You Missed It, The Point Was About Three Miles Back

So if you’ve been here for any stretch of time, you’ll know that I have a very strong connection to and love of the National Novel Writing Month. (NaNoWriMo, for short.) While I love NaNo and think it’s a wonderful tool for writers, I know that it’s not necessarily for everyone. Some people don’t work well under those conditions, November’s not a good month for them, I don’t know. There are a million reasons why you might not like NaNo.

But what continues to frustrate me is when I see people say “I don’t like NaNo because of these reasons” and they are explicitly reasons that are literally the POINT of doing Nano.

I came across a link to something called the “six month novel writing plan.” I have no idea where I found this link; it could be from any number of sources. Right from the get-go, I knew I was going to have problems with this. Here’s the breakdown of it.

“[F]or many writers who work full time, writing a novel in one month is difficult, if not impossible. Before I had a child or full-time job, I completed NaNoWriMo twice.”

…okay, so I can’t exactly speak to having children, because I’ve never had one. However. I’ve had full time jobs. I’ve had part time jobs AND school AND plays to be crew for, all at the same time, and still gotten good grades, done good work–and gotten to 50,000 words. If I genuinely could write for a living, and spend 6-8 hours a day just writing? That amount of words would be nothing.

“[…]I was forced to type at such a pace that both books required a great deal of copy and content editing. I made many typos per page, regularly contradicted myself, and filled the novels with many plot holes.”

Right. I’m going to pull a few quotes from NO PLOT, NO PROBLEM, which is Chris Baty’s NaNo guide. (Baty being the founder of NaNo.)

“There is no pressure on you to write a brilliant first draft. Because no one ever writes a brilliant first draft.”

“The first law of exuberant imperfection is essentially this: The quickest, easiest way to produce something beautiful and lasting is to risk making something horribly crappy.”

“In the context of novel writing, this means you should lower the bar [for the month] from ‘best-seller’ to ‘would not make someone vomit.'”

And my favorite, from the Month-Long Novelist Agreement and Statement of Understanding:

“I hereby pledge my intent to write a 50,000-word novel in one month’s time. By invoking a absurd, month-long deadline on such an enormous undertaking, I understand that notions of ‘craft,’ ‘brilliance,’ and ‘competency’ are to be chucked right out the window, where they will remain, ignored, until they are retrieved for the editing process. […] During the month ahead, I realize that I will produce clunky dialogue, clichéd characters, and deeply flawed plots. I agree that all of these will be left in my rough draft, to be corrected and/or excised at a later point.”

I know he says it somewhere and I can’t find the quote, but here’s the point: your draft isn’t supposed to be good. You’re not supposed to have a gleaming piece of literature–you’re not even supposed to have a dingy dime-store pulp fiction book! You’re supposed to have 50,000 words of crap. That is literally the point. The point is to get someone who’s been saying “oh yeah, I have an idea for a book” or “huh, I’ve always wanted to write a book” and have them actually do it. That’s been the point from day one.

So essentially this person has said “I don’t like NaNo because it did what it was supposed to do and that made me unhappy.”

Is that a valid feeling? Of course. As I said, NaNo isn’t going to be for everyone. I don’t even have a problem with the “course” they’ve come up with; shooting for a publishable book in six months is fantastic. But don’t tell me that this is a “realistic” plan, insinuating that somehow what NaNo does isn’t realistic. NaNo has never pretended to be something to get you a reasonable plot, or workable draft, or anything. It’s supposed to be about getting the idea out and into words, so that you can step back and make it a real and reasonable draft afterward. (Maybe in January. Let yourself and the book rest for December.)

In 2006, I started my first NaNo attempt on the 2nd or 3rd of November, to my memory. I found out about it late, but thought it sounded interesting. I got about 6000 words in and gave up. 2007, I started from the beginning of the month, determined!!! to do well. I got about 8000 words in and gave up. 2008 came around and lo and behold, enough magic happened and I had a good enough support structure that I actually finished the challenge. I didn’t finish the book, as they suggest you do, but I got to 50,000. And I’ve gotten to 50,000 every year since then. I even managed to finish the novel in time for the 2016 NaNo. (I have no clue how I did it.) And I’ve done it with school, with jobs, with theatre eating my life… I’ve written through moves, through depression, through a hundred thousand things that could have pushed me off target.

I also worked on two projects simultaneously one year, and reached 50,000 on both of them. While, if I remember my years right, I was working full-time.

Yes, it took me from 2009 until 2016 to get my first NaNo novel actually published–but that’s not because of the writing. That was because I didn’t get my butt in gear and actually buckle down on it.  I’ve gone back and looked at the most recent NaNo novel and it’s not bad. It needs to be fleshed out, and I need to check for consistency, but if I really wanted, I could have it ready for beta readers, if not publication, by July.

Everyone is going to write at their own pace. NaNo isn’t for everyone. It’s hard, and it’s very unforgiving.

But please don’t try and tell me it’s impossible.

Because it’s not.


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