Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Confessions of a NaNo Loser

by Matt Sinclair

So, how is your Nano WriMo novel moving along? We’re just short of midway through November, so if you’re keeping pace, you’re closing in on 25,000 words. Congratulations! Of course, if you’re reading this, perhaps the novel is not going all that well. Don't worry, I won’t chastise you. When I’ve worked on Nano, I’ve barely topped 20,000 words. But that’s ok.

If you’re wondering: no, I don’t feel like a failure. Clearly, I’m not a Nano winner, but I’m not a failure. I’ve used Nano to serve my purposes: to push me to finish the first draft of one novel, to start another – and another after that. I think of Nano as a tool – a rather effective one, if you ask me.

Nano is a great way to spur a writer. It’s a challenging but reachable goal. I’d argue that it’s a better approach to writing a novel than my usual method because it has built-in deadlines and easy to follow progress reports. Another plus is it’s messy.

I like messy. Messy gets words on the paper (or the computer). Messy gets to 50,000 words faster than clean. Professionally, I tend to write clean because I often edit as I go along. That’s inefficient. I know it, yet still I do it. It’s better for you to write, write, write and when it’s time to edit, focus on the editing, the revision.

But everyone has their preferred style. I’m not telling you you’re a bad writer if you tend to fix the typos you plopped into your prose as soon as you notice them. If I reached 20,000 words in Nano, it probably doesn’t show because I edited sections down before moving on. Damned anal-retentive personality!

I suspect most readers here know that topping 50,000 words in Nano WriMo does not mean you completed a novel. It means you met a goal. And a short-term goal at that. Polishing those novels into publishable gold takes time. But it’s worth your while.

Earlier this month, Elephant’s Bookshelf Press published Whispering Minds by A.T. O’Connor. It was conceived during Nano 2009 – four years to the day of its publication, actually. For the month of November, 2009, she wrote 56,000 words in twenty-six days. Not too shabby. In the intervening years, she worked on other things, including some wonderful short stories that also have been published by EBP (which is my company, by the way), but she polished her novel off to become the crown jewel of the young publishing house. Because it wasn't ready in December 2009.

I know from experience that dreams of seeing our books published cross the writers’ minds as we work on our novel, regardless of whether it is a November baby or not. That’s fine. Just don’t think about it too long. You have close to 1,700 words to write today. Good luck!

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published its first novel, Whispering Minds. This past summer, it published Summer's Edge and Summer's Double Edge, which are available through Smashwords (SE) (SDE) and Amazon (SE) (SDE), and include stories from several FTWA writers. In 2012, EBP published its initial anthologies: The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse, (available viaAmazon and Smashwords) and Spring Fevers (also available through Smashwords, andAmazon). Matt blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.


JeffO said...

I found NaNo very helpful for the same reasons you did, Matt--it forced me to shut down my inner editor and get writing, dammit. I haven't 'won' since, but that's okay, because at least I'm writing. Best of luck with Whispering Minds.

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Jeff!

Susan said...

This is exactly how I think of NaNo -- a tool to get some words down. Something about having a bar graph to tell you how far behind you are really helps light the fire.