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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, October 24, 2010

NaNoWriMo—Seven Reasons To Join in the Silliness

For the uninitiated: NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month project. Started a decade ago by a young San Franciscan named Chris Baty—and 21 of his verbally ambitious friends—it challenges you to write a complete novel in a month. That month is November. Last year 165,000 writers—called “Wrimos”—joined in the merriment.

Entering the contest—now run by Mr. Baty’s non-profit outfit, the Office of Letters and Light—is free. Anybody who finishes 50,000 words by midnight November 30th is a winner. No prizes that I know of: completion of your novel is its own reward.

To enter, you register at NaNoWriMo.org so you can have your word count verified at the end of the month, and on November 1, start writing.

Crazy? Absolutely. But all fiction writing is crazy, so why not? Of the 250 commenters on Nathan Bransford’s blogpost on the subject most intend to try it. Some are going to be starting a first novel, but a lot of others have participated multiple times. (Nathan promised to devote all of next week’s blogposts to NaNo.)

But…don’t they write a lot of crapola?

Yup. And that’s the point.

It’s all about creating a *&%#ty first draft.

As Anne LaMotte wrote in her classic book for writers Bird by Bird :

“The only way [most writers] can get anything done at all is to write really, really, really shitty first drafts.”

NaNo forces you to get that dung onto the page. 

Here are some benefits.

1) No time to agonize over your first chapter. You’ve read endless carping on blogs like this one about how the first chapter has to hook the reader, introduce all the major themes and plot elements, begin with the world’s most exciting sentence, etc. But when you’re writing your first draft, none of that matters. You’re introducing yourself to your characters and their world. You can worry about your reader when you start editing next January.

2) No frittering away time on research. If you’re one of those writers who has procrastinated for years, piling up reams of historical and biographical detail, this is your chance to actually write the damned book. The truth is, most of those details would bore the reader silly if you actually put them in your novel, anyway. You’re better off writing the book first and figuring out later whether your reader needs to know what they used for toilet paper in 13th century Scotland or what kind of underpants Genghis Khan wore.

3) No time to censor yourself. You can’t afford to agonize over whether your brother–in-law/former teacher/ex-girlfriend will recognize him/herself. Or if your mom will find out you weren’t really at band camp that summer when you and your buddies took the road trip to Cabo. Besides you’ll be amazed how characters/situations inspired by real life take off on their own and create an alternate reality. And excuse me, when did your brother-in-law ever read a book anyway?

4) You won’t be tempted to save your best ideas for later. New writers are often terrified they’ll run out of ideas. But it’s amazing how many more will show up once you’re in the zone.

5) You’ll give up trying to control the process. If the story goes somewhere you didn’t expect it to go, or you can’t stick to your outline, you’ll have to run with it. When your muse is talking, you can’t take the chance of pissing her off for even a couple of days.

6) You’ll have a great excuse for skipping the family Thanksgiving with all those relatives whose politics make you despair for the future of the human race.

7) It’s fun—and a great way to meet other writers all over the world. Look in the NaNo website forums for online and in-person discussions and groups. (Locals: they’ve got regional groups in Fresno, Bakersfield, Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, and a few San Luis Obispans are reaching out to each other in the forums.)

If you decide to jump into the craziness, here are the NaNo rules:

  • Register at the NaNoWriMo website before November 1
  • Write a novel (in any language) 50,000+ words long between November 1 and November 30. “Novel” is loosely defined. They say “If you consider the book you're writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!”
  • Start from scratch. Previously written outlines & character sketches are OK—and highly recommended—but this can’t be a work in progress.
  • Be the sole author. Although you can use the occasional quotation.
  • Write more than one word. No repeating the same one 50,000 times.
  • Upload your novel for word-count validation to the site between November 25 and November 30.

Chances are pretty good you aren’t going to write a polished, publishable novel in four weeks (although Charles Dickens is said to have written A Christmas Carol in six, four of which were in November, so there’s some precedent.)

But PLEASE don’t start querying agents until you do a serious, in-depth revision: you’ll just clog the pipeline and make the agents cranky, which isn’t good for any of us. And when you do query, it’s not wise to reveal that the book began at NaNo—unfortunately, a lot of participants send off the unedited crapola. Also, most agents won’t look at a novel of less than 70,000 words, so even the Chuck Dickenses among you will have further work to do.

But if you do that work, maybe you’ll have the success of NaNovelist Sarah Gruen, whose phenomenal best seller Water For Elephants started as a NaNo project.

And the important thing is you’ll have a draft to start revising. And you’ll have finished a novel. How many people can say that?

And for those of us who are in the middle of several projects and can’t start a new one this month, YA author Natalie Whipple has suggested a companion November challenge: NaNoReaMo. You read at least three books a week for the whole month.

That’s the one I’m going to be going for. I already have a pile of sucky first drafts to edit.



Blogger Joanna St. James said...

Finishing the first draft in 4 weeks is not what am worried about its actually typing it when am done, cos my muse takes a hike the minute I whip out the laptop. So I might not be able to upload it unto their website. Oh well at least I will know I finished it.

October 24, 2010 at 1:32 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Wow Joanna. You write longhand?! I can't even imagine. You should get two months, at least.

October 24, 2010 at 2:01 PM  
Blogger CS Perryess said...

Dearest Miss Allen,
Since first hearing about it, I've been intrigued by NaNoWriMo. What with life the way it is at present, I'd have to give up sleeping in order to participate, but I'm far too big a fan of sleeping to consider that. Maybe some day I'll be able to quit or retire from my day job & I'll be a WriMo. Your Reason #6, though is one my loving wife finds very attractive. She's got a bit more time available than I do - time will tell.

Well, I'm off to go find out what Genghis Khan wore under his dog-skin trousers.


October 24, 2010 at 3:29 PM  
Blogger Kittie Howard said...

Hi, I'm dropping in from Simon's blog. Nice to meet you *waves*. Saw your comment there and had to say, yep, I agree. What a mess out there. Here's hoping sanity prevails!

October 24, 2010 at 5:22 PM  
Blogger Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Anne, I was keen to participate in NaNoWriMo (my first) but due to several reasons I will have to forego it. I liked all your tips for NaNo.
I think I will join you for NaNoReaMo. Thats a lovely idea.


October 24, 2010 at 10:07 PM  
Blogger Simon Kewin said...


Those are all great reasons - especially, I think, the one about having to ignore one's internal censor and just write. It is surprising where this can lead to.

I'm curently very focused on finishing a draft of an already-started novel, though, so I don't think I'll NaNoWriMo this year. The very best of luck to all who do!

October 25, 2010 at 1:54 AM  
Blogger Clarissa Draper said...

I think resisting the urge to edit and going back to check work is such an important thing to learn so I'm all for NaNo. See you there!

I bought Genre Wars. I didn't know you had a story in it. I'll have to check it out.


October 25, 2010 at 5:35 AM  
Blogger lotusgirl said...

I like Natalie's option. I'm doing a NaNoCleMo. Cle=clean. I really need it bad after all the writing.

October 25, 2010 at 7:16 AM  
Blogger Florence said...

Anne: I'm afraid I was one of those "bad" girls that was drummed out of Girl Scouts ... and although I've let down my guard about joining things ... I have passed on this two years now.

The reason is simple. That is always how I write my first draft and I have two novels to polish from the effort, one of which I begin to query in November.

I average 80K a book and write 5K a day four to five days a week. The first draft on both of them were nightmares, but great fun because they were both started from one line.

If people don't have my insane bent, this is a great way to try. Let go and just do it. You'll end up with wonderful material you can revise, rewrite, and edit. Plug in the hard research later and enjoy and thrill of letting your mind run free. Also, the first has been rewritten three times, the second one is being rewritten for the second time in November while I send queries on the first.

Good luck to all that join and thanks for another great post. :)

October 25, 2010 at 7:27 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Kittie--thanks for dropping by. We've got to hope the mass-hypnosis/hysteria in this country will be allowed to settle down after Nov.2

Rachna--Welcome to NaNoReaMo! I'm going to read YA books--I need to learn more about the genre and...they're short!

Simon--best of luck finishing the WIP. For a master of short-short fiction like you, finishing a novel will be a real triumph.

Clarissa-have fun with NaNo. And I hope you like my Genre Wars story. Funny how I write YA short fiction, but haven't managed to come up with teen content for novels.

Lotusgirl--I should do NaNoCleMo, too, but I think it would take more than a month to do much good. As I always say, "show me a writer with a clean house and I'll show you a case of writer's block."

Florence--you got kicked out of Girl Scouts, too? I knew we were kindred spirits.

October 25, 2010 at 9:25 AM  
Blogger Rob Crompton said...

Has anyone gone on from Nano... to finish and publish? I'd love to see the results

October 25, 2010 at 10:02 AM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

Oh. My. Sounds intense. Don't think I could find the time. Would love to though. Ah, to have that kind of time. Would be so much fun to just sit and let it flow with nary a concern for where it flowed to. Good luck to all who participate!

October 25, 2010 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Rob, yes--as I said, Sarah Gruen's "Water for Elephants", which was a huge bestseller, started as a NaNo project. And there are a number of others that went on to successful publication. Of course, the huge majority don't make it. But most don't get edited either.

October 25, 2010 at 3:33 PM  
Blogger Lola Sharp said...

First, I'm new here. *waves* Nice to meet you. (I came via my dear friend JonPaul's [aka JP] blog)

Now onward...
you wrote this entire post and you aren't even participating this year? How thoughtful. :)

THANK YOU for adding the caveat/push for participants to revise and edit thoroughly BEFORE querying. So many agents hate Nano, and I understand why. BUT, I can think of MANY published works that began as a nano project. (your example is a fine one, also the YA 'Forest of Hands and Teeth' which is currently a best seller in its genre.)

Even among non-Nano-ers/semi-experienced writers, too many people query too soon. I cannot stress enough the importance of taking the time to polish, polish, polish.

In response to Joanna, please let her know that Nano has a verification process for handwritten Nano WiPs too. :) She doesn't have to type it all in to 'win' and get her 'Winner' status on the site.


October 26, 2010 at 9:21 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks for stopping by Lola--Joanna, did you get that? There's hope for longhand writers!

Yup: querying too soon. It's the #1 mistake new writers make.

October 26, 2010 at 12:08 PM  
Blogger Liz Fichera said...

Loved your post, Anne! I linked to it today in my post as a must-read.

October 27, 2010 at 8:01 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks, Liz!

October 27, 2010 at 9:43 AM  
Blogger Sierra Godfrey said...

Well Anne if ever I was going to do NaNo, then your post would be the reason why. Very good points.

Alas, I am really enjoying myself on my current WIP, which is 40k in, and there's no way I want to tear myself from it to work on something else. Maybe next year. :)

October 28, 2010 at 11:18 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Sierra, you'll notice I'm not actually doing it either. I'm working on a nonfic project that may actually earn $$, so I don't get to play NaNo this year.

I'd say finishing an active WIP should always trump beginning a new one. Unfinished novels cry to you like neglected children.

October 28, 2010 at 1:36 PM  
Blogger February Grace said...

Anne, to #5 I would personally add, "Accepting the fact that the process controls me..." *laugh*


November 1, 2010 at 6:55 AM  

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