National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, is hailed by many as an opportunity to try their hand at writing and complete the entire first draft of a novel. The goal? To finish a 50,000-word, original novel in the rainy, grey and otherwise not very impressive month of November. Now, although this is theoretically a competition, I would put the words in quotes, because:
– No one reads your manuscript
– Quality doesn’t matter – hence the slogan: No Plot, No Problem!
– According to Chris Baty, the creator of the event, most people don’t even go on to revise their manuscripts.
– Out of the myriad would-be writers who have participated in the last 12 years (200,500 in 2010 alone) only a handful have been published.
Consequently, I suspect that at least some of you are raising their eyebrows, thinking:
Why Bother, then?
To quote the inventor of NANOWRIMO, the “competition” is built on the premise that “you cannot edit a blank page. Unfortunately! I would love to edit a blank page, it would be so much more practical!” However, in his interview to Writer Unboxed, Chris noted that, since most people who wish to be writers are also usually avid readers, by the time they start writing they expect every sentence to be as lyrical, descriptive and grammatically correct as those of the last draft of a novel on the New York Times bestseller list. And so many people quit, or never even bother to try.
By giving you a chance to put both your brain and fingertips into the challenge of writing an entire novel without the pressure of having to write anything good (or even remotely coherent), NaNo releases word lovers from the fear of trying to be a successful writer… and failing. To “win” NaNo, you don’t have to be a good writer, you just need to be able to put words together and make sure they reach the 50,000 mark by the end of the month. Anyone who is diligent, persistent, or enough of an insomniac to find the time to type away at a computer until their fingers bleed can “win.” And, if you end up with something publishable, so much the better for you.
Being Published After NaNo
Although the percentage of writers who do get published is so abysmally small that it seemed too depressing to calculate it, some writers, like Anna Sheehan, do make it into paperback. Sheehan participates in NaNo every year and, in 2008, her NaNo novel A Long Long Sleep was published by Candlewick Press. Today, the book is sold also in Germany, Russia, France, Brasil, and the UK. In an interview on the NaNo blog, Sheehan promised that she will participate in the “writing marathon” also this year. “I need my monthly pilgrimage to another world, worshiping at the alter of the computer screen, to keep myself sane,” she said.
Sheehan herself, however, admits that not all the novels she has rushed to write during the NaNo frenzy have turned out to be as good as A Long Long Sleep. “Sometimes” she said, “at the end of NaNoWriMo I have 60,000 words of disconnected, incoherent prose that will never, under any circumstances, see a bookshelf.”
My Humble Opinion
I have been working on my novel since July, trying to write at least 1,000 words a day. As of now, I have 26,000 words, divided into 7 chapters, most of which have already been revised multiple times. As I am preparing myself psychologically for NaNo, in the hope of being able to write the next 25,000 or 30,000 words necessary to finish my novel, I am painfully aware that I will need to work on it for a lot longer than 30 more days to turn it into something publishable.
On one hand, I think that Chris Baty’s idea of getting that messy and spotty first draft out of the way as quickly (and, therefore, painlessly?) as possible is a great idea.
On the other hand, I am wary of writing without placing particular attention to language or plot. At least for me, this strategy doesn’t work, because part of the joy I derive from writing comes from the careful choice of descriptive words and creative plot twists.
Ok, so the cat’s out of the bag – I’m a perfectionist, one of those people who is constantly rewriting the first chapter, while procrastinating on getting the first draft finished. So, maybe, something like NaNo could be useful, just to force me to get more fresh writing done, instead of spending so much time revising the old stuff until it becomes almost impossible to find the most recent of 561 slightly different versions of the same passage.
Still, I also know that being a slow writer has its advantages: leaving a passage “to rest” for a week or so triggers a surreal, almost miraculous process. I come to the text afterward with a fresh eye and, suddenly, new ideas start to emerge, new links to form, and everything begins to come together more smoothly. Thus, I think that a writer needs both: the NaNo period, to write feverishly and get something out there, and the reflective period, to edit away and think about how all of the different fragments, adjectives and characters can come together to form a novel. Although the NaNo period is important, writing non-stop for 30 days is too much. By the time the 30th day arrives, you have likely just been spewing crap on a page for the last x* weeks. You are an exhausted marathon runner chasing a word count, instead of the observant writer who follows his/her characters calmly, watching to see where they go.
I am therefore not fully convinced that writing a novel as quickly as possible, and without too much care, is the recipe for success. But, maybe, NaNo is not necessarily about becoming a published writer. Maybe it’s just about finding the courage to try to pursue a dream, or to celebrate, at least for a month, the power of words, and the joy that writing can bring to our lives .
* where x = one month – however long it takes you to run out of ideas
What do YOU Think?
I am really curious to know what other writers think of NaNo. If you have any opinion about the topic, or want to share your experience about participating in NaNo, please leave a comment!