NaNoWriMo and Why I Don't

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. I’m going to rant a bit here, because I’m pretty much against it in every way. However, and I’ll say this again at the end because it won’t sink in with the converts, if it works for you, more power to your elbow. But what is it really working?

The principle is simple enough – for the entire month of November, you write and try to get down 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 1,666 words a day on average. Any old words will do – if you get 50,000 or more, you “win”. What do you win? Well, probably several weeks or months of editing at best.

 

From the NaNoWriMo website we get these gems:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing… The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.

First point of order – 50,000 words is not a novel. It might be a children’s or very young adult novel, but even then, not really. Most young adult novels are between 50,000 and 60,000 words. Most adult novels are over 80,000 words. The vast majority of publishers will not accept a novel of less than 80,000 words.

Then there’s this one:

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. This approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Quality doesn’t matter. Lower your expectations. These are never things we should apply to our writing. EVER. The whole concept of NaNoWriMo seems to be to churn out 50,000 words of shit, just to call yourself a winner, and then try to knock it into some kind of shape afterwards.

Why not just aim for 20,000 good words throughout November? Then again in December, January, Feb and March. Then you have an actual first draft novel. And a far better one than you’d achieve using the NaNo model. You won’t have to lower your expectations and take quantity over quality. And you know what you’ve done as well? You’ve become a writer. You had a goal to write a novel and you did it. Not a goal to vomit up 50,000 words no matter what in a month and call it a win.

What do you win? Nothing, except a feeling of disappointment and an unfinished novel.

nanowrimo 400 NaNoWriMo and why I dont

Talking about previous participants, the site says:

They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

No. Just no. They didn’t. They may very well be novelists one day, but churning out 50,000 words of shite in a month does not a novelist make.

So yes, I’m being especially harsh. It’s hard to write a novel, trust me, I know. It’s a fucking chore to find writing time, to force that thing in your head out on to paper (or screen, more accurately). Sometimes it’s like trying to crap a watermelon out of your face. I get it, I really do. And I can see why some people appreciate the drive of NaNo to force them into a deeper writing zone.

A lot of great novels have grown out of NaNo projects. A lot of people take great strength from the whole NaNo community and the shared support and encouragement. Writing can be a lonely pursuit. I think most writers actually like that – I know I do – but we all crave community. I have many friends in the writing world and we do support and encourage each other. All the time, not just during November.

Any writer can achieve that. You start writing, you join some online forums, you join your local writers’ centre and start making friends. Join a crit group. Toughen up and listen to advice. Take any favours you can and offer your help to others in response. Before long you’re a writer with a writing community around you. That’s how we’ve all done it.

I can’t help thinking about all those would-be writers who get all excited for NaNo, shit out 50,000 words and then live the rest of the year in a mire of inactivity because they were ruined by the NaNo experience. Or all those who don’t “win” and then just have something else to beat themselves up about instead of writing.

It’s simple – writers write. Not every day necessarily, because everyone has a life, even full-time writers. But just write. Don’t mug yourself with perceived wordcounts, or pointless goals. No one wins or loses. We all write, hopefully we get published, and we keep trying to get better and get more published. Lots of little victories among hundreds of failures, but the determined and thick-skinned among us power on through sheer bloody-mindedness.

Here’s my advice. Fuck NaNoWriMo. Set yourself a new goal, a far simpler one. Here it is:

I will be a writer.

Simple as that. You write whenever and as often as you can. You keep writing whether you get down 1,666 words in a day or 6. Or 6,000. Fuck it, it doesn’t matter. Find the broader writing community and become a part of it, we’re happy to have you. And keep doing it. However fast or slow you write, just write. Finish a novel. An actual novel, not 50,000 words of drivel that might be 20,000 decent words when edited that might be part of a novel one day. Then keep going and write some more.

I see NaNoWriMo as a circus of short-term back-slapping and pointless goals, far removed from what’s really needed to be a writer. But, and here it comes again for the NaNo fans – if it works for you, go for it! I hope you get inspired, churn out 50,000 or more fabulous words and end up with the start of a novel that you go on to finish and get published. I hope it hits the bestseller lists and makes you rich and famous. I really do. But you know what? It’ll take more than 30 days. I’m just saying.

I’ll be over here, growing a moustache for Movember.

 

 

This is a cross-posting from Alan Baxter‘s The Word.

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