I’ve been asked to speak at an event at another branch of my library, to a lot of NaNoWriMo participants. The library is holding write-in sessions throughout the month of November, and their last meeting will be a wrap-up and “what’s next?” discussion, where I get to play the part of the local expert answering “what’s next.” By way of preparation (by which I mean complete time wasting, since the questions I prepare for the most never get asked), I thought I’d spend some time on my thoughts about NaNoWriMo.
There are authors who have a lot more to say about National Novel Writing Month than I do. One writer friend of mine calls it NoNoNoNo, while others are constantly talking about it and asking everyone whether they’re participating. Frankly, I tend to overlook it until November rolls around and I start seeing posts about it everywhere. In other words: no, I don’t participate myself. And yes, I might have mentioned it in a somewhat critical context in a previous blog post. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s a bad idea.
NaNoWriMo was created to give would-be writers a little push to get started. As the website’s FAQ says, “Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.” With so many people wanting to write a book, and so little time to do it, the vast majority of people simply won’t. It’s obviously difficult to clear time from a busy schedule to sit down and write, to justify spending that time, especially with no guarantee of income. It’s even difficult for previously published authors to do so. With NaNoWriMo becoming more popular and more familiar to people, it can be easier for a person to give themselves space, and take one month to finally sit down and try this writing thing.
I’ve also heard of more experienced writers doing NaNo (and in this context I mean those who have experience completing manuscripts; I’ve already discussed how I feel about nitpicking labels like “real writer”). The motivation of these writers is usually also to give themselves a push, not to get started but to get going again, because their creative impulse has gotten stagnated somehow. If you’ve fallen out of the habit or become frustrated with your writing, you might also create barriers that don’t allow you to justify the time spent, even if you’ve been successful at it in the past.
In these cases, as with most things, I tend to say “Whatever works for you.” There are few actual rules, and any attempt to make rules will be upended by people who do it differently and are still successful. The only rules I can really get behind are, 1) Ask yourself why you’re doing it, and 2) Be honest about whether it’s really working.
The usual objections to NaNoWriMo are along the lines of “Every December there’s a flood of bad self-published novels because NaNo participants toss their unedited 50,000 words out there.” But is this true? I’m going to admit that I haven’t done the research, but I’m skeptical about whether the critics have, either, since the easiest thing in the world is to talk about your worries as if they’re facts. Certainly the ease of self-publishing makes this a possibility, and I’d advise any NaNo writer (or any writer) to avoid contributing to the sometimes bad reputation of self-publishing by making public a manuscript that isn’t ready for it yet. But I don’t think that’s a sufficient reason to rag on the whole event.
Another objection is that people shouldn’t get into the habit of only writing in November, because they’ll never perfect their craft that way. I had a similar reaction one year when I had, in fact, hit a slump. It was early fall, I had the beginnings of an idea, and I thought I might have something to do for NaNo for a change. Then I asked myself why I was waiting until November when I could just sit down and start writing. (I seriously can’t remember what the actual project was, so I don’t know if it was successful or not.) But here’s another logical fallacy people make: thinking “X works for me, therefore X must work for everyone and Y is wrong.” Maybe November just works better for some writers. Maybe they’re not trying to launch a writing career or spend lots of hours perfecting their craft, but just want to devote a little time to an otherwise neglected hobby. And who the hell cares if they do?
In other words, if you want to do NaNo, go for it. Don’t expect to end up with a perfect product. (Even the NaNo people say you won’t.) Don’t expect to make a million if you try to publish it. (Although how many people really believe they will? The same number who really think the lottery is their retirement plan?) Be realistic about what you’re doing and what you’ll get out of it. And get your relatives to save you some pie on the 28th. You’ll be in the home stretch then!