NaNoWriMo–Is it worth it?

Just wanted to share some of my NaNo experience from waaay back in January, 2009.

My friend, Sara Harvey, challenged another friend (Janet Berry–her NaNo post is here: and me to join her in writing a book in a month–only not the “proper” month of November–we did it in January.

Jan broke down our writing schedule into words per day–I think it averaged around 1,700 words. Once I started writing, I realized that represented a chapter for my book, maybe a little more. Most of my chapters were short, maybe 1,200 words.

I set out to write a modern-day ghost story–something that would now be labeled “speculative fiction.” At the time, I hadn’t read much fiction from the Christian Book Association (CBA) industry. I didn’t know much about dialogue tagging (“he said, she exclaimed.”). I knew next to nothing about how long it takes to land an agent or a contract.

I just wrote.

I wrote almost every night that month, in a freezing-cold basement, with cats who tended to use their litterbox every time I settled into my hard wooden chair. I still homeschooled and cooked and put my kids to bed every night–didn’t get take-out nearly as often as I wished we could…

Turns out, the fuzzy, ill-fitting red robe I wore must’ve been an effective form of Kryptonite for my husband, who left me to my devices for an hour or two each night.

I prayed over my book every night, convinced God would use it to do great things.

I finished the book at the end of the month. I typed THE END and I read over it and edited, as best I could. I started looking for an agent.

I put the book up on Authonomy. Please don’t ever do that to yourself! The only way to “move up” in the rankings is to kiss-up to every writer there (I refused to do it), writers who write junk and use language you wouldn’t read if you had to. It’s actually faster to find an agent, believe it or not. And agents might take up to a year to find. Or longer.

We won’t go into how I did get an agent, then submitted a really stinky proposal, etc. I will tell you this:

Though I’d written an adult fiction book, 50,000 words was deemed too short for a stand-alone spec fic book like mine. 

I daresay publishers wondered if it was some kind of joke, getting a proposal that stated that I had a 50,000-word completed novel for the adult fiction market. My agent didn’t realize this was not the right length, either.

Please note–If you’re writing Young Adult fiction, or Love Inspired/Harlequin or any short-length fiction series, you’ll be okay at 50,000. Just please save yourself time and research your genre first (unlike what I did!).

Anyway, back to my NaNo saga. I wound up starting a blog, Book in a Month Mom, where I posted the first thirteen chapters of my novel, Otherworld. I had lots of readers who wanted more. They still do! This is the kind of book it might make sense to self-publish, since spec.fic isn’t the easiest sell in the CBA.

Regardless, my take-away from NaNo was this:

1) I can write a book, instead of just wishing it might happen someday. It takes grit,  determination, and total commitment to your story.

2) I should research my market/genre first, before I ever start writing.

3) An agent who knows the market and will tell you the truth is worth his/her weight in gold. Also saves you from looking like an idiot, submitting a horrid proposal that doesn’t even fit the genre length.

4) That NaNo book might not be your breakout novel. But it is a novel. And you can revise it. I will add 30,000 words to Otherworld someday. In the meantime, God’s blessed me with excellent critique partners, an agent who’s also an editor, and a loyal group of blog followers (thank you!). I know so much more about writing for the CBA market than I did (almost) five years ago. Before I write a book now, I know my target genre and audience. I know how to eliminate excess dialogue tags and adverbs. I know my rough draft won’t be quite so rough.

5) A NaNo novel is a start. And a start is all a true writer needs. It might just unleash your writing Kraken!

****Here’s looking at you, NaNo-ers! All the best this month! Anyone else want to share your first NaNo experience?****


6 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo–Is it worth it?

  1. Great post! I'm participating in NaNo for the motivation–it's easier and even exciting to start another book when you know that everyone else is working on new projects too. If I don't finish by the end of November, no biggie. And 50,000 to 60,000 words is a great first draft for me, since I tend to write more descriptions, etc the second time around. 😉

  2. All very good points, Heather. #1 is the impetus some people need, just to get that first "The End" under their belt. That is a massive step.#2 to #4 are true regardless.#5 is especially relevant to NaNo. Most people I've seen taking part know that 50k is not the end – nor even novel-length for most genres. It is meant to be a start, something close to novel-weight that you can turn into a finished product.But then, most people I follow in the blogging world have been at it a while. When I started out, I had no clue what an acceptable word count might be. I couldn't begin to picture what 50k words looked like. I had the opposite problem – discovering that my 70k-and-only-half-finished behemoth was going to need a serious diet 🙂

  3. I love this, Heather!I'm a huge fan of NaNo and I'm participating for my second time this year.I haven't figured out exactly what it is about NaNo that not only gets me writing, but keeps me writing and reaching my goal each day.I love it!

  4. Botanist, did you and I start blogging around the same time? Yes, I did NaNo with no clue my book would be too short, so I plotted it to be finished by that 50,000 word mark. But great idea to use it as a jumping-off point–I know many writers do that. And Jill, glad your writing's rolling along this month! I'm trying to write a book by December, but I'm not telling myself I'm NaNo-ing or I think I'd freak myself out…

  5. Hey Heather,This is a great post about perspective. Very timely. For me, 50,000 words is my rough draft. Then I go back and fill in, fluff up, add, slash, beef up, slice-and-dice, etc. I'm not a planner/plotter, so having a word count goal is a great way for me to "plan" my days.This is my 3rd year at NaNo – I have yet to do 50,000 in the month, but I thrive on the challenge and I've learned not to beat myself up for not hitting the mark. Hugs,Becky

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