Saturday, November 6, 2010

Scraps: Why I Am Still Doing NaNoWriMo

This is my fifth year participating in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. The premise is simple enough: write approximately 1600 words a day for the month of November, and by the end you'll have a finished novel. Now everyone knows that 50,000 words doesn't necessarily make a novel -- considering NaNoWriMo's frenetic pace, you'll be writing a lot of filler. There is the expectation that you will eventually edit your writing into a cohesive, readable story, but for those of us who have trouble motivating ourselves to put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard), forcing yourself to write isn't the worst idea. But not everyone is enthusiastic about writing " a lot of crap:"

"I am not the first person to point out that "writing a lot of crap" doesn't sound like a particularly fruitful way to spend an entire month, even if it is November. And from rumblings in the Twitterverse, it's clear that NaNoWriMo winners frequently ignore official advice about the importance of revision; editors and agents are already flinching in anticipation of the slapdash manuscripts they'll shortly receive. "Submitting novels in Nov or Dec?" tweeted one, "Leave NaNoWriMo out of the cover letter ... or make it clear that it was LAST year's NaNo." Another wrote, "Worst queries I ever received as an agent always started with 'I've just finished writing my NaNoWriMo novel and ...'"
Laura Miller for

Here's another perspective from Words Fail Me:

"The crux of Miller’s argument seems centered on the how-to-write industry, not so much NaNoWriMo itself. And in many ways, I agree with Ms. Miller, though my conclusions are different. There is certainly a surfeit of books, blogs, forums, workshops, and self-appointed experts on writing out there, all trying to sell you the magic secret that will enable you to write the next great novel and win a six-figure publishing contract in your spare time on weekends. These resources offer untested, unproven, and often conflicting advice. They prey on people’s dreams, like the dream of becoming a published author."

Full disclosure: I am one of those former NaNo winners who have yet to edit a story, but to be honest, I don't completely disagree with Miller. NaNo is often a fruitless exercise in real creativity. But does it have to be? Can't the goal be the process itself? The first two times I did NaNo, I wrote so I'd have something to blog about. I am under no illusions that I'm a "real" writer, even though I've been paid "real" money in the past for my writing. I don't plan on having my NaNo novel published. I doubt the majority of NaNo'ers do.

By elitist, writerly standards, I am not someone who should be writing in the first place. I am a working-class woman whose childhood home was not lined with bookshelves. We had few books period unless you count my schoolbooks, an outdated set of encyclopedias, or the ones I brought home from the library. I wasn't read to, and I was an average student. I don't have an MFA or even a particularly large vocabulary. I am not clever. I put commas were commmas shouldn't be and can't spell for shit (neither could Flannery O'Connor, I should point out). I prefer non-fiction to fiction and am lucky to read more than a half-dozen novels each year, though I hear that's more than most people read. I'm not in love with the act of writing. Yet, all these things propel me toward it, and my instincts tell me I'm not alone. Most days I write because it's unavoidable, and shadow puppets or charades are a tad impractical for when it comes to blogging.

The primary reason I participate is one of NaNoWriMo's noblest: to turn off that pesky inner editor and get the words on paper. Anyone who's read my old blog knows that I moan and snivel my way through NaNo until the month is over and I earn a little banner for my website -- and a sense of accomplishment. Is my novel good? Hell, no. Is it even editable? Barely, though I did manage to carve a decent short story out of one. Maybe being a NaNoWriMo winner is a hollow victory, but for now it's one I'll take.

1 comment:

  1. I am a semi-pro writer, and I'm doing NaNo because I have two contracted stories due at the end of the month and this gives me the inspiration to get my butt in the chair and not just fart around.

    I've been doing NaNo for 10 years, won three of them, and gotten several actual novels drafted during it.

    The all out, hell-for-leather, write write write and shut up the editor mentality helps me create. I've been in editing mode for about 2 years now, and need the clean rush of creating.

    Most of the folks I know want to be able to say they participated. Some want the publishing. Me, I just want to Face the Page.