Friday, November 25, 2011


This is for all you Nanowrimo novelists, especially any First Years who came in as little scared witches and wizards, found out which Genre Forum the Sorting Hat put you into, settled in, worked hard, swotted in the library or on the forums and came out with a Purple Bar for this year. If you're almost there, keep typing! You still have five days to get to the finish line. I've done it in two during the Three Day Novel Contest this year.

I know that sounds daunting. Remember that I finished my first novel in 1992 and had over 20 of the dang things stacked up against the walls in 2001 when I wrote Thrice on a Blue Moon. I thought that novel was lost to hard drive crashes and other disasters but a happy thing happened this year. I found that novel and the first short story I ever sold pro in an archive within an archive, which is why I thought it was missing.

Moral of that story - back up everything you do in as many ways you can think of. Maybe you'll exit November wearing blue. Maybe you'll do 50,000 words in 60 days, which is about how long it took to do Wizard's Whoops in 1992 or 1993.

Keep on with it anyway if you've still got plot or still haven't reached the 50k mark on November 30th. You put too much of yourself into that novel to just let it slide into a stack of unfinished projects. If you're anywhere along the way to finishing your first novel, the most important thing to do is not stop writing it till you reach those magic words: The End.

But if it's still November, you haven't lost the chance of getting the Purple Bar and the beautiful little Winner's Icon that I just displayed on this post. It is a real achievement. Go for it! Don't give up on the Purple Bar till midnight end of November 30th in your time zone - it doesn't matter if the bell rang for people in another country before it tolls for you. If you finish on December 1st or 2nd or anytime later, you won something bigger.

You wrote a freaking NOVEL!

That is huge. It's a massive achievement. Even today, ten years later, eleven since it started, when hundreds of thousands of people participate in Nanowrimo and publishers are inundated with more manuscripts than ever in their slush piles, that's still a very tiny proportion of people in the world. Of those who wanted to, you're one in thousands.

You have done the equivalent of creating an enormous mural all the way around your house, to compare it to art. You haven't just written a jingle, if you were a musician, you composed a symphony! You did something big and difficult that most people wouldn't begin to know how to start.

You will never again not know how it's done.

You might never understand how some other people do it, because you found a method that works for you. Every one of us novelists reinvents how to write a novel. You started with an idea and now it's a novel, a huge story with a beginning, a middle and an end. You made up all of it even if it's a Harry Potter fan fiction.

Nanowrimo is wonderful because it provides validation.

Not just for finishing your novel in 30 days. If you finish your novel in 90 days and next year shave that to 85 or bring it down to 60, that's still progress. Nanowrimo validates the idea that novels are written by human beings just like you. If you didn't make it this year, you'll still come away knowing you gave it a good try and that you can do better next year.

Some people take five or six or more years to go from First Year attempts to the glorious golden year that they get a Purple Bar. Some of those abandon their novels if they took longer than 30 days to write. After all, you didn't Win, so why keep going?

There's a darn good reason why to keep going even if it takes you all the way through next October or you win three Nanowrimos before you pick this one up again and finally know what to do with the idea that won't go away. Your manuscript is too big to toss. All the work you already put into this is worth something. That's what saved Raven Dance from the bin. I had 500 pages of it by the time the money ran out and I had to work for a living again, but the manuscript was too big to toss. So I finished it a couple of years later, finally wrote the last three chapters.

Don't throw it away even if you do stop on December 1st. You might make time later on and get back to it.

Every single book you've ever enjoyed was written by someone like you. At one time in their lives all they had was "I wanna be a writer." Okay, for some of them that didn't last long. Maybe it was only a fleeting daydream till disability retired them from the Navy or some other profession. Maybe for a very few, "I'm gonna" came right on the heels of "I wanna" and they sat down to do it, then finished.

About 20% of us Nanowrimo writers will finish with a Purple Bar at the end of the month. If you have yours, that puts you in the top of the class. That's top marks. It doesn't mean that getting an Exceptional or an Acceptable is a bad thing. Finish any time during your life and you have gotten that Acceptable.

Your odds rise every year.

Nanowrimo validates novel writing even if it takes you a lot longer than a month to finish your first book. If you didn't finish, year after year, you've got another chance to win the Purple Bar. You've got a bunch of other nutters all cheering you on, none of whom think you're crazy to waste your time writing a book. If you don't want to do it for a living, there is nothing weirder about novel writing now than there is about growing prize roses or running marathons.

You've become a champion at sitting still making up stories. You've gotten into the sport of the 0-meter, 500 word dash or grimly built on that to thousand-word laps. You know what worked this year and what didn't. You know what you can do next year if you don't quite finish the race.

Not everyone that enters the Boston Marathon wins it their first year either. I had the advantage that my first book was finished in two months a decade before Nanowrimo even started, so of course I won as a First Year. My second year, I got sick and didn't start till November 25th - this is the anniversary of when I started the one Nanowrimo novel I didn't finish. Ten years, nine wins.

If you win this year, your Purple Bar cuts the impossible project to size. It snips it down into manageable bits, a 1,667 word a day habit. It takes three weeks for a human being to form a habit. You've had those three weeks now. Keep that up in December, January, all the way around the calendar and you won't just be a Novelist. You'll become a prolific novelist.

50,000 words is enormous to a beginner. Remember grade school, when a finished sentence that had the correct structure was a triumph? When putting two or three of those into a paragraph was an entire assignment in itself? You played God/dess in the best possible way and your world is real, however similar it is to any others out in storyland.

You are holding a good novel, as brilliant as any classic or bestseller. The only difference between your novel and theirs is what James Michener said about his. "I'm not a good writer. I'm a good rewriter." It is that potentially good. Believe in it and don't stop now that you've won.

Claim your triumph. Dance around the forums in joyous purple and gloat. You did it, Novelist. Then do yourself and your characters the favor of carrying on with the edits once you're done celebrating. Your book is too good to just let it sit in the hard drive.

Whoever you are, somewhere out in the English-reading world (or whatever language you wrote your novel in), your Core Readers have not found it yet. Their favorite book isn't in their hands yet. The better you craft it, the more of them there will be.

So whether you're a career novelist, a part time novelist or a strictly leisure novelist, you did something incredible that few even dare to attempt. It's way too good to waste, so don't just throw it away. Give it that polish that will help everyone else see how good it is. Even if you want to make it a freebie on Kindle, give it a good thorough edit first so that it's a great read for all of us freebie-downloaders. Your core readers will thank you!

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