besides, what girl doesn’t enjoy a murder mystery/romance starring a time mage who has been turned into a werewolf by science?)

    The first Nano felt like a rush. The second one was a leisurely stroll. Writing 2k a night got to be a habit, especially once I did the tricks from that lady who figured out how to write 10k a day. (Her blog’s name is Pretentious Title.)

  7. […] Octofinisho: Early NaNoWriMo Advice (newauthors.wordpress.com) […]

  8. […] Octofinisho: Early NaNoWriMo Advice (newauthors.wordpress.com) […]

  9. Tim, this is great advice. I often wonder how many NaNo novels wind up sitting on hard drives, unfinished.

    My boss once asked me whether I participate in NaNoWriMo, and I said something like, “For me, every month is novel writing month.” Instead of one month of sleep deprivation and family neglect, I’d rather have 12 months of writing 500 words a day (313 days, if you take Sundays off). That’s 156,500 words. Two novels. Or, you know, my first draft. 😉

    I love “Octofinisho,” by the way. I’m using that.

    • Nice. Use it freely. Like I said, there is a point in one’s writing career where this type of boost is beneficial, but if you haven’t finished the book you wrote last time, I say focus on that before you do nano again. You’ve got the right idea on the 500 a day. I try for the same, and if I stop at 600, that’s fine, but getting that far pushes me to try and reach 1,000. Yesterday I hit 1650 thinking I’d only written 1,000. Today was another great day, as I’ve connected new stuff to old and can again edit instead of writing from scratch.

  10. I agree whole-heartedly with your point. This will be my first year of NaNo, though I’ve wanted to do it for a few years now. At this point, I am happy that I waited so long to do it. I’ve finished one book (in the process of publishing) and have the manuscript of my first one awaiting edits. My first was more a learning experience and experiment with writing (to answer the whole “will I ever actually be able to finish a full novel?” question) than it was something to be proud of, but I eventually want to rewrite it. For the past year, I have been struggling to start in on the second book of the series the one I’m publishing is from, and have just lacked motivation. So, NaNo is more of a kickstarter for this novel than anything, especially as I have already pledged to finish, edit, and (hopefully) publish it. But, for someone without a plan or trying to write their first book, I do believe it is a bad idea. So easy to get lost, or work all month on something that will never be made into anything. Very well said!

  11. […] Tim Ward pointed out about this time last year, lots of NaNoWriMo novels never get finished. Sure, you hear about the ones that win book deals, but how many languish? More to the point, how […]

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