Day 8: Novel #1 and the value of NaNoWriMo

Today’s Word Count Goal: 17,700

Today’s Word Count So-Far: 14,179

Total Word Count Goal: 50,000


Recent controversy over the value of writing 50,000 words in 30 days (Salon’s Laura Miller wrote this mean-spirited piece, which launched several snarky posts like this one and even an LA Times piece) has me distracted and behind on my word count.

So I’m thinking about my first NaNoWriMo experience in 2008 and considering the fate of novel #1, which remains unnamed but has otherwise blossomed in satisfying and promising ways. Here’s its story:

November 2008: In twenty-something days, I wrote my first novel’s first draft. This sexy, angry story had been swimming around in my brain for almost a decade when I finally pumped it out at roughly 2,500 words a day. That first WriMo experience rocked my world–check out one wacky WriMo ’08 story here.

December 2008: I read what I’d written the previous month and found, to my horror, that my story had no story–no plot.

January 2009 to October 2009: With beginning participation in NaNoWriMo ’09 as my deadline, I revised novel #1 and handed copies of the second draft to 25 trusted readers. Revision work included several field trips and writing retreats. I braved snow, sprained my ankle twice, and took up smoking again, all in the name of a solid second draft.

December 2009 to April 2010: Receiving feedback from twenty-five people takes time–five months, but it didn’t require the courage or strong-sense-of-self I feared it would require. On the contrary, my readers said nice things about my second draft. By the end of April, I had a big list of notes about what I needed to change and a bigger list of aspects of my novel everyone loved. Most notably, readers praised my sex scenes and the strong presence of San Francisco as a character. Readers disagreed on whether my main character was likable, and agreed on one awkward criticism, which went something like this: “It’s entertaining, but it’s a little shallow, isn’t it?”

Although receiving this feedback went very well, actually doing something with it sent me lurching into a catatonic state of paralysis. How can I deepen without losing the hot sex? I needed help with a third revision.

June 20010 to October 2010: Enter Minal Hajratwala, my friend, colleague, and now, my writing coach too. Yep, coaches need coaches. And working with Minal on revising for a third draft of novel #1 not only supported my writing process but helped me to see the value of the work I do with writing coaching clients.

Working with Minal set my process free. She helped me to digest the fantastic feedback I’d gotten and then empowered me to pick and choose from that feedback. With Minal’s  support, I developed a third draft and then set it aside again, to participate in NaNoWriMo  2010.

I tell you my first novel’s story to participate in the recent discourse about the value of NaNoWriMo. For me, NaNoWriMo is a tool. It lends structure to my writing year: a month every year where I prioritize writing as much as I can every single day and a deadline for setting aside other projects to do that writing unfettered.

But you can’t build a whole house with just a hammer, and a writer needs more tools than just writing with literary abandon for thirty days every year. So far, with novel #1, I’ve needed editing tricks, feedback sessions, long walks, a coach, writing retreats, and plenty of big sheets of newsprint.

Do tell! What is the value of NaNoWriMo for you? What other tools support your process?


Watch the Sexy Grammarian participate in National Novel Writing Month for the third year in a row. I’ll post word counts and worries here daily, Tweet about it, raise funds for the Office of Letters And Light, and host Meet Me/Tweet Me open loft writing sessions all month long.

    • Eric
    • November 8th, 2010

    I haven’t read the articles you link to, Kristy. And, I don’t plan on reading them this month. 🙂 If I remember, I’ll definitely check them out, though.

    I’m really glad that you shared the journey of your first novel with us. It reminds me of of a little semantic conversation we had a while ago about being a writer versus being an author. Writing is a necessary part of authoring, as are revising and rewriting and editing. National Novel Writing Month is for, (duh) writing. 🙂 All the other parts of authoring a novel still need to take place, but these 30 days are when some of us just focus on the writing.

    Personally, I have no expectations for anything I write during NaNoWriMo. I don’t suspect I will be writing the first draft to the great american novel this year or any year. I don’t know that any of the novels I write in this month long exercise of will is worth going through the process of revising and editing to try and create something marketable. I have no expectations that any amount of time spent during the month of November will someday lead to money in my pocket. So, what do I expect? I expect that I will enjoy myself. I like to write. Forcing myself to write for three to four hours a day for 30 days, feels good. I expect that the more I write, the better I will write. There is no formula for improvement in this conjecture – write x amount of words improve skill by y percent. What I can do is look back at stuff I wrote before my first NaNo experience, and at each of the NaNo attempts I’ve made and see that my writing now is better than it was then. While I would settle for either one of these expectations and consider each NaNo experience to be worth it, both taken together insure that I will keep doing this every year for as long as I can.

  1. March 7th, 2011

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