Shades of Milk and Honey was a NaNoWriMo novel

I recently overheard some professional writers talking about NaNoWriMo and a number of them thought it was a waste of time and that the folks who did it were wannabes.

Bullshit.

When you are getting your legs, writing long form is really intimidating. The internal editor kicks in and will eat your brain alive. My first novel took me ten years to write and it sucks.

The second novel, I wrote a chapter a week for my niece and nephew. It sucks less. The lesson here isn’t that writing faster is better, it’s that it takes time to learn to write — or more accurately, it takes writing.  NaNoWriMo is a good way to get into the saddle and write.

For me, NaNoWriMo does two things. It turns my internal editor off and it gives me a deadline to write to.  You know what? 2000 words a day is dead simple and I’d never have realized how easy it was to maintain that pace if I hadn’t given it a try.

I’ve “won” NaNoWriMo three times and gave myself that structure for a fourth novel because I like writing to a deadline.

Here’s how I approached NaNoWriMo when I wrote Shades of Milk and Honey.

  1. I spend the months leading up to November making plans.
  2. I cranked out the first 50,000 in November, adjusting the plan as necessary.
  3. I stopped. Reread what I’d written and evaluated the overall structure.
  4. I wrote the remaining part of the novel over a three-month period, which involved throwing out six chapters equaling 20,000 words.
  5. Edited.

The point of NaNoWriMo isn’t to have a finished, ready-to-submit novel on December 1. It’s to get that first draft down on the page and stop talking about writing it someday.

And now while I’m off to do my wordcount for the day, I thought I’d share the first unedited chapter of Shades of Milk and Honey as it appeared in the wild rush of NaNoWrimo 2006.

17 Responses

  1. David

    As a first time NaNoWriMo participant who is currently getting his butt kicked by Week 2, I’d like to say that the implication that NaNo is not about writing a book but learning how to get a book written is flat out inspiring. Because you know what? I look back at what I’ve written and think to myself “Oh my word. This sucks. This will still suck after I spend all of next year revising it.” But you know what, its my first book and its my baby and if you tell me it sucks then I will consume your very soul. You tell me its practice, that this will make my next book (and my next book, and maybe someday a book I can actually sell to someone) better and easier to create? That’s awesome.

    Okay, you can tell I’m doing NaNoWriMo because I just took 136 words to say “I love this blog post.”

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Pad those words, baby!

      In one of the novels my agent is currently shopping, when I reread it before giving it to her I discovered an entire chapter in which my character did nothing but research things on the internet. This involved quoting looooooooong sections of websites. Ahem. Needless to say, that chapter is now a single paragraph. Fortunately, that’s the most egregious of the OMG-50,0000-words offenses in that particular project.

  2. Andrew

    My novel is in its second NaNoWriMo. I wrote 60,000 words of it last year, and spent a lot of time revising it, but haven’t gotten much new stuff done. Now I’m writing the “sequel” to what I wrote last year, and, hey, if I mush the two together in a revision, so be it.

    I apparently need more practice turning off my internal editor, since so far I can only do it during NaNoWriMo.

  3. Catherine Shaffer

    I am not sure where anyone gets off telling other people what is a waste of their own time. I agree with you. If people want to try to write a novel in one month, I am all for it. I would like to as well, but it’s not working out for me this year.

  4. mythago

    Thanks for this. There’s a distinct stench of “how dare you peons pollute the sacred halls of Authorship with your plebian writing methods” about all the NaNo carping.

  5. Christine Amsden

    Sometimes I think it’s hard for people to understand that just because it doesn’t work for them, it doesn’t mean it won’t work for SOMEBODY. When trying to sort out all the writing advice out there, the best I can say is: Do what works.

    I’m doing NaNo this year for the first time in years. I doubt I’ll even finish because I wasn’t ready to start writing until this week and while I want to commit words to the page, I don’t want to push myself so hard that it backfires. Still, I’m hoping to get to 50k in about a month (mid-December) and why not? If it works, go for it!

  6. Spencer Ellsworth

    I’m always confused by these reactions. Orson Scott Card admits that he wrote the 70k of Ender’s Game in a month. Ken wrote the 120k of Lamentation in six weeks with a day job.

    50k a month is a fairly reasonable goal for someone who wants to be a professional writer. I’d prefer to draft 60-75k a month if I’m going to write a novel. If you want people to sit down and read your book front to back, why not make the writing experience as intensive as possible?

  7. Jon H

    Didn’t *Frankenstein* originate, at least, in a competition among friends on holiday?

    Seems like NaNoWriMo is to some extent within that tradition.

  8. Roni

    I love this post :)
    I’m doing nano for the first time this year, and am grateful for this.
    My first book was published last June (In Hebrew), and it’s been hard to get back to work on the second one, so nano for me is a good way to remind myself to write, every single day. I’m lagging bad, but it grows back on me. thank you, oh nanowrimo.

    Just write, if it’s good, no one will care how long it took, or how you did it.

  9. Craig Johns

    I think the following approach might work best for me.

    November is NaNoWriMo, while December is NaNoRevMo. January is NaNoReWriMo. February is NaNoPullMyHairOutTilImBaldBecauseMyBookStillSucksMo, followed by March, which is NaNoEdMo.

    Then after that, if said NaNoAuthOr feels up to it, April is NaNoSendItToPubMo. I suppose after that is May, which is NaNoWaitForBookDealWhilePlayingVideoGamesMo.

    If the last few steps fail, then sometime in the summer is NaNoSelfPubMo. Then it is only three more months until the next NaNoWriMo.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Ahahaha! Well, I’d also insert NaNoFinMo to finish the first draft because you’ll need more than 50,000 words unless it’s a middle grade book.

      And NaNoSendItToPubMo may take a few rinse/repeat cycles. Bear in mind that I wrote Shades of Milk and Honey in 2006, signed with my agent in 2008, sold the novel in 2009 and it didn’t come out until 2010.

  10. Craig Johns

    I agree, as I was not totally serious. For myself, it might turn into NaNoReWriYear, or maybe even, (gasp) NaNoReWriDecade.

  11. JoshuaRR

    THANK YOU for this. I’ve been extremely surprised by some of the negative reaction to NaNo, and it just doesn’t make sense. I’ve even seen an employee at a publishing co. send out tweets about how no agent or publisher will ever want to read a NaNo novel.

    Before NaNo, I never wrote anything over 5K and most of my short stories were under 3K. NaNo provided a supported framework for attacking a (relatively) massive word count, just to see if I could do it. I became a better writer for the experience, have sold MANY more pieces as a result of the skills I picked up last year, and hey, this year is looking even better.

    Thanks again for calling out the bullshit.