Earlier this week, there was a bit o’ a NaNoWriMo backlash in the twittersphere. Which made me a bit nostalgic for the days when hardly anyone knew what NaNo was 😉
- Laura Miller: Better yet, DON’T write that novel.
- Carolyn Kellogg: 12 reasons to ignore the naysayers: Do NaNoWriMo
To paraphrase Gretchen Rubin’s blog = process, book = product aphorism (which I love), NNWM is about process, not product. It’s writing practice and regardless of how crappy the month’s “novel” ends up being, writing practice is never a waste of time. Just as practicing [whatever it is you do] is never a waste of time.
It’s all well and good for a writer who’s already got her writing routine down to say “not for me,” but NNWM isn’t really about working writers, is it? I mean, of course, they can play if they want to, and some do. But it was designed to give perpetual procrastinators a kick in the pants.
What NNWM shows you is that all your excuses about why you can’t find the time to write are just that—excuses. You can write 50,000 words in a month (I know; I’ve done it) and still live your life. It doesn’t actually take that long to meet the daily goal. 2 hours max. And that’s not speed-writing; it’s ~13 words/minute, which is a pretty leisurely pace. You also don’t need to schedule a 2-hour block in your day to write (lovely, but may be a dream for some folks). 15-30 minute chunks throughout the day work just as well (or maybe better).
And I’ll also say, while my two NaNo successes are definitely first drafts, I don’t think they’re any worse than any of my other first drafts. That said, I did have a pretty clear idea of my characters/premise in both cases before I started writing. And it’s true that neither of them are finished, but then again, none of my novels are finished. (Because that’s how I roll…) But I learned something from that, too.
Writers talk about plotters and pantsers. Plotters plan everything; pantsers just start writing. I fall somewhere in between. I always have a firm grasp on the characters, the setting, and the premise. And I have a general idea of how the plot will go to start, just broad strokes, not the details (that’s where the pantsing comes in). That’s all well and good. My kryptonite is plotting out the resolution in a way that seems unforced and that’s where I lose momentum. I’m not sure how to resolve (heh) that issue, but the point is: what I’ve learned is that if I have a general idea of where I’m going, the writing flows. If I have no idea, I get stuck. I’m not a full-on pantser. Good to know!
But it’s also good to stretch and break out of your comfort zone. One of the reasons I often hear for not wanting to do NaNo is the “slow writer” argument. I don’t think that’s a reason not to do it. I am the ultimate slow writer. I even wrote an article about it. It may sound counter-intuitive, but being a slow writer is one of the reasons I wanted to try NNWM. You know: do the opposite of what you normally do, just like my hero, George Costanza, in “The Opposite“:
George: Yeah, I should do the opposite, I should.
Jerry: If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.
George: Yes, I will do the opposite. I used to sit here and do nothing, and regret it for the rest of the day, so now I will do the opposite, and I will do something!
So try something different. Like sometimes you go for a short, fast run instead of a long, slow one. Think of it as an exercise. Something to stretch your writing muscles.
The idea of stretching is part of the reason why I’m pantsing it this year. Not having an idea of where I’m going is a challenge, but I’m treating it more like a freewriting exercise. I don’t expect this year’s effort to end up as a novel. Maybe a short story. Maybe a few smaller pieces. Maybe nothing. I’m not sure. This year’s idea is something I need to write about, but I’m not sure how I want to approach it. That’s why I’m calling my genre experimental. I want to leave it open and try several approaches and see how it goes. The point is, you’ve got to get it down first in order for it to be shaped into anything later.
Anyhow, I think sometimes working writers take NNWM both too seriously and not seriously enough.
Too seriously, because for a lot of people, especially many of the younger participants, it’s just a fun/exciting activity to do with others, a shared experience. There are meet-ups and maybe you make some new (offline!) friends. Win. Any writing that gets done is a bonus. And no one’s ever going to read those “novels” (except maybe an indulgent bff), so I’m not sure why anyone would worry about them.
Not seriously enough, because in the exact same way as signing up for a running race can be the thing that gives someone the confidence to say to family/friends: “I’m doing this race and I need to train an hour a day in order to meet my goal,” signing up for NNWM (an organized event with a defined goal and other participants) can be the thing that gives someone who’s trying to fit in writing on the side the confidence to say they need an hour a day to write in order to meet their goal. And not only is their family more likely to give it to them, they’re also more likely to cheer them on. (You might think that’s silly or illogical, but it’s true.)
So. I know NNWM’s not for everyone, and I certainly don’t think everyone “should” do it. No one should do it. Do it if you want to. Don’t do it if you don’t want to. But don’t make excuses about why you “can’t” do it. That’s like saying you “can’t” bake a potato. You can. You just don’t want to. There’s a difference.