Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

NaNo Inspirations: Anna and the French Kiss

During the month of November, which we all know is National Novel Writing Month, many folks will ask you why? Why are you doing this? What is the point? As the month progresses even your most ardent supporters may flounder as they grow lonely waiting for you to finish. You spouse may begin to think the laundry will never again be clean, and the clutter that will accumulate this month will start to take on a life of its own, and they will ask, why?

To write a novel, of course.

Your NaNo novel will be messy and in its infancy by December 1st. You will have plot holes large enough to drive a semi through and your character arcs may sag in the middle. On your first read through you will find entire paragraphs that were written in the wee small hours when you were running on fumes from your 15th cup of coffee and you will wonder what the heck you were babbling on about. It will be bad.

But, have faith! Many have gone on to publish their NaNo efforts to great success!


YA author, Stephanie Perkins, wrote Anna and the French Kiss (2010) during NaNoWriMo after struggling to finish a first draft for four years! I believe Lola and the Boy Next Door (2011) may have started one November as well. In an interview on Bookduck, she explains what NaNo is really all about. It is NOT writing a book. At least not a good one.

Do you make detailed plans before plunging into NaNoWriMo?

Oh goodness, no. This is, without a doubt, the biggest and most common mistake among participants. There’s often a misconception that NaNo is about writing a book in a month. I mean, National Novel Writing Month. It’s there in the title! But that’s really not what it’s about. It’s about creating a first, very very rough draft that you can eventually — with a lot of hard work — turn into a novel. Many participants believe they have one month to write a BOOK. A good one. One that they can sell, that people will want to read. So they do all sorts of outlining and research before beginning, sometimes months in advance! But the problem with this is that the more you know about your story beforehand, the more pressure you put on yourself to write something GOOD. And few people (I’m certainly not one of them) can write a GOOD book in a month. So what happens? The participant starts the novel, realizes that the words coming out aren’t nearly as beautiful and perfect as the idea they had in their head and in their notes, and they become frustrated and discouraged. It becomes impossible to move forward. And if you aren’t moving forward during NaNo, it’s over.

The founder of NaNoWriMo, Chris Baty, recommends only one week of preparation in his fantastic book No Plot? No Problem!. Solid advice. It gets the gears in your brain turning, but it’s not nearly enough time to turn your idea into something perfect, and therefore, unattainable.

I have never planned more than a week or two for NaNo. One year, I didn’t even do that but it was the longest November that year. I learned that I can maintain momentum with a bit of plotting and character sketches before the race starts. If I try the full-on pantsing method that other NaNo-ers employ, I flounder. I spend hours poking at my limp characters, begging them to do something worth writing down. It makes for a very long month indeed.

Later in that same interview, Ms. Perkins was asked to describe NaNo in three words and she nailed it: “Life-changing month. (Oh man. That sounds so unbelievably corny, but it’s true.)” For any of us who had trouble getting down to the actual writing part of being a writer, NaNo can be the life-altering month where we learn to just shut up and get out of our own way! 🙂

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