NaNoWriMo prep, part four: What to expect

Four matches; the third is burned out

Photo via Visualhunt.

Hurray, you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year! It’s going to be so much fun and you’re going to have a whole novel written by the end of it and it’ll be amazing and you’re going to get published and you’re going to become rich and famous! Right?

Uh, no.

So, hold your horses, because if you’ve never done NaNo before, you need to learn what to expect. Here’s what your November may look like.

Week one

You’ve been waiting for NaNo to start and you’re so excited! You might have even stayed up late on Halloween so you could start your novel as soon as it was midnight. During the week the story is flying out of you. This is fun! Things you didn’t plan for happen, like new characters or your MC’s personality is different than expected, but who cares! That’s part of the experience. Uh, that was not your best sentence just now, but oh well! We’re supposed to be turning off our inner editors anyway, right? You’re doing pretty good about staying on track for your word count goal… sort of. But if you’re a tad behind or skip a day, no worries, because you totally can make that up later. This is great!

Week two

Oh. This is a little more complicated than you thought. You’re still having fun, but issues are cropping up in your story. Your real life is as demanding as ever and it’s easier to think, “Well, I’ll catch up on my word count later,” and deal with those things instead of making room for your writing. You notice that some members in the forums are already past the halfway mark on their word counts and you begin to doubt whether you can do this. But you still like your story and you don’t want to be a quitter, so you keep plugging away.

Here is where the path splits.

Week three

This week looks different depending on which fork you took in the road. Some of you will manage to stay on track with your word count goals. It’s hard to ignore the glaring problems with your story but you’re going to muscle through. You committed to this. Plus you’ve probably been to at least one write in or have a buddy doing NaNoWriMo with you, so the additional motivation and/or accountability helps you keep going.

Or, you’re falling behind. You kept telling yourself you’d catch up, but the gap between what you do have and what you should have has grown so much it doesn’t seem possible to reach 50,000 words by November 30. Plus you know you’re going to cut huge chunks of what you’ve already written from your novel because it doesn’t serve the story or is just plain terrible. Or maybe you know you’re going to have to go back and rewrite some, if not all of it. You feel guilty and frustrated. This was supposed to be fun. Now you feel bad.

And to make it all worse, if you’re an American, it’s Thanksgiving! How can you get any writing done with all of those relatives around?

No matter which path you’re on, don’t give up! This is the hard part for everybody. Whether you’re hanging in there or falling off the wagon, once you stop writing you guarantee that you won’t reach the end. If you quit early at, let’s say, 24,000 words, you’ll end the month with 24,000 words. But if you keep writing you might end the month with 32,000 words. That’s 8,000 more words than you would have had if you had quit early! So, don’t stop. During week three you will doubt that you’ll have any more fun after this, but there is still more fun to be had in week four. Going to write ins will really help in the fun department, too. Try to attend at least one, if not more of them.

Week four

The end is in sight. The clock is ticking. There are only seven more days until the end of NaNoWriMo! If you took the first path, you’re excited again. You’re nearly there! Your friends are cheering you on. You write like mad trying to finish on time. You keep updating your word count tally and are marking down the days until they open the official word counter that determines whether you’ve won yet or not. You might stay up late a few nights if you’re cutting it close, trying to get more words in. Here it is, November 30, and you’re still writing! Will you make it? Will you make it? WILL YOU MAKE IT???

Boom! You made it! You’ve won!!! Pop all the party poppers and drink a glass of bubbly (grape juice, if you’re not old enough for champagne). Dance in your pajamas—because of course it’s nearly midnight if you’re cutting it this close—and try not to wake your parents/roommates. You feel great. You feel accomplished. This was so much fun! Good job.

If you took the other path, this week will also drum up excitement in you, but you may be interpreting those feelings and the tightness in your chest as anxiety or guilt. Remember, there is no penalty if you don’t reach 50,000 words. There are no NaNo police. The point of this whole thing was to motivate you to write.

Did you write? Yes! Whether you have 5,000 or 50,000 words, be proud! What you’ve written is an accomplishment. Even without reaching your word count goals, you’ve already won.

So, throw off those negative labels to what you’re feeling and rename them. You are excited. The clock is ticking and you’re feeling a rush. This is fun! Race towards the finish line with everyone else. See how much more of your novel you can eke out before midnight of November 30 hits your region. And when it does, be proud of what you’ve produced. I’ll say it again, BE PROUD! Because you have every right to be. You did a hard thing and didn’t give up. Good job.

Now what?

Remember the first paragraph of this blog post? It’s time to address those misconceptions. First, even if you reach 50,000 words, you won’t have a completed novel. Most novels are about 80,000 to 100,000 words. At the end of November, you might be about half way through your plot.

Second, even if you manage to write over 50,000 words and finish your plot, it probably won’t be amazing. Yet! Writing a novel is fun, hard work, but that’s not even half of it. Editing it is just as much work, if not harder work than writing it in some cases. Yes, publishing firms will have editors on site, but they won’t waste their time on a manuscript that’s littered with errors (editors are polishers, not construction crews.) And if you self-publish, no one will want to buy and read it if there are typos or glaring plot holes. Before you even consider publication, you’ll need to take the time to make it the best possible version of itself that you’re able to make it with the resources you have.

At the end of November, your NaNo story is not ready for publication. I’m saying this again because it’s important and often people don’t believe it—it is NOT ready, no matter how wonderful you think it is, or your friends or mother says it is. Do NOT submit it to any literary agents/editors or self publish it until you’ve let the novel rest for a few months and THEN you’ve edited it thoroughly. You’ll save yourself from a bunch of heartache (rejection slips, poor reviews, embarrassment) this way.

Well, that was a downer

I know. Hearing that your novel is a mess when you’re still on a NaNo high is hard to stomach. But the point of NaNoWriMo isn’t to churn out quality work. It’s to help you to shut off your inhibitions and self criticism and just write. Get it out. Get it done. And have fun while doing it.

Some NaNo novels have been published and have seen success—but they didn’t submit them the December after they wrote them. It took a lot of hard work after NaNoWriMo was over.

But now that you know that, you can avoid the crash and instead end NaNo on a high note. You can celebrate having done a hard thing. You’ll have had fun, and will probably learn a thing or two about yourself or about your writing along the way.

Between the friends you make, the lessons you learn, and the words you write, NaNoWriMo will be worth it. And addicting. I can’t wait to join you on this journey next month, as well as every November after that!

I can’t believe we begin next week. Where has the time gone? I have a few more kinks I want to work out in my plot/notes before I start writing. How about you? Are you ready? If you know what you’re writing about, share the premise in the comments!

This article is the fourth in a series about NaNoWriMo.
To see the other posts, click one of the links below.

NaNoWriMo prep, part one
Part two: Getting started
Part three: Notes and plans
Part four: What to expect [that’s this post]