Firstly, in case people are wondering what the hell NaNoWriMo means, it’s short for National Novel Writing Month. You can learn all about it here. In a nutshell, every year the month of November is dedicated to this idea, and people “win” NaNoWriMo if they manage to write 50,000 words of a novel between November 1st and 30th.
I see a lot of chatter around the social networks about this thing, but I’ve never done it myself, for several reasons. Firstly, I should clarify a couple of points. I’m very lucky that I’ve managed to create a situation where I have a lot more time to write than most people. The nature of how I make a living gives me large chunks of writing time. Of course, I spent a long time engineering that situation – you don’t become a martial arts instructor overnight – but it’s worth bearing in mind in the context of this post. I did it because I’m a writer and writing time is fucking important to me. So I recognise that my situation is different from people that are working full-time jobs and have kids or whatever and want to write. But more on that later.
The thing is, I don’t really get NaNoWriMo. On the website it says:
National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.
There’s the first problem for me – 50,000 words is not a novel. It’s barely more than a novella. However, I know that most people that get involved use the figure as motivation. They want to get 50,000 words of a novel written, rather than a 50,000 word novel, which is fair enough.
But is forcing yourself to write an average of around 1,700 words a day actually very useful? Another part of the site FAQ that really raises my eyebrows is this bit:
Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era’s most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.
The bolding is mine. Firstly, what’s the use of spending an entire month writing 50,000 words of poor quality? Sure, you can maybe fix it up over the following months, but isn’t it better to spend a month writing 20,000 words of good quality? Then do it again the following month. Then, after six months, you’ve got a decent novel to be working with.
The second bit I bolded just pisses me off. Of course real novelists take longer than 30 days to produce their work. That’s because they care about the quality of the work. And they’re presumably “real novelists” because their novels are published. As opposed to all the NaNoWriMo participants that spend a month a year churning out bollocks that’ll never get them anywhere as writers. (I know that a lot of NaNoWriMo participants don’t churn out bollocks, but I’m commenting from the frame of reference of the site quoted.)
I suppose this is what bothers me the most about this concept. To succeed as a writer you need to hone your craft constantly, not churn out as much as possible. Of course, the more you write, the better you’ll get, but forcing a wordcount isn’t the right approach in my opinion. I understand that for many people this month is a serious kickstart, forcing themselves to commit to projects they’ve been meaning to get around to. But I think it’s far better to establish a situation where you find time regularly to write and concentrate on improving your craft regardless of how many words you manage each day.
A lot of “professional” writing advice says you have to write every day if you want to be successful. That’s rubbish. Not everyone can write every day, and I know lots of very good pro writers that certainly don’t. But they do write regularly, certainly at least once a week and probably a lot more often. Setting up a regular writing schedule, making time to write as much as possible, and constantly working to improve your writing is the path to success. Forcing 50,000 words in a month, once a year, is really not going to do anything other than:
a) Give you 175 pages of unsellable drek;
b) Leave you feeling bad about yourself because you didn’t “win” NaNoWriMo because you only managed 40,000 words or something like that.
If the whole concept does work for you and gives you that motivational kick you need to get work done, then good for you. If the only writing you ever do is a word marathon for one month a year, it’s not going to turn you into a successful writer.
So it’s probably pretty obvious by now why I don’t bother with it, but I do recognise that I’ve made writing time a priority in my life. To be honest, that’s what every seriously aspiring writer needs to do. John Scalzi wrote this excellent and brutally honest post on the subject back in September. It’s harsh, but I agree with him completely.
I’m interested in the thoughts of others out there on this subject, whether you’ve taken part in NaNoWriMo or not. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.