NaNoWriMo 2020 is right around the corner.
This wildly popular phenomenon, National Novel Writing Month, starts November 1, and you’re urged to write an entire novel by the end of the month.
Wouldn’t it be great to actually finish a 50,000-word novel in 30 days?
Since 1999, that very idea has inspired millions of writers from all over the world to embark on this journey.
In 2015 alone, more than 430,000 finished their manuscripts, and NaNoWriMo refers to them as novelists.
Sounds fabulous, right?
Well, I can’t argue with the upsides:
The NaNoWriMo folks “believe stories matter.” So do I.
And in the last 18 years since this effort began, countless writers have raved to me that NaNoWriMo was the vehicle that finally motivated them to actually finish.
That’s no small thing. Over my four decades teaching writing, I’ve learned that the single most debilitating barrier to writers finishing writing their novels has been fear—fear that kills impetus.
I can’t count the number who have told me they can’t get started, let alone finish.
And as my film director son says about movies, simply producing one is a major accomplishment, let alone a good one. He compliments novice filmmakers for merely finishing.
The same is true about writing a novel.
So, yes, I’m all for anything that motivates a would-be novelist to start and (more importantly) to finish.
However, I also have reservations.
Now, hear me, I’m not trying to talk you out of trying this. If it’s the trigger that results in your first finished novel, bravo!
But let’s take a closer look:
NaNoWriMo reports that over the years, 250 of its participants have seen their manuscripts sell to traditional publishing houses. That means the authors were paid to be published rather than paying to be printed.
Nothing to sneeze at. Until you do the math.
A rule of thumb in book publishing is that an unsolicited manuscript has about a 1 in 1,000 chance of landing a traditional book deal. While the figure may be unscientific, it’s not hyperbole.
What are the odds your NaNoWriMo 2020 manuscript will be traditionally published? Without knowing the total number of novels written since the effort began (this is its 17th year), it’s impossible to say.
But one thing I can say for certain: The odds are way worse than 1 in 1,000.
In fact, if every success story had happened last year alone—in other words, had all 250 published novels come from only the 431,626 NaNoWriMo manuscripts completed last year—your chances of ultimate success would be 1 in more than 1,725.
But those 250 traditionally published novels have come from all the NaNoWriMo manuscripts written since 1999. While not every year would have represented more than 400,000 writers, surely the total is in the millions.
My NaNoWriMo 2020 Caution?
As a writing coach, my goal is to help get your work to where it’s marketable to traditional publishers. That’s the sole purpose of this blog and The Jerry Jenkins Writers Guild. So, far be it from me to criticize a well-intentioned program like NaNoWriMo.
It appears to me their goal is not to see you finish a pristine manuscript ready for the marketplace. Their aim, and it’s a worthy one, is to encourage.
NaNoWriMo serves to prove to you that you can both start and finish a novel of at least 50,000 words. And that’s just what many writers need.
If you believe it would work for you, motivate you, get you to finally get going on your novel, I say go for it.
My caution is to not make more of the result than it deserves.
The benefit: You knock out a first draft.
The danger: You assume your work is done.
Bottom line: I applaud NaNoWriMo for what it’s meant to so many writers who need a deadline to finally finish novel manuscripts. I urge you to see the result as only that for now.
Finishing your novel doesn’t make you a novelist. You’re still an aspiring novelist, and I’d LOVE to see you fulfill your dream.
I’ve harped on this before: If getting traditionally published were easy, anyone could do it.
The last part of the process that can be done quickly is getting your first draft down. Just realize that if you were building a house, what you would have after a month of frenzied work is the foundation and shell.
Your novel’s foundation has been laid, and its studded shell is standing. Now how long will it take to wire it, plumb it, drywall it, trim it, paint it, and furnish it?
A lot longer than a month, I can tell you that. And I’ve averaged an output of four books a year since 1974.
Some things can’t—and simply shouldn’t—be rushed.
If you’re gearing up for next month’s NaNoWriMo 2020 challenge, I wish you the best. Check back here the first week of December for what to do next. My hope is that your foundation and frame are ready for a lot of finish work.