• A Mid-Month Defense Of NaNoWriMo By A Novelist Too Busy To Write One

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Rants & Raves     Comments 6 comments
    Nov
    16

    National Novel Writing Month, the frenzied writing of a 50,000-word novel in November, inspires thousands to write together, and some to post advice. It also inspires criticism from a few who have done it, failed to do it, or declined to do it; and it even elicits a few takedowns from the publishing industry.

    The shot heard round the NaNoWriMo world in 2010 was this column in Salon,  Laura Miller’s examination of everything wrong with NaNoWriMo.  Miller makes the especially strange claim that NaNo is a waste of time because writers don’t need to work together or seek encouragement.  Thus typeth the wine-and-cheese-stained fingers of success, implying that writers who need other writers are not real writers.

    NaNo novels have a negative impact on an industry that already publishes many imperfect books, they say, and the flood of manuscripts overwhelms and depresses those who have to read these novels.

    Publishers publish bad books. Perhaps there are too many presses and too many publishers bringing bad books to market? NaNoWriMo didn’t invent crappy manuscripts.  I believe James Fenimore Cooper did.

    That’s what it mostly comes down to in the end – bad writing. Detractors think the NaNo novels will be awful. They say it’s impossible to write something of quality in 30 days.

    That’s a fact, and one NaNoWriMo participants know well. Most will tell you they are setting out to write that proverbial horrible first draft.  They are hoping to learn something about structure, unlock something in their story, establish their own workflow or just feel like a writer for a while. Is that so wrong? If the resulting book is beneath your standards, don’t read it. But its creation was a victimless crime.

    The fact is, most NaNoWriMo writers are holding their manuscript, learning from it, or spending months or years revising it, just like real writers.

    The only criticisms that really matter are those relating to the body and mind of the writer. So, can NaNoWriMo be a bad experience?

    Yes, it can be a stressful challenge which discourages writing.  But you’ll meet that demon in other places and other projects, and you’ll overcome it there too.  Frustration and writer’s block weren’t invented with NaNoWriMo.

    I was one of those burn outs when I wrote 53,686 words in 26 days in 2010.  I didn’t celebrate.  I cursed the NaNo name.  I told myself I was done with month-long novel binges.  But here I am in 2011, ahead of pace, showering regularly, living on protein shakes, and relaxed enough to pause and write this piece.  There are a few reasons I reenlisted, but there’s one in particular I thought worth trashing my November to explore.

    To be comfortable not knowing may be the most important thing you can learn as a writer.  The more I ponder it, the more I think that if there is a single thing which separates the accomplished from the still struggling, it’s a sense of being okay with uncertainty, even welcoming it.  The deep waters of a novel are a frightful, nebulous place, and the writer either feels the stress or he takes it in stride.  Many will tell you it’s when they get lost that the real quality writing begins.  They want to be in that place. That’s where the story is.  

    It takes a lot of confidence and understanding of your own mind to feel comfortable there.  It’s a muscle you develop by writing yourself into corners, climbing out, and living to tell the tale. The only way to find your footing in that fog is to write pages, sit upright in the unknowing, and do it over and over without being eaten by the tiger.  I’ve spent this month petting that kitty.

    NaNoWriMo is one way to put yourself in that place.  Your goals and results may vary.  But doing this once a year, no matter what your pro or amateur status, is training that’s worthwhile to any writer.  Even astronauts who have been to the moon continue training in zero gravity simulators to keep them from vomiting. You may choose to simulate the pressures of not knowing under the NaNoWriMo flag. Or you may not.  But if you choose not to, why complain about those who do?

    Writing a novel in November is tough.  Not writing in November teaches you nothing.  So I’m in.  In two weeks I’ll be holding 60,000 imperfect words.  I may be celebrating.  Or I may be so exhausted I won’t have anything nice to say about NaNoWriMo.

    That’s why I’m saying it now.

     

    Jeff Questad is a writer and Black Sabbath enthusiast in Austin, Texas.

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    Perri Collins

    You make a good point.

    Laura Roberts

    I love your James Fenimore Cooper diss. Also, I totally agree. The greatest thing about NaNoWriMo is that EVERYONE is a writer in November. Suddenly, it is actually cool to be writing a novel, to be walking around talking to make-believe characters in your head, and finding like-minded types. Even if you aren’t a novelist the other 11 months of the year, and even if you never publish your results, it’s awesome to feel connected and creative. Why would anyone try to piss on that? Maybe because THEY’VE never been creative in their entire, sad little lives? As you say,… Read more »

    Jeff Q.

    When I was but a lad, I read this piece by Mark Twain: Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses. It gave me a great love of Twain and great disdain for James Fenimore Cooper. In between the snark (and nobody did snark better than Twain) there is some good stuff about writing in there. I think there might be a bit of elitism in attitudes about NaNovember. I think people well established as writers think it’s Star Trek fan fiction and bad detective novels.  Some writers think to do it would show them to be less than serious. We’ve been sold the… Read more »

    David Duhr

    “I think there might be a bit of elitism in attitudes about NaNovember. I think people well established as writers think it’s Star Trek fan fiction and bad detective novels. Some writers think to do it would show them to be less than serious.”

    I must admit, I’ve had thoughts like this in the past. I’m working on it.

    Besides, anything that gets you writing, Figs, has my approval. Good post.

    Sarah

    “To be comfortable not knowing may be the most important thing you can learn as a writer. The more I ponder it, the more I think that if there is a single thing which separates the accomplished from the still struggling, it’s a sense of being okay with uncertainty, even welcoming it.”

    This made me cry (not in a bad way). I really needed to hear something like this today. Thank you and buena suerte on your novel.

    Michelle Sedas

    I love this post. Any worthwhile skill takes practice… practice… practice. Speaking from the inexperienced, novice side of fiction writing, participating in an established campaign encouraging writers to buckle down, practice their craft with consistency, and produce a final product in 30 short days is a fabulous idea. Plus, there’s the whole, “I’m not alone. Kindred souls are down here in the trenches with me. Many trailblazers have gone ahead of me and have survived. This is doable.” I would find the community feel to be quite encouraging. I haven’t branched out of my inspirational genre. I’m comfortable here. It’s… Read more »




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