I’ve noticed a lot of uncertainties about Nanowrimo in various blog posts appearing in my reader. I generally agree with all these people. Nanowrimo is asking you to write a lot of words, not necessarily good words, and what does that mean at the end of the month?
I particularly like Rhonda Eudaly’s post about steady, sane word counts. One of my big epiphanies this year had to do with the value of clocking regular 500-word days.
This is my fourth year doing Nanowrimo, and I have to say I had my doubts about adding another pile of words to the big pile that’s already in the drawer. None of my previous three Nanowrimo novels have been anything I wanted to show anyone. Frankly, if you’re shipping your Nanowrimo novel straight off to a publisher at the end of November, I think you’re insane (it’s of course different to send out a novel you wrote in three days… heh). And, yeah, you can edit, but I don’t think my previous three Nanowrimo drafts are even editable–I have other novel drafts that are.
This year, I had the goal of producing an editable Nanowrimo draft, but I’m not yet sure if that was a good idea–I’ll report back at the end of the month. I got the wacky concept that it might be possible because I do feel that my 3-day novel drafts have been editable, and it’s just weird if what I write in three days is better than what I write in a month.
All that said, I think a lot of the debate about Nanowrimo misses the point. Some of this is encouraged by the Office of Letters and Light itself, when, for example, they make deals with companies like CreateSpace and FastPencil to give authors printed copies of their Nanowrimo novels. I think this suggests that at the end of November, you’ve written a novel that’s ready for publication, and that publication is the goal.
There’s also the matter of the Nanowrimo pep talks–don’t get me wrong, I love these things. They’re short essays by famous writers who give invaluable insights into the writing process. However, I’m always struck by how little they relate to the experience I have of doing Nanowrimo. They’re great information for the rest of my writing–but they feel out of place with what I understand Nanowrimo to be.
Part of the reason I’m not sure about trying to produce an editable novel this month is that Nanowrimo has always been a simple confirmation of my love of writing. It is writing for writing’s sake. It’s about the joy of a climbing word count, and the feeling of flow as my fingers move and I become immersed in my own imagination. It’s about characters speaking through me even if what they say is dumb.
All year, I edit and struggle and wrestle with acceptance and rejection alike. Nanowrimo is about me and the page, and the holiness of the act of creation regardless of what is being created. (And to clarify this point, I think the act of creation is just about always great, but this is completely unrelated to whether whatever’s been created should be shared with the public–I think our culture is sick with the idea that artistic creation is only valid when we’re paid for it or become famous for it or when some number of people read our immortal prose).
The first year I did Nanowrimo, I was in journalism school, feeling beaten down, wondering if I’d made some kind of terrible mistake thinking I should make a go of this writing thing. Nanowrimo reminded me that writing is fun. Sadly, it’s so easy to lose sight of that.
People get encouraged in our society to confuse their jobs and their hobbies. Most hobbies can be jobs. Chess players can become chess teachers, or try to make a living off winning tournaments. Writers can sell novels. Martial artists can open their own schools. That’s great, but one pitfall of wanting to convert the hobby of writing into the job of writing is that there’s a barrier of soul-crushing rejection between you and your dream. Events like Nanowrimo matter because they remind me of why I have the dream in the first place.
Nanowrimo is this beautiful place where all that’s needed for success is a big pile of words. It’s a fantasyland, a place I love to visit, an event I wouldn’t miss for the world. At write-ins, you ring the bell of success just for making word count, not for writing anything good or publishable or having anyone like what you wrote. I do it once a year to refresh my memory of that place, to carry it in my heart as I return to the effort of revision and submission.
I believe the attitude Nanowrimo brings is the foundation for continuing to produce new words. But that’s only step one, baby. I am good at new words. Really good. I am still learning about revision, an entirely different skill.
The new words are the first step. I think a lot of the uncertainties I’m hearing are coming about because many Nanowrimo participants don’t realize that the new words are only step one. More experienced writers feel nervous that the event does little to acknowledge steps two and beyond.
If you go to a Nanowrimo event, you will find that many of the novels being written are utter silliness. People will cheer for you if you describe an utterly silly premise. This tells you something about what’s going on here fundamentally. This is about joy and fun–not pressure and not professional writing.
I promise to do my next post on something different.