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My Thoughts on Nanowrimo - What I've done, and Why - 50k or Bust.

With November comes a phenomenon known throughout the writing kingdom as “Nanowrimo,” or, more formally, “National Novel Writing Month.” As a regular participant in this event, I wanted to mention it at least once here at Storytellers, and to lend it my own perspective, for what that’s worth.

The concept is simple. You go to the website – www.nanowrimo.org – and you sign up. The event takes place between midnight on Halloween and midnight on the 30th of November. The idea is to commit to writing at least 50,000 words of fiction during that period. Thirty days. 1,667 words a day for a month, without fail.

Depending on how you describe it, this can seem intimidating, impossible, or not too big a deal. For those of us who blog regularly, for instance, as I do over at Macabre Ink and Vintage Soul – 1,667 words a day isn’t all that intimidating. If I cut back the journal a little and use the time before work and on my lunchtime, I can produce that many words easily. The more important question is – then – why would anyone do it?

Here is where that perspective comes in.

Nanowrimo has become an annual jump start. In 2004 I was leaving an author / agent relationship that had irritated me beyond measure. I had a ton of half-finished projects, a lot of frustration, and I needed ‘something’ to get me motivated. Someone suggested I try Nanowrimo. I thought about it for a while, and then I took the plunge.

For me It isn’t enough just to do it. I set up a Yahoo e-mail group so people could read along with what I was doing and give me feedback. I chose a novel that my daughter (14 at the time) could read along. I outlined the book chapter by chapter so I knew what I was going to write and when. All of these things were positive motivators for me, and they paid off. In the month of November, 2004, I wrote The Mote in Andrea’s Eye, a hardcover from Thompson / Gale and after that re-released in Large Print. The book was turned in in December of 2004 and sold in February of 2005.

At about the same time I completed the book, I signed with my current (and as far as I’m concerned permanent) agent, Mr. Robert L. Fleck of Professional Media Services (and don’t think I didn’t have doubts about an agency named PMS!). Over the next few months, I used the discipline I built up during Nanowrimo to finish three more of my incomplete novels and to rewrite two others. It was a revitalizing experience, in other words, and it helped me to re-examine some of my writing habits. It didn’t hurt my opinion of the process when I sold the novel.

When November rolled around again, I decided I wanted to do it all again. In September I started working on outlines, piecing one together, and then another. Eventually I decided I’d combine two things I wanted to do, and I wrote the outline for a novel titled Vintage Soul. There were a couple of reasons for this.

When I wrote novels in the shared “World of Darkness” for White Wolf Publishing there were rules. Vampires did certain things, werewolves did certain things, you were expected to flesh out the world of the game with real characters, but I always wanted more freedom. Don’t get me wrong, I have fond memories of the vampire Montrovant, and of Kli-Kodesh (Holy Vessel in Hebrew – garnered from a consultation with a Rabbi) and even of butting heads with some editors (like my now good friend Rich Dansky) over bits and pieces I’d created. With Vintage Soul, though, I planned a novel that was in the “vein” of what I’d done at White Wolf, but at the same time was all me. I created a possible series character, Donovan DeChance, and again I had a Yahoo group for people to read along as I wrote the book. This novel is due out in December of 2009 in hardcover from Gale / Five Star.  Watch the Vintage Soul site linked below for details on getting a discount priced copy; part of the profits will go to Nanowrimo's charity drive.

Since then I've written most of a novel titled Gideon's Curse (a novella cut from this was just published in my new collection) and completly rewritten to completion the previously unfinished novel The Orffyreus Wheel.  This year I'll be doing the first draft of a novel collaboration - Hallowed Ground - a weird western with gunslingers, fallen angels, snake-oil salesmen, and birds...  It's something I've come to look forward to.

Before people jump in with their standard sound clips about Nanowrimo, writing too fast, word counts don’t matter, etc…I’m not here looking for approval. I’m not here suggesting this is something all writers should do, or even suggesting it’s the best writing exercise since sliced bread. In fact it can be discouraging, daunting, cause you to write more quickly than you probably should – there are up and down sides to anything like this, but it’s something I do every year, and I wanted to mention it…and to put out a general thanks for the support readers have given me in the past.

If you are intrigued and want to follow along, just visit the HALLOWED GROUND READ ALONG BLOG and sign up to read the private posts to come in November.

See you all in December, and maybe I’ll be able to report on the process in my next installment here.