Friday, November 6, 2009

It's that time of year again. No, not Christmas, but NaNoWriMo

For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. The always reliable Wikipedia tells me that NaNoWriMo began in San Fransisco in November of 1999 with 21 participants. This number has increased to over 119,000 participants in 2008. The goal is to write a novel of 50,000 words in length during the 30 days of November. I have mixed feelings over this event. First, 50,000 words does not a full-length novel make, unless you are writing a young adult story, and even then it's a bit on the short side. Second, and more importantly, I feel that NaNoWriMo encourages mediocrity.

I agree that NaNoWriMo motivates people to write that novel they've always wanted to; however, the whole focus is on getting those 50,000 words done in 30 days. If you work or have other commitments that limit the amount of time you have to spend on writing, it means you have to write fast, almost without thinking. On average you have to write 1,666 words a day to complete the challenge. That takes a while. When I'm on a roll I can pound out a little over 1000 words in an hour, but that's when my fingers and my brain are really humming. If not, it can be a struggle to get 500 or 600 words out, which means I could spend two or three hours or more after dinner sitting at my computer not talking to, or interacting with Andrew.

I attended a NaNoWriMo session in Edmonton a couple of years ago and honestly I found it scary. They held "races" where a timer was run for 10 minutes and whoever wrote the most in that time frame won, they might have even received a prize. When the time was up people claimed to have written 100s, if not over 1000 words. I thought, how can anyone write something worth reading in that time frame? Quantity does not equal quality. The other thing I don't like about NaNoWriMo is that is encourages people to just write, don't bother with the editing until later. True, I tend to write a first draft completely and then go back to edit, but I often will fix or tweak passages as I go along. This isn't even encouraged with NaNoWriMo. It's just full steam ahead until you get your 50,000.

I'm also worried that writers may, upon completion of NaNoWriMo believe that they now possess a publishable manuscript. That's simply not the case. I don't think every completer necessarily feels that way, but many people want to be (published) writers, and few people actually are. One month of frantic writing does not make a person a writer, much less a published one. It takes years of dedication and a little bit of luck.

Issues aside, I have participated in NaNoWriMo, although only once officially. My first time was accidental. In 2005 I spent the month of November in Dresden, Germany. Andrew was there to conduct research and I had nothing to do between 9 and 5 when he was at work. Since I don't speak German I didn't go out much on my own except to the grocery story, so I filled my mornings by writing 3,000 words every day. Later when I told someone about the amount I'd been writing they asked me if I was NaNoWriMo-ing and I said, what? I think I wrote over 60,000 words that month. There's something about being in a foreign country, with nothing else to do that really gets your creative juices going.

I actually signed up for NaNoWriMo in 2007. I went onto the Website and created a user profile and even set up the app in Facebook. I worked on Cimwai's Bay that year and even toted around my little AlphaSmart 3000 to choir a couple of times. I had stayed on track pretty well, but around November 22nd I decided I'd had enough, I'd written over 30,000 words. It's tiring to write every day after a full day of work. I did of course go on to finish (complete word count: 103,000) Cimwai's Bay and submit it to Harlequin. For now it sits collecting metaphorical dust on my hard drive until I run out of new ideas and decide to rework it. Last year I knew I wouldn't have the time. With 4 courses, plus working 14 hours a week I knew I couldn't make the target. I did, however, make an effort to write whenever possible and managed around 14,000 words.

This year, I'm "feeling lucky, punk." I don't have any school work due until the end of the month, so my thinking goes something along the lines of this: if I time manage carefully, if I get in a couple of really good days on the weekends, if I don't burn out, I might just manage it. Since Sunday, I've written 11,292 words for my second Nora MS, The Cause (technically you're suppose to start with new material for NaNoWriMo, but I'd rather complete the MS I'm working on rather than starting something fresh). In some ways I'm glad for NaNoWriMo. Nora's story had gotten stalled by school. Now that I'm gunning for that November 30th, goal I'm writing her everyday--something that makes me happy. I guess that's the most important thing for me, writing, it makes me feel more-or-less whole.

For those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, charge on, but edit carefully afterward.



1 comment:

Lisa said...

I'm missing it again this year, sigh. But there's always next year.

The Edmowrimo's aren't all crazy and scary. They've been organizing some neat events, like mass write-ins on the LRT. It's a good place to meet locals anyways.

Good luck! Happy writing!