Thirty Days Hath November

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Folks, I’m taking this Tuesday off to bring you instead a very special guest – Tanya Huff! Tanya is a prolific author of fantasy and science fiction, known for her Blood Books series featuring private investigator Vicky Nelson and her vampire partner, Henry Fitzroy. Most recently Tanya has released The Enchantment Emporium, a charming urban fantasy, and The Truth of Valor, fifth in her Valor Confederation series. Please give it up for Tanya Huff!

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If it’s November, and I’m fairly certain it is, then it must be National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. For the last few years this creative writing project has involved thousands of people all over the globe sitting down and, in the heat of blind passion, slamming out 50,000 words in thirty days.

Because it’s absolutely not pertinent to the point, we’re just going to ignore the fact that 50,000 words is about half a novel; give or take, given genre expectations. Besides, a number of participants produce significantly more than the minimum word count. And a number produce less but, again, not pertinent to the point.

Every year, especially as the internet allows more connection between writer and readers, I get asked throughout October (and occasionally in September by the really enthusiastic), “Are you doing NaNo this year?” And every year, I say, “No.”

For a couple of reasons.

The first: Writing is my job. It’s what I do every month. Every day. For me it’d be as if I were, say, in any other profession, and for the month of November I was going to do one heck of a lot of overtime for no money just for the joy of doing that overtime. Um… no. As with everything, of course, the mileage of other people who do this for a living may vary.

The second and more important reason: I don’t write like that.

Generalizing like crazy here, I believe people write in essentially two different ways. Some people write like they’re framing a house. They get the structure up, then they close it in, then they start adding all the details that makes it more than merely a construction project. Some people write like they’re building a brick wall and every single brick has to go down exactly right or the whole damned wall falls down.

I write like a bricklayer. Extending the metaphor, while writing I’ve ripped courses of bricks down to get to the one brick I set in wrong and then rebuilt the wall from that point. Ditching the metaphor, this means my first draft is never any more than 10% off my final draft. I rewrite as I go. I research individual needed facts as I go. If my book is due on say, February 15th and I write the last word on February 10th, I’m golden because it won’t take me than three intensive days to polish and get it in shape to be sent to my editor. (and thank heavens for email because in the old snail mail days, we had to aim for two weeks minimum before our deadlines)

Because of the way I write, I simply can not produce 50,000 words in thirty days without turning my brain to tapioca. NaNo is, therefore, not for me.

If you write like I do, it’s not for you either.

But, if you’re someone who can throw out words and idea and concepts and generalize where research needs to go and have every intention of, now that those words are out there, spending the next six months to a year crafting them into something amazing, go for it. And you know what? Even if you never go back, even if you never look at those 51,743 words again and you’re pretty sure that’s what’s going to happen before you even start, so what? Go for it anyway. It’s not like you were born with a limited number of words and once you use them up you’re screwed.

Even if NaNo doesn’t make you a better writer, it might make you new friends – never enough of those – it might keep you too busy to go out with that person you know you shouldn’t go out with but you’re bored so why not – trust me, even crappy writing is better than a crappy relationship – and hey, it may make you a better reader, more understanding of the amount of work it takes to produce an engaging plot and three dimensional characters, and I’m all in favour of that.

Write on, dude!

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17 comments to Thirty Days Hath November

  • Tanya, Sooo glad to have you here. I am a huge fan! I don’t NaNo either, and I love the analogy of bricklayer and housebuilder for many of the same reasons. I’m both a bricklayer and a housebuilder. (scratches head) But it works for me. Thank you for being here with us today.

  • Tanya, welcome to our little neck of the woods. Thanks for the post — I agree with Faith — I love the analogy. As for NaNoWriMo, it’s not my thing. And I know several agents who dread this month because they know they’re going to get a mountain of hurried submissions next month (many of which are for, as you point out, half a book). However, I can see why a lot of people enjoy it, especially because of the strong community that has built up around it.

  • Squeak

    I tried NaNoWriMo for the first time this year and it’s been quite the experience. One that I’m not certain I need to repeat.

    Not to say that it’s been bad. I’m learning to appreciate that writing brings joy to lots of people for multiple different reasons. It motivated me to get out of the house and network with people that I would not have met otherwise. Most importantly, I learned my limitations.

    The word count that I was submitting to the NaNoWriMo website in the first week would be exhilarating if I wasn’t so exhausted. I’ve slowed down since then, a decision I made during the dreaded “second week,” and have been much happier as a direct result.

    Positive experience? Definitely. Replay value? Not so much for me.

  • Hi, Tanya. Great to see you here. I recently was up in Calgary for ConVersion and led the two-day writers’ workshop with the IFWA folks. They LOVE you there, and on their recommendation I now have a couple of your books on my to-read pile.

    Discussions of the merits and dangers of NaNo can bring out strong emotions, but I think you’ve got it right here: if one’s creative process lends itself to that kind of all-or-nothing pace, it can be incredibly valuable. I tend to work more slowly; I like to polish as I write. And so, I don’t think I’d enjoy it. Worse, I think I would find myself constantly missing my daily goals, and for some writers that can be discouraging. Creativity is too idiosyncratic for one-size-fits-all methodologies, which is probably why I haven’t tried it myself, or recommended it to friends.

  • NaNoWriMo is a wonderful thing to participate in – once or maybe twice.

    It is the surest way I know to drill into your subconscious that, yes, you can indeed write a Whole Lot of Words.

    But once you have achieved that worthy goal, its value decreases exponentially. At least it did for me. After the first year, the emphasis quickly turned from, you know, writing to amassing Word Count, which isn’t (or shouldn’t be) the same thing. I found myself putting down the most self-indulgent reflective drivel just to meet that arbitrary daily quota; never mind trying to write anything that meant something. Quantity over quality is the ideology of a cancer cell.

    There are those people who do it every year and enjoy it. And I am sure there are people who do it again and again and actually produce something worthwhile in the process. More power to them, as they say.

    So… Do it. Once. Or forever; that’s up to you. The knowledge that you are sharing the same madness with tens of thousands of people all over the world is invigorating in a way that’s hard to describe.

    But if your goal is to write something real, don’t let it distract you from that. It’s fun, and it’s worthwhile. I just found its worth to be limited.

  • Like Tanya and David, I don’t tend to write a “rough draft.” I take a lot more time to get the words down that I want the first time and I spend a lot more time thinking about what I’m putting down on paper (or the screen, as it were). I still do a lot of revision later, but the story itself is pretty much how I want it when I’m done with the first draft. I think I’d just find NaNo frustrating and annoying.

  • Tanya> Thanks for the post!

    On Nanowrimo: I haven’t done it. I went so far as to sign up last year, but didn’t even start. Mostly because 1). I have other projects and stopping them to write something totally new doesn’t work for me and 2). november is always crazy for me because it is the end of the semester, so my grading increases.

    I have to say, though, I tend to write in massive bursts. I’ll sit down and write 5000-7000 words in a day. Now, several of them will be crap, or, sometimes, they’re not because I’ve planned them for quite a while. I don’t revise and polish much as a write. I’ll write it through, go back and read it and edit it once or twice, and then move on, going back later. It’s just what works with me. I know folks who don’t write three words but they erase two (or on a bad day, four), but that’s not how I do it.

    For me, it is a “get it on paper and then fix it.” Once I’ve got it down I’ll do a massive overhaul, cutting, writing more, killing characters, etc. But I need to get it all down once I’ve planned out/decided what it is because that way I can see the whole story.

  • Unicorn

    I didn’t try NaNoWriMo this month either, but because I’m really wrapped up in my current WIP. It looks like fun. Maybe I’ll give it a shot next year, if the timing’s all right, and see how it goes. Nothing to lose, eh? If only my overly helpful, irritating muse would cooperate.
    Oh, and hello Tanya, I’ll be sure to check out your books. Sigh. The To Be Read pile grows ever taller. One day it will nod at Everest in passing.
    Unicorn

  • Yedra

    I’m doing my first NaNo this year, and I went into it knowing that I’d never hit the 50k mark. And that’s ok with me. I’ve struggled for months with not writing on a regular basis – always some excuse to put it off another day. Consequently, I had about 2,000 words written in 3 months. Yikes!

    So I decided to do NaNo to force myself to write every day for a month, just to build the habit. So far it’s working pretty well – although I did miss a couple of days, it’s getting much easier to set aside 2 hours every night to write.

    I’m also a rewrite-as-I-go writer, and since my goal is to finish a publishable novel, I’m perfectly happy with the 5,000-odd words I’ve achieved so far. My writing pace is improving too, which I’m sure is due to the regular writing schedule. I’ll never “win” NaNo, but for me it’s been a success. (And like Wolf Lahti, I probably won’t do it again. I’ve taken what I needed from it.)

    Tanya, love your books! And to all of you who have chimed in to explain that you are brick builders, THANK YOU – it’s so comforting to hear that published authors write this way too.

  • Shawna

    I love NaNoWriMo. This is my ninth year as a participant, although I only tasted sweet victory for the first time last year.

    NaNo is an excellent tool for teaching people that anyone can write. It’s not some mythical process; it’s getting words down on paper. NaNo is good for me, personally, because if I let myself be the bricklayer type of writer, I never get anything done. I’ll sit fretting over one small bit of writing and never reach the end. I absolutely have to slap a rough (and I do emphasize rough) draft down in all its awful, messy glory first.

    And then I fix it.

    So yeah, I think NaNo is a pretty sweet deal, and you just can’t beat the creative community that comes together for one month every year. It’s amazing to see. Although I can appreciate that it isn’t for everyone. 🙂

  • Welcome, Tanya. I’ve never done NaNo and doubt I ever will, though I think it’s a great thing, esp. for those who feel they need a push to get them writing. Right now I feel so slammed with projects that the last thing I need is external motivation! But hey: whatever makes you get the words down.

  • Tanya, Thanks so much for taking the time to visit our little corner of the internet. What a treat to have you here.

    I’ve never tried NanNo, nor have I been tempted to. I’ve got enough real pressure and deadlines to deal with without adding a gigantic 30-day artificial one. I also think it falsely contributes to the notion that writing a novel is easy. Yes, anyone can do it — anyone willing to work hard, study the craft, work some more, network, be rejected umpteen times, work some more. So sure, anyone CAN do it. But easy? Only in November.

  • Hi Tanya!

    I like your analogy. But lately I’ve found that I’ve been having trouble moving forward at all, no matter how you characterize it. I feel frozen at the computer screen and I haven’t been doing much writing at all. So I’m using NaNo to shake things up and get me unstuck. I’m trying to get myself up to a certain production level while juggling a day job, a husband, and two cats. So far this month, it’s working.

    The community isn’t bad, either. The Vancouver region has a group that has been absolutely vital to me keeping my hands in writing this past year, even through a recent series of stressful events (that have thankfully mostly gone away). We call ourselves The Other 11 Months, and then it becomes much less quantity-oriented.

    But I have to agree with Stuart – I’ve also heard of many agents who dread post-NaNo submissions. To the point where I’ve mentally written December and January off as a time to even try to submit anything. :s

  • roh

    Hi Tanya,

    I’ve always loved your stories!

    My writing style is similar. Very linear. And I edit and revise and polish as I go. So no, NaNo is a NoNo for me. It would be a very frustrating experience, and that’s not why I write.

    I admire those who tackle NaNo – it’s just not for me.

  • I was going to do NaNo this year. I had a novel all outlined, each scene labelled and in place. A start, intro to an interesting character, a build up, small climax leading to a “showdown” then a quick wrap. Then my laptop battery burked (see Burke and Wills, Australian explorers. Burke didn’t make it up river, neither did Wills, but in any case King was left on his own) on me, leaving me with only 20 minutes in the morning and 20 in the evening to write. Now I’m a quick typist, no doubt, I can spit out 50-60 words per minute with bursts upward of 80. That, of course, assumes I am copying or taking dictation. So I’m down to about 500 words / day (I only write on my journey in to work and home again) until my new battery turns up.
    As for writing style… I guess in the construction industry terms used thus far, I’m a house builder. From outline to written form it doth flow, like a vast torrent of watery words. Only at the end do I check the banks of that river for the debris and shattered remains of my plot. As the man said, falling from the 80th floor of the building, “so far so good” 🙂

  • Young_Writer

    I’ve never tried NaNoWriMo, I think I’ll wait a few more years to try. It does sound like a good way to make frineds and network, but there’s a lot of pressure and a lot of bad paragraphs involved…
    I write likeI’m building a house. That’s mostly becasue my characters are super critical. They like to change the plot. A lot. 🙂

  • Tanya, I love your books and I’m so pleased that another Truth book is out.

    And I love your take on Nano. For once someone understands that you can write without being a professional writer, or even aspiring to be one. For me Nano is fun and yes it does help me appreciate how much effort goes into writing a real novel.