Sunday, November 3, 2013

"I Hate NaNoWriMo"

It' s November, the month for NaNoWriMo. If you got to this page you probably know what NaNoWriMo is. If you live at the bottom of Valles Marineris, on Mars, you likely know as well, but for those that don't I shall explain: NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. All over the world, people attempt to write a novel in one month. For the purposes of this activity, a novel is defined as 50,000 words, most of them different from each other, and a month is defined as November. Participants keep track of their wordage on an official web site and through various non-official social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and the dinner table. There are write-ins and parties and meet-ups for the participants, and quite a lot of people saying, "Sorry I can't make your party, but I'm Nanoing this month."

Along with all the people happily joining the activity, there are a fair number of people loudly announcing that they will not be participating. While some are simply stating it, others are writing long explanations as to their actions. Even though a simple excuse would do, such as, "I have to clean out the septic tank for winter," or, "My wife/daughter/son/I just had a child," the long-winded posters have to explain pretty much why they hate NaNoWriMo. A few point out that they are "just kidding," reminding me far too much of certain people in Jr. High School. So, after reading far too many of these, I can boil some of their objections to the following bullet points.

* It encourages sloppy writing.

And there's a whorehouse in Texas!  Yes, yes, sloppy writing is the point of NaNoWriMo. If you hack out fifty thousand words in a month it will be sloppy, free-style, self-editor turned off, wild abandonment writing. Wildfire writing. Misspelled words, characters changing names, cities marching all over the map. A mess you'll have to spend months cleaning up. And it will be writing that bounds off into new and unexpected places as your brain makes wild associations, rampages down obscure alleys, and rides the flood of raw wordage. It doesn't have to be a good story. It can't be a polished story. But it can be a playground for the imagination, and a mine of freshly turned ideas to dig out and use in other stories. Sloppy writing is more creative than polished from the pen writing, and NaNoWriMo can be a good excuse to visit the playground of the mind.

* Writers have been ruined by NaNoWriMo.

As in, if they fail, they are turned off to writing forever? Then add it to the list of things that can ruin a writer, such as red pens, criticism, rejection slips, writer's block, professional writing workshops, creative writing classes, and onions. Excuses come up a dime a dozen. But the truth is that a person can't blame others for his lack of success. He must look to himself, see where he went wrong, and ask the big question: "Do I really want to be a writer? Or do I just want to be someone who dreams about being a writer?" The problem is not in the activity, it is in the person making the excuse.

*NaNoWriMo is a waste of profitable writing time.

NaNoWriMo is playtime. I do realize that there are many people out there who take it seriously, and I think that they do a disservice to themselves. But then, maybe they take all their play seriously. Maybe the only way that their activities can be respected by others is if these activities take on the veneer of serious work.  Maybe what they really need is the permission to say, "I'm going to play."  To do real work during working hours and play during the play hours. And if NaNoWriMo isn't your choice of play, don't sweat it. But respect those who do choose it.

*There are too many rules to NaNoWriMo, and people get anxious about not making word counts!

I don't understand people and their rules, frankly. Give them a simple idea, and the next thing you know they come up with dozens of rules and limitations and penalties. And they keep making it harder to meet all the goals and targets. As in video games -- no one wants to just win the game.  They want to win with the High Score. And then the Higher Score. They want to move the game to harder settings. Well, NaNoWriMo is a game -- yes, it's a fun writing game! -- and people who have been winning it for a dozen years want to make it harder all the time. But if you're playing a video game for the first time and you're not a practicied video player, then set the game to the easiest setting.  Crank it up after you've gone through it a few times.

In other words, change the rules to something that works for you!

*Everyone is doing NaNoWriMo, and I won't do what everyone else is doing.

(I'll be honest, I've not heard this stated, but I have heard it in subtext.)

Fair enough. NaNoWriMo is a bandwagon activity, with everyone and their brother and cousin and sister and aunt doing it, and the peer pressure to jump on the bandwagon is immense. But that doesn't make NaNoWriMo inherently bad, or a reason for other people not to join in -- unless you're trying to start your own bandwagon and pressure  your own peers into joining you.

* NaNoWriMo leads to a glut of bad books in the marketplace.

That's not NaNoWriMo, per se, but all the self-publishing avenues which have realized that there are a lot of people out there who are willing to pay to see their book in print. These avenues know that people who sign up NaNoWriMo are good advertising targets.  The activity produces a sloppy first draft, and the author, still infused with the giddy joy and enthusiasm of producing this work, believes that it is perfect, perfect, perfect.  The author also believes that the self-publishing avenue will judge their work to be good and will help them to publicize it, and that all the world will see their greatness! And it's true that a lot of the NaNoWriMo hoopla feeds this, with teasers such as, "Will your novel be the next great find?"

But of course it won't. My NaNoWriMo novels, along with all my wildfire writing, need revisions, polishing, editing, and a damn good grammar checker. Most everyone is the same way, everyone not named Ray Bradbury, who claimed he only wrote first drafts. The rest of us mere humans need to actually work on the stuff we produce, making it look less like a thing hacked out of wood with an ax and more like an actual carving.  But learning that truth about our writing, learning not to trust the perfection of the joyous first draft, is part of learning to be a commercially viable writer. Dianne Wynne Jones, the British Fantasy Writer, often said that she wrote her stories while sitting in her chair, pen and paper, in a wildfire daze. The family had to work around her as she worked, and put together her wonderfully twisty plots. Less often, however, she talked about what she did with these giddy first drafts, and how she worked them into publishable stories. Even for her, enthusiasm did not replace work -- and that's a message that has to be pounded into every writer's head.
Writers must also learn about scams and dishonesty, and how to look at advertising with a salt mine. No one approaches you to give you money. Everyone wants something. But that is something authors have to learn whether they do NaNoWriMo or not.

*What can you learn from NaNoWriMo?

Excellent question. As with all play, especially free-form play, you can learn just by exploring your options and trying new things. You can learn, for example, how to grab some time each day to write. You can learn how to let your characters run free and develop without an outline. Or you can learn, as I did, how to develop and work with an outline. You can learn how to use tropes to simplify your storytelling, and you can learn how to describe things in length. You can learn how to blow past writer's block and how to skip over spots where the story has bogged down (and where the reader is as bored as you are.) There is much you can learn, if you let yourself learn.  For one month a year, you can be a child again, and write just for play, just for fun.

Let's play.

1 comment:

  1. I know a self proclaimed author going with self publishing who has been pumping out crappy book after crappy book a month. She isn't taking any constructive criticism at all. She is participating in NaNoWriMo now too. But considering she didn't need this as an excuse I don't think this is a bad month so long as people are willing to do the work to make it a polished piece of writing.