Friday, October 23, 2009

NaNoWriMo grumbles and confessions

There's just a little more than a week before the dawn of yet another National Novel Writing Month.

In the past, I've looked skeptically at these novel-writing-as-a-community-of-declared-intention groups as hokey and ill-conceived. But why, exactly, I asked myself recently. Why do I cop such an attitude about novels approached with zeitgeist zeal? Is it because:
a. I'm hopelessly elitist
b. I like to do things in secret and not tell anyone I'm doing them due to fear of failure
c. I believe novel-writing to be a huge undertaking and making it a pep rally cheapens it
d. All of the above

It took me over two years to write my novel, and in the process of writing the "first draft" I revised, rewrote, deleted and un-deleted several drafts. Pretty much every page save the last 100 were vetted (and often re-vetted) through the brain trust otherwise known as my kickass writing workshop.

In approaching a long work, I'm pretty fussy. I tend to write the beginning of a long piece over and over and over again before, often, abandoning the idea--and the 100 or so pages generated in the process--altogether. Eventually, something sticks and I forge ahead, always circling back to shear up and tuck in and reformat. In short, I know how to write a novel MY way. I know the ebbs, flows, stutters and mis-leads that go along with poring over characters, arc, research, so, just for the hell of it, I'm now going to try the "reckless abandon" method of slamming out a first draft.

But first, I have to get a couple of things off my chest and declare my ambivalence and prejudices. I have to admit, I absolutely despise the not-quite-an-acronym NaNoWriMo (that would probably have to do with item "a" above). I don't like the cadence, the non-lyric sound and the clubbiness of it. I don't like that it ends in "mo" especially. WriMo sounds like rhymo which sounds lame-o. And then there's the audacity of the whole thing. I mean, why not NaNoReaMo? Let's spend a month READING all the novels we can get on our hands on. Maybe THAT should be the prerequisite? That seems somewhat fair, given the state of publishing today, doesn't it? Like, if you're going to be part of the problem, why not first first be part of the solution?

Another problem--online communities are wonderful supportive environments but they also can suck time and brainpower from the task at hand. Like this blog, for instance. Yup, I'm part of the problem too.

Okay. So I've owned up to my hesitancy, snottiness and foreboding. Now I'm going to play devil's advocate with myself, and admit that I was completely humbled after reading the "about" section on NaNoWriMo's website. Who am I, after all, to criticize such a guileless, worthwhile organization? So, in the spirit of suspending cynicism and crankiness, I offer the "What is NaNoWriMo" section in its entirety herewith:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.

In 2007, we had over 100,000 participants. More than 15,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

So, to recap:

What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month's time.

Who: You! We can't do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let's write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.

Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era's most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.

Still confused? Just visit the How NaNoWriMo Works page!


  1. Suzy, we will have some kick ass crap to edit. Looking forward to it - I think.


  2. I can't wait. Really! Have you checked out the twitter feed: shitmydadsays you'll have lots of fodder.


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