On the eve of the National Novel Writing Month competition, the perennial critics always question the value of a novel written in just 30 days. Keep in mind, though, that any completed NaNo novel is just a first draft. Still, an impressive number of NaNo novels have eventually been published by traditional publishers.
According to the NaNoWriMo website, more than 100 NaNo novels have found their way to publication. These include such bestsellers as The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Morgenstern’s book is an interesting case study.
Morgenstern began writing what would become The Night Circus during the NaNo competition in 2005. She would rewrite and resubmit it two more times for NaNo. “It was good for me,” she said of NaNo, in a published interview. “I had done a little bit of playwriting in college, but I didn’t really finish anything.
“National Novel Writing Month was a great tool for me. I’d write that page and still hate it and then had to write another,” she said.
Morgenstern eventually submitted the manuscript for publication, but there were no takers. She participated in NaNo in 2009 with a different book. She returned to The Night Circus manuscript in 2010. “I pulled it back out in January and spent the winter and spring of 2010 rewriting the entire thing. That’s when the competition between the magicians (Celia and Marco) was added,” she said. The competition between the two illusionists—spurred by a bet between their rival sponsors, of which they were not aware—provided the fuel for the story. I won’t reveal any more details because I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t read this wonderful story.
What lessons can we draw from Morgenstern’s experience? First, she clearly benefited from the discipline she gained from participating in NaNo. By her own admission, she had done some writing, but she had never finished anything. NaNo forced her to write in compressed time frame. Second, she honed her work by redrafting it in subsequent years. According to NaNo rules, writers can use previous work as the basis for a novel, but each new word must be original. Third, even after a third rewrite, Morgenstern came up with a key plot change that transformed and invigorated the story. This was more than four years after she began working on The Night Circus. NaNo novels, like any first draft, require revision, revision and revision, and then polishing and then more revision.
It’s a long process from idea to publication, but the writer has to start somewhere. NaNo will help writers jump-start their novels.
What about you? Are you planning to participate in National Novel Writing Month?