I’ve done National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, exactly one time. I was a sophomore in college, a creative writing major with energy and (in the icy, prefinals abyss that’s November in Massachusetts) time to burn. I dreamed up my plot. I typed up my words. I sent my characters spinning deeper, day after day, into my world. It was a disaster. more
There are NaNoWriMo success stories – by which I mean, stories of people (somehow) crafting publishable books from nothing over the span of 30 days. I was not one. My plot was meandering and sloppy, my language simultaneously flattened and frenzied by the madcap deadlines. My grandmother read the opening pages and pronounced, famously, “If this is what Kendra’s writing, she needs to consider a new career.”
In the hours after the November 30 midnight knell ripples across the internet, blogs spring to life with advice. How to edit. How to find an agent. How to decide if traditional or self-publishing is for you. Because though the promise of NaNoWriMo is that you’ll finally Write That Book, the American dream is to Publish That Book. (Because what is art if not an opportunity to capitalize? etc)
I don’t know if you should Publish That Book. I can’t say if it’s time to look for an agent, or if self-publishing is dead, or recommend resources for creating cover art. What I will say to you, most urgently, is that no matter the state of your manuscript – in fact, if you set your manuscript on fire and chucked your hard drive into the ocean – you have not come through NaNo empty-handed. Here’s why.
One of the single greatest resources you have as a novelist is the very specific emotional fortitude you spent the last month building.
It is not easy, the thing you have just done. In fact, it is tremendously difficult. You know this. This month, you labored in solitude while your friends went to movies and parties and made you-had-to-be-there memories of a lifetime at happy hours. You lost sleep. Didn’t work out. Spattered Top Ramen broth all over your keyboard. You stared at your stupid wordcount and cursed the day you ever thought you wanted to be a writer while in the next room, your entire family binged She-Ra together.
You need this.
You need to know what it takes, and that you can survive it. Likely, you are a person who loves writing. Who knows, and can wax rhapsodic, about the magical moment the characters take over. The thrill of waking up in the night with words uncurling in your mind, the delight of bringing worlds to life.
But writing a novel is another thing altogether. Sometimes it is the magic and the grace and the characters surprising you. Sometimes it’s staring dry-eyed at the empty page ahead of you while everyone you know is romping merrily around the kite festival and eating funnel cake and shouting YOLO. Writing a novel is hard. It is not all fun. It is very, very easy, especially when you have no external contract or deadlines, to just not do it. What you know now is: you are a person who can do it.
So should you publish your NaNo manuscript? It doesn’t matter. The real work of the last month was not forging 30 days into 50,000 words, but forging yourself into a novelist. You did it. Congratulations.
The real work is now ahead of you.