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September 5, 2018

Story writing contests are a great way to hone your chops, but can also be a double-edged sword. There are several, but a real popular one is NaNoWriMo. That stands for National Novel Writing Month. It takes place in November.


In my other passion, astronomy, we have what’s called the Messier Marathon. There’s a list of 110 celestial objects identified by a comet hunter back in the 1700’s. He did this to let people know they were “not comets.” They’re some of the brightest and easiest nebulae, star clusters and galaxies visible in the sky. They’re spread out over the entire sky, and to see them all in one night, it takes a small window around the end of March. You have to stay up all night, dawn to dusk, to catch them all. Hence, the name Messier Marathon. I personally could care less. I’ve seen every one of the objects, literally hundreds of times. Why waste a perfectly dark night on that, when I could be using it to look for stuff I haven’t seen? Besides, that turns my beautiful passion into an “ugly sport,” as I perceive it.

To me, writing contests are the same way. I have a beautiful muse. Why would I want to spoil it by turning it into an ugly sport?

On the other hand, let’s take the NaNoWriMo. For any starting writer, or for that matter, ANY writer, this “contest” could be a great motivator. It may not be for me, in particular, but for many of you, this could be just the thing. Let’s break it down.


National Novel Writing Month is a thirty day marathon where you’re tasked with writing 50,000 words toward either a complete novel, or the start of one. The only rule (based on my cursory scan) is that you complete the 50K words. Quality is not an issue. Completing the word count IS the issue.


The whole point is to see if you can meet a deadline. To see if you can stick with something. The sub-point is to motivate you to write.

These are worthy goals.

On the other hand, that’s also not always the way muses work.

However, let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth just yet.

WHAT’S 50,000 WORDS?

A 50k word manuscript means different things, depending on genre.

For young adult, that could be a complete novel.

For romance…meh, maybe.

For most others, it might be considered a novella.

For literary fiction, it might be considered a descriptive paragraph (LOL!).

For epic fantasy, it might be considered a chapter (double LOL!).

Sorry, I couldn’t resist a bit of sarcasm.

50K words is more than likely not going to be a completed novel. Anecdotal evidence from past participants have shown me that many that have participated have busted that 50K word count and completed, or near completed their manuscript anyway. Some made the count, then slowed down to complete the rest.

Some stopped at 50K and stuck with what they had.


Since quality is not an issue, what’s the result, the prize?

A big whoop tee doo. You make the word count, you get a big free paperback proof copy of your book you can sell on Amazon. The problem is that it’s still got to be edited, quality checked, so on and so forth, which if I understand correctly, they DON’T pay for.

Speed is one thing. Fixing the verbal diarrhea is another. The thirty days you spend slamming out your 50K+ words usually results in twice as long, or more, trying to fix that mess. You can spend months ahead of time mapping it all out, if you’re an outliner, or if you’re a pantser (a seat-of-the-pants writer), are really good and can whip out great text under pressure, it might be less of a mess. In any case, before it ever sees that free Amazon copy, you’d better ensure it goes through the mill, just like any other manuscript you write at a normal pace before you commit it to print. No matter what, that’s going to take a lot longer than the original thirty days! Plus, for most, you won’t have actually completed said manuscript. You’ve just made a good stab at it. However, if you made the 50K goal, you can now slow down, take a breather, and finish the rest at a less breakneck pace.

On the other hand, I’m not sure what kind of deadline they give you to get the book in print once you’ve “won” the publishing prize. That could put more pressure on you.


Is this particular writing contest an exercise? Or, is it another attempt to get noticed in the publishing world? If finishing it results in a printed book, what are you going to do with it? Take it seriously and try to exploit it, or just take your sloppily thrown together writing exercise and move on to your serious work (if you don’t take the time to do it right)?

If you go serious with this frantic pace novel, be prepared for the same expenses and/or deals as you would with any other book. Editing, marketing, the whole gamut.

It may start out that way, but it isn’t just a writing contest if you follow through. Plus, even if you start and don’t meet the deadline, are you going to continue with it, or shut it down and go back to your “serious work?” I can’t see someone investing all that effort into something they’re going to toss once the contest is over. I have seen people do that. Sort of. Afterward, they’ve shelved the effort, gone back to their regular work, they maybe months or years later, dragged the ole’ NaNoWriMo from such and such a year out again and gave it another look.


Happy writing!

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