It’s National Novel Writing Month, and the devotees are in full swing. Although I don’t do NaNo (for reasons I’ll explain below) I admire those that try. It’s a tremendous endeavor, and an admirable one. It’s not for everyone though. The caveat: there’s a very specific group of people that I think it works for, and for others it’s not appropriate.
I recently had a Facebook round table with my writer friends–some in favor of NaNoWriMo, some against–and I’m going to attempt to show all opinions, complete with quotes from the discussion. I hope that you enjoy our take on National Novel Writing Month.
NaNoWriMo has a fantastic support community around it. It’s really quite beautiful to see established writers helping newbies, and everyone boosting and cheering on each other. The team philosophy is perfect for all writers. Writing is a very lonely life: You sit in a room by yourself with only your imagination (or if you’re like me, cat memes). It’s a life of rejection, poverty, and shame. No wonder so many writers burn out or turn to drink and drugs. Yet with NaNo, you have so much support. I wish that I had that when I first started, maybe I wouldn’t be the jackass I am now.
It’s also a great motivator for those that have never tried it. Some people need to be challenged to get off their butts and do something. I don’t need this (which is why I don’t do it) but there’s nothing wrong with a kick in the pants. Even if you’re not trying to “win,” just releasing that creative energy is something special. Author Catherine Kovach says something similar: I like the idea of just getting out of my own head because I’m traditionally a picky writer. I celebrate creativity wherever it comes from even if it ends with a bunch of words and no “winning”. At least people are trying!
T.E. Ridener–perhaps the most prolific author I know–attributes some of her success to NaNoWriMo: I discovered NaNo in 2009 and they helped me write ‘THE END’ for the first time in my life. I’d never finished a story before finding them, so I’m grateful I stumbled upon their website!
Where I think it’s best is as a jump start for experienced writers to take their productivity to the next level. Thomm Quackenbush, whose NaNoWriMo novel, Artificial Gods, was published by Double Dragon Publishing in 2013, explains how it improved his work: My first novel, We Shadows, took me about six years to write from start to finish because I was overly concerned with getting things “right,” which I realize now meant that I was trying to be overly flowery. I have been reliably informed that the parts I wrote to get the story told are better than those I labored over.
Thomm also helps writers prepare for NaNoWriMo, and has been involved since 2006. Here is a recent interview he did about NaNo.
Author Jennifer Rose says something similar: Whether you do Nano or not, I think it’s valuable for every writer to fast draft at least one novel. Even if you change the goal to 30k in a month, or spread it to two months, I think everyone can have the benefit of getting out of your head.
NaNoWriMo: The Bad
I don’t do NaNoWriMo, and I encourage my students not to do it either. The reason I don’t do it is because I’m already on a set schedule. I write 1000 words a day, every day. It’s not fast, but it’s steady, and if you keep at this pace, you should have an 80k draft in less than 3 months. Mine usually take longer because life gets in the way (and because I go back and edit every 10 chapters or so to keep my plot lines straight), but I can still write a solid first draft in 4-5 months.
The reason I discourage my students not to is because they’re just not ready. Writing a novel is a huge undertaking. Writing a short story is a huge undertaking. There’s a lot of tools, techniques, and theory that goes into writing fiction, and they should focus on that first. NaNo downplays the importance of things like structure (their slogan is “No Plot, No Problem!).
I have a serious problem with that. I’d rather my students start with writing quality short stories of 2-3k and build their skills before moving on to a challenge like NaNoWriMo. It’s the equivalent of going to the gym for the first time and trying to bench press 350 pounds. You’re most likely going to fail, get discouraged and quit.
In order to write 50k words in a month, you need to write 1,667 words a day, every day. That’s a breakneck speed, and one that most often leads to quitting. I would rather a student write a hundred words a day, every day for the rest of their lives then try to tackle 1,667 for a month and never write again. Writing should be a habit, something you do everyday, not just for a 1 month challenge. That’s why I like it for an experienced writer, not for a beginner.
As author and perennial quote machine Justin Osborne says: Writing is like a fart, if you force it, you’re gonna end up with shit.
Author Pauline Ramsey takes a more moderate view: If something I am working on is meant to be written, it WILL be written. But like Justin also said, forcing it will only give me line upon line of crap. In my own saga I am currently working on, I am weaving this intricate spiderweb of plot, action, and dialogue. If I were to try and pound out 50k worth of words in a month’s span, I would end up with a web all right, but not one I would be able to untangle and make coherent.
Multigenre author Y.Correa recently wrote about NaNoWriMo on her own website. You can read the entire article there, where she covers her own personal views why she doesn’t compete in NaNoWriMo. It’s an excellent read.
The ugly side of the NaNoWriMo debate is the predictable, but no less aggravating, flame wars that sprout up every November. People using Twitter are the worst offenders (South Park was right when they parodied it as “Shitter”) and this week alone I’ve witness some horrible trolling over it. The writers mentioned above and below all have different opinions, but one thing we all agreed on is that the fighting has to stop. Pro and Con sides keep going at it like it’s GamerGate. We’re all writers, whether you’re a beginner or a veteran. We all have something to say, the difference is how we say it.
Perhaps Nick Bryan, author of the serial Hobson & Choi, said it best: NaNoWriMo is a great thing if you’re comfortable with what it is and what you want from it. If you’re okay with a very scrappy first draft, or just want to test-drive an idea, or even don’t care that much about the writing and just want to meet other like-minded folk, it can be great. Like almost anything, expecting it to single-handedly make you a writer won’t work, but it’s a useful tool if you’re smart about it.
Like my posts? Follow my website or “Like” my facebook fan page and/or follow me on Twitter. You can also purchase my debut novel, Song of Simon, at any online bookstore or a real one (they both exist). Song of Simon currently has a 4.8/5.0 rating on Amazon, so it’s pretty damn good. If you’re looking for something FREE, you can read my serial (soon to be an expanded series of novels) The Watchmage of Old New York. Though it ended in February, it remains one of the most popular serials on JukePop OF ALL TIME!