Wednesday, November 09, 2005


A correspondent writes to ask whether I am aware that it is NaNoWriMo. And the answer is yes, I was aware of it before he wrote, but the very idea, I'm sorry to say, filled me with overwhelming apathy. However, prompted by my enthusiastic correspondent, I went and had a look at NaNoWriMo in more detail. And you know what? I feel quite a lot better about it now than I did before.

For those who are wondering what the hell I'm talking about, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. National as in United States, where the idea originated. But hey, the organisers aren't fussy. They regard the thing as international, and you can participate even if you live in Peru. It's just that InaNoWriMo (they claim) doesn't trip off the tongue so easily.

The idea is, basically, that as many people as possible should start writing a novel at 12.01 a.m. on 1 November, and stop at the end of the month, aiming to complete 50,000 words in the meantime. For more information, go take a look at the main Nanowrimo web site.

This slightly weird enterprise has apparently been going since 1999, when there were 21 participants and 6 of them actually managed to bash out 50,000 words. Last year there were 42,000 participants and just short of 6,000 winners.

The organisers seem determined to regard their project as just good clean fun, and I guess that's the right way to approach it (if you do). But some writers have, it seems, succeeded in selling the result.
Sarah Gruen's soon-to-be released Flying Changes began as a NaNoWriMo novel. Rebecca Agiewich sold her 2003 NaNoWriMo book to Ballantine in 2004; it'll be hitting stores in May of 2006. Dave Wilson sold his 2004 NaNoWriMo manuscript, The Mote in Andrea's Eye, to Five Star/Gale; it'll come out in June 2006. In fall of 2005, Gayle Brandeis sold her 2004 NaNoWriMo manuscript, Self Storage, to Ballantine in a two-book deal. Around the same time, Kimberly Llewellyn found a home for her 2004 NaNoWriMo manuscript, Cashmere Boulevard, at Berkley Books. It's due out in summer 2007.
Well, so long as no one takes any of this too seriously, I guess it's OK. And it's certainly possible to write 50,000 words in a month. Thomas Wolfe, it is said, used to stand outside the homes of other writers and chant 'I wrote ten thousand words today!' At least he did until they took to emptying buckets over him. And Gore Vidal claims to have written his Edgar Box detective novels (60,000 words) in a week: 10,000 a day for six days, and then one day to 'tidy it up.' But then he is a frightfully clever chap.

Closer to home, I once wrote a 75,000 word novel in a total of 125 hours, but my working average for time/words is about 3 hours per 1,000 words. Roughly 1 hour per 1,000 words in planning, 1 hour to write, and 1 hour to revise. So a 100,000 novel can be expected to take 300 hours, or 6 hours a week (3 evenings at 2 hours a time) for a year. You have to be keen.


Kriti said...

Pray tell. Why should no-one take any of this too seriously?
Why don't you think it a worthwhile exercise to write 50,000 words in a month?
They might not be well chosen words, they might not make fascinating reading, but I think those of us who try this exercise are probably taking it about right. We're having fun and we just might be learning something too.

Paula said...

Archer sent me here. That romance sale is encouraging! I wrote a RoNo last NaNo and it's good...I just need to finish/edit the ending before sending it out. This year I'm writing another one.

Great blog!

Anonymous said...

The aim of NaNo is based, I think, on the era of the typewriter. Because let's face it: in the computer age, if you can type 60 words per minute (and anyone who's already completed one novel on a computer should be able to do this), you can have 60,000 words in 1000 minutes - roughly 17 hours of uniterrupted activity.

I experimented with this method, and, while I fell far short of the stated objective I did wind up with 50,000 words after 3 days of work. The text is admittedly awful, but it does have a singularity that's often lacking in my other work.

I recommend this activity to anyone who's worried that they're "overthinking" a current project and has a few days to burn. It has certain cleansing properties.

David Niall Wilson said...

Interesting to find this. In fact, I don't find the 50,000 words in a month to be difficult in any overwhelming way. 1,667 words a day for 30 days. I had my outline in hand - a fairly detailed outline - before I started. I wrote "The Mote In Andrea's Eye," 86,000 words, in 31 days and sold it two months later after a revision...this year (2005) I wrote another titled "Vintage Soul" that is currently at Warner, Berkeley, and one other publisher...and expect it to sell soon as a's slightly shorter than "The Mote." I bet a lot of folks "blog" more than 1,667 words a day...

But for me, planning was the key. I'd never write a novel without intending to sell it.