Posted by on Oct 28, 2011 in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) | 2 comments

Start early? Blasphemy! you say. That’s against the official NaNoWriMo credo.

Yes, it is. But I tell you again, I think it’s OK to start writing your NaNoWriMo novel early. And I’m personally giving you permission.

Updated October 2014 because they changed the rules and starting early is OK!

To start with, understand this doesn’t mean that you can count any words you write early. You still have to write 50,000 words in November or in 30 days (if we’re talking about Camp NaNoWriMo) so anything you write before the start of NaNo doesn’t count towards that 50k. Counting words you wrote before the start of NaNo *IS* cheating in my book and will not be tollerated by The Great Wrimoceros aka the God of NaNoWriMo that I just made up this second.

But as long as you aren’t starting early to cheat by getting ahead on word count, I think starting early is not only OK, it’s a great idea for the following reasons:

  1. A novel is longer than 50,000 words anyway. This is the part we don’t like to talk about because writing 50,000 in 30 days is a huge, amazing accomplishment and no one wants to take away from that by pointing out that most novels are much longer than that. Even if you are writing a children’s novel where the final product will be around 50,000 words, you’ll be cutting a ton in editing so you need more words than that to start with. If you hit 50,000 during NaNo, you’ll likely need to add words once November ends to get to the end of the story and a more realistic book length. Think of starting early this way: instead of having to write the ending in the months after NaNoWriMo, you’re writing the beginning in the months before. Either way you’ll be adding more words, why not do it ahead of time when you’re excited instead of afterwards when you’re burnt out and in the midst of holiday insanity?
  2. Beginnings are harder than endings. Your book will go through many, many beginnings before it’s finished. Sad but true. Beginnings are so important (they can be what sell your book to agents, publishers and readers) that you can feel crippled about even starting, paralyzed by the pressure of the beginning. If you actually feel like writing your beginning now, DO IT! Chance are, you’ll end up changing it anyway so getting it out of the way now frees you to really dive into the story proper during NaNoWriMo. It also gives you that much more momentum going into the month. Get that beginning over with early!
  3. You’ll make it easier on yourself. There’s a pattern to NaNoWriMo. The first week is super easy. Then second week is soul crushing and it’s when most people drop out. Then the third and fourth weeks get much, much easier. These milestones are based on where you are in your book at that time. If you’re ahead, you’ll get your Week 2 when everyone else is in the euphoria of Week 1, making it that much simpler for you to power through. Then you’ll hit that easy Week 3 feeling while the rest of us slog through Week 2, etc.
  4. You’ll be that much more likely to finish the book. The whole book. The best part about NaNoWriMo is the community. You have this huge support group helping you to keep writing, to fuel your goals and encourage you to finish. If you reach the end of November and you’ve hit 50k but haven’t finished the book will you be able to finish without that community to help? For many people, the answer is no. Which is why you want to give yourself the best chance of finishing your book during NaNoWriMo.  An ending that you write in the flurry of NaNo, knowing that it’s all that stands between you and victory is a million times easier to write then the one you force yourself to write months later when the support system is gone. I know this from personal experience. You’re doing you and your novel a huge disservice by not using NaNoWriMo to finish the entire book all the way to the end, regardless of how many words that is. And starting early gives you that much  more of a head start and puts you in a better position to complete it.

I have always written at least the first chapter of my novel in advance of NaNoWriMo, sometimes more, and then I use November to power through and add the 50,000+ words that get me to The End. Remember, the point of National Novel Writing Month is to give yourself a deadline to finish  and to end the month with the first draft of a novel. I see starting early as a useful tool to give yourself the best possible chance of finishing the entire book in a month, not just 50,000 words of it.

In other words, don’t get so hung up on the nitty gritty of the rules that you hold back when you’re eager to work on your book. Books are long and you’ll end up writing much, much more then you actually need in the final draft. Rather than forcing yourself to wait, seize the moment and get started no matter what the date is!

What do you think? Still blasphemy? Do you think it’s OK to start your novel early?