Today is the first day of NaNoWriMo. This is a (despite the name) worldwide event where hundreds of thousands of people try to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Quality is not considered, quantity is. 50,000 words is quite short for a novel, but it’s a nice round number that doesn’t require too high an average daily wordcount to achieve, and there have been several really good novels of around that wordcount (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, for instance, or Brave New World, or The Great Gatsby).
The point of the month is not so much for people to write an actual novel, more to get people to write in the first place. It’s not designed, if that is the right term, to produce great works of literature, it’s designed to produce a first draft of a novel. Get the words out in November, and whether it be your first time writing or your hundredth, at the end of November you should have enough material for a book that just needs a bit of extension and some editing and some revising and you’ve got something that you can wave at an agent. And sometimes, the agents like it. There have been quite a few commercially-published books that started off as NaNos – Water for Elephants, for example – but do not make the mistake of thinking that they wrote it in November and had it published in December. On the whole, NaNoWriMo produces first drafts, which in the industry are little more than sketches on the back of a napkin. If you want to be taken seriously by the publishing industry, you need to spend months re-writing, revising, editing, adding bits, cutting bits, etc.
I seem to be quite lucky here. My attitude has always been, “get it right first time,” and that is actually something you can do with writing, as with most other things. You get it right first time, then the next time you do it you increase the precision with which you get it right, and so on. Your first school woodwork project may have been a set of wobbly book-ends, but I bet you still have them somewhere, right? They still sit on a shelf and do their job of stopping the books falling over, don’t they? They may not be perfectly vertical, or mirror images of each other, but they do the job, they were done right. The last set of bookends you made were probably much better, they were definitely vertical, and the matched each other exactly, but they don’t work any worse than the first set you made. It’s the same with writing.
I don’t recall when exactly I started writing, sometime in my early teens I think. I have been telling stories, using the medium of lego or toy cars or plastic dinosaurs or model aeroplanes, since I was old enough to understand the concept of fiction, so writing them down as I made them up was the next obvious step. I started doing NaNoWriMo in 2005, and although my first effort was good, I didn’t get to the end of the story before the end of the month. Still, it was a definite story, with a clear shape, and a recognisable plot, so it was done right. In 2006 I wrote what became the first book in a series called “Have Sword & Sorcery: Will Travel™“. I didn’t intend it to be a series at the time, but the samples I posted were so well received, and the ideas I got whilst writing it were so good, that I decided to write a sequel about halfway through the month.
I did very little editing. As I said, my attitude is, “get it right first time,” and I mostly did. I type quickly enough that going back a few lines and correcting something is no big deal, and my mind plans things enough in advance that I don’t need to go back and change large portions just to make one passage fit. The writing quality is good, the books are good, they are not first drafts, they are finished stories.
However, they are still rather short for today’s publication market. Which is why, starting soon, I will be going over all six of them, adding material, condensing the details, and coming out at the end of it with four books. But not this year. This year’s NaNoWriMo is science fiction – Jurassic Park meets Starship Troopers – an advance scout party is trapped on an alien planet, and is rapidly running out of ammunition.