The Value of NaNoWriMo

Courtesy Portsmouth Public Library
Today's NaNoWriMo guest post is by Jeff Deck, an independent sci-fi/horror/fantasy writer who grew up in New Hampshire and currently lives just over the border, in Maine. This is his twelfth NaNoWriMo.

Thank you, Center for the Book, for this chance to speak about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). And hello, New Hampshire writers and readers. 

I’d like to give a quick rundown of the incredible value of NaNoWriMo. It’s not just a writing exercise—it’s a wizardly device that enriches the to-read shelves of our future selves.

If you fall into the “writer” category, please proceed to part I below. If you fall into the “reader” category, well, you can skip to part II. But since reading is your bag, I suspect you’ll be perusing part I as well.

Right now hundreds of thousands of writers (including me) are attempting to write 50,000 words of fiction, before the 11:59:59 p.m. November 30 deadline. Quickly, without looking back. That’s NaNoWriMo in a nutshell: quantity over quality.
“Quantity over quality?” you might say. “Hmm. Isn’t that the opposite of what I should be doing?”
It’s counterintuitive. Until you consider that most people who decide to start writing a book never finish it.
Even the pulpiest, trashiest novel is better than a half-finished manuscript full of sparkling insights and godlike prose…  because nobody will ever read the latter.
NaNoWriMo trains writers to meet goals and to finish projects. NaNoWriMo trains you to ignore that loathsome little critical voice in your head that says: You can't. This is stupid. You can't.
Guess what? You won’t miss that voice when it’s gone.
Gaining confidence on the page—learning to keep moving forward, no matter what—is the first step every writer must take to become successful. You can sum up this idea in four words: Finish first, edit after.
It’s such a simple idea. It’s easy to see the value in it. As a fledgling writer you might even already agree with this idea—in principle. But putting it into practice is hard.
We are literally creatures of habit: the things that come the easiest to us are the things that we have done over and over again. That’s the way our brains work. If we want to change, we need to change our habits.
That’s where NaNoWriMo comes in. After a full month of sitting your derriere down in your chair and writing every day, you’ve gotten used to it. You’ve come out of the exercise with a complete first draft—but more important, you’ve started to build the habits that you’ll need to sit down and revise that draft. And write your next book.
You’re pounding the habits of successful writers into your brain. It feels good! And those habits will be absolutely necessary if you set out on the path of writerhood someday.
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at a NaNoWriMo kick-off event at the Portsmouth Public Library (which has supported novice writers for years through these events). Of the 30 or so people in attendance, about half were first-time NaNo participants.
So that’s about fifteen writers just in the Seacoast area who are attempting to learn the habits of professional authors—often for the first time—thanks to NaNoWriMo. Plus the ones who didn’t get a chance to attend the kick-off.
And there are enough pockets of interested writers to warrant NaNoWriMo events not just in Portsmouth, but around the state: Concord, Pelham, Hudson, Manchester, Newport, Merrimack, and so forth. Think of all the New Hampshire writers plunging into a gung-ho pursuit of their passion this month.
The writers I met in Portsmouth were a diverse crowd. Male and female, teenagers and senior citizens, traditionalists and rebels—they probably had nothing in common but an interest in writing.
Even on that note, their plans for novels diverged wildly: Aliens descending on a small town to attack Thanksgiving. A young Russian woman’s coming-of-age tale. A man stealing the bodies of his descendants to gain immortality. A steampunk adventure in a town by the sea much like Portsmouth.
I’d love to read all those books someday. Wouldn’t you? Which brings us to part II…

When you support NaNoWriMo, you’re supporting the butt-kicking books of the future.
See, nobody gets it right the first time. None of our favorite authors wrote something clean and admirable on the first go-round.
What makes them special is that they didn't give up. They pushed through the draft. Then they edited it. Then they edited it some more. Then someone else took a look, pointed out something crucial. And they edited the story again.
That is the secret origin story of every one of your favorite books. And maybe, this month, the origin story begins for a future addition to your bookshelf. Somewhere out there in NaNo Land, among those hundreds of thousands of people giving this thing a shot—or maybe right here in New Hampshire.
One of the writers I met at the Portsmouth NaNoWriMo kick-off—or one of the many other New Hampshire writers pushing through their 50,000 words—could be working right now on your favorite read of 2018.
As for me? I've been participating in National Novel Writing Month since 2003. I’ve managed to reach 50,000 words every year except one (curse you, 2005!).
NaNoWriMo helped me build the habits I needed to achieve my own goals as an independent fiction author. I’ll be releasing my first indie e-books in January: The Pseudo-Chronicles of Mark Huntley, a horror novel, and Player Choice, a sci-fi novel. (Like my Facebook page for updates about these projects.) I’m excited and proud to be where I am right now, and I can thank NaNoWriMo for that.
The bottom line is: as a reader, there are two major ways you can support New Hampshire authors.
The first, obviously, is to Read Local: to purchase existing books by New Hampshire authors right now. I’m working with the New Hampshire Writers’ Project to create better ways for readers to discover New Hampshire authors—especially indie authors, who don’t have big-name marketing budgets behind them. Stay tuned on that front.
And the second way to support New Hampshire authors is to support the books that don’t exist yet, by supporting NaNoWriMo. Donate or buy a t-shirt. Spread the word about the site to local writer friends who need a bit of encouragement. If you know local authors who are participating in NaNoWriMo, please buy them coffee or a chocolate bar—they can use all the caffeine they can get.
Thanks for reading! Good luck if you’re working on a NaNo book right now—and get back to work!

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