It’s not bad writing advice, just mediocre.

I love Nanowrimo. I used to participate every year and while I don’t feel like it’s a necessary part of my process anymore, I value what Nanowrimo has taught me. How far I’ve been able to come is, in part, because of this crazy yes-you-can program.

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The 2016 Nanowrimo icon

I also love Nanowrimo’s support group. We have Nanoedmo (National Novel Editing Month), and the Office of Letters and Light blog often features authors who have gone through the publishing process and have tips for those of us who may be mired in the “Now What?” months of post draft revisions.

However, the past couple of posts have made me gnash my teeth. Yes, a lot of writing advice is subjective (isΒ show don’t tell the worst advice or a necessary part of developing style?) – but there is some practical matter, and it is that matter I take issue with here.

Yes, a lot of this is nitpicky. But yes, the little things can make a big difference.

Beth Revis wrote a great post on having goals in writing, and being able to fail in writing. I liked 99% of the post. But one thing about querying agents caught my eye:

I learned other things. Tricks of the trade that you pick up as you go:Β 

  1. Copy and paste the first five pages into the bottom of your query in order to give the agent a sample of your writing.

There are a couple of NOPES here. First of all, this isn’t something you should be picking up as you go. Read in advance and you will learn all about what agents want.Β In fact, research will reveal that a blanket copy-paste for every query is quite possibly a terrible idea. Why? Because agents have guidelines for submissions. Agencies have guidelines. And not all of them include the first five pages in the body of the email.

I have queried agents who don’t want pages. I’ve queried agents who want the first five, the first ten, the first chapter, even the first 20 pages. I’ve queried a (very) few agents who wanted pages attached, not pasted. Some want a synopsis, too. If you don’t follow the rules, the agents think that 1) you can’t read, 2) you can’t pay attention or 3) you think you know better than them. None of these scream BUSINESS PARTNER FOR LIFE. And a lot of agents auto-reject queries that don’t follow the guidelines.

Now, agents understand that it’s easy to get mixed up or make a mistake in the querying process. If you send out a query with the wrong guidelines, an agent might like your material anyway. They might see what you have to offer. In my experience, agents have been quite helpful towards authors who are starting to navigate the publishing world, a world that is far more complicated than we first imagined. But don’t give your dream agent, who has 25000 queries in her inbox and only 2 hours to answer them, an easy excuse to reject you.

Why I’m not doing Nanowrimo

No, this is not a screed against Nanowrimo. It’s not about how literature is dying, or how Nanowrimo is the devil, or how agents hate us writers who dare to try writing 50,000 words in a month (pro tip: no they don’t).

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The Nanowrimo logo for 2016

I’ve been watching writers around me prepare for Nanowrimo this year, and I made the conscious decision not to participate fully. I’ll be doing write-ins with my husband (who’s participating in his own way) but I won’t be in it to reach 50k. Why?

Nanowrimo is a tool. I first discovered it in 2004, when I was just 17, and won that very first year. I haven’t won every year since, but winning and losing Nanowrimo has taught me a lot of things:

  1. It taught me that I can try for goals that I thought were impossible – and make them.
  2. It taught me that sometimes you just keep pushing, even if you hate your project
  3. It taught me that monthly goals are better for me than daily goals
  4. It taught me that writing is a community rather than solitary experience
  5. It taught me that completely pantsing it sucks*
*okay, okay, just for me. Sheesh.

I learned a lot about my strengths in terms of storytelling while trying Nanowrimo – largely due to getting stuck on my novel thanks to the aforementioned pantsing. I owe a lot of my writing journey to Nanowrimo. In fact, the thing I learned the most while doing Nanowrimo is what made me determine not to do Nanowrimo anymore.

Put your hand up if you’re sick of hearing ‘Don’t edit! Just write!’ Sorry, but I am.

I understand the philosophy behind it. If it works for you as a writer, then I love that it works for you. But it doesn’t work for me. Writing an entirely sucky first draft, that I know is sucky, makes the suck pile up until I can’t face it anymore. This is one thing I discovered in my Nanowrimo journey. The suck became so much that I couldn’t remember the good anymore, and I felt no desire to excavate my project once the month was over.

Conversely, once I started editing as I went, I found that even though it took longer to write my book, I felt more of an attachment to it once it was finished. I could face the suck because I also knew that some parts were less sucky, and some parts were actually all right, and some parts still made me cry.

Editing as you go is anathema to the Nanowrimo way. And, of course, some people get stuck editing the same scene so many times that they can’t move on to creating a new one. If that’s your problem, Nanowrimo is good for that. But if you have the opposite problem, you’re not alone. Nanowrimo’s not for me either.

I wish everyone who’s doing Nanowrimo this year a great month full of incredible ideas and an ever-increasing word count. I’ll be participating in word sprints and haunting the forums.

Just don’t get mad if I go back and rewrite those words right after.

Happy November!