I Can’t Even Say NaNoWriMo. I’m Not Going to Do It.

I had seen the strange word before. I knew it had something to do with writing, but I never bothered to look into it until recently. What is NaNoWriMo? National Novel Writing Month. On their site I read this:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

The idea is that you can start and finish a fifty thousand word story in a single month. Thank you, but I’m not interested. This sounds terribly misguided to me. It’s going to be hard for me to avoid sarcasm, but I’ll try. Except when it comes to the name of this writing exercise. NaNoWriMo? It reminds me of the cartoon espionage agency called OWCA, the Organization Without a Cool Acronym. That’s from Phineas and Ferb, for those of you who don’t want to look it up. Unpronounceable name aside, I take issue with the goal. Encouraging people to write is admirable. Telling them that they can produce a meaningful work in a brief time is not.

I really don’t want to spit in anyone’s pudding by telling them that they shouldn’t participate. I will tell you what I think is wrong with it though. The world is filled with brilliant novels. Not many of them were written in a month. If you’ve decided to write a novel, set that as your goal with no other provisions. Don’t decide that you’ll have it finished as fast as possible. Determine to finish it no matter how long it takes.

You also shouldn’t aim for a word count. The story you have in mind might take you much further than you originally planned. If your story ends up twice as long as you realized it would be, then your struggle to force it out quickly can only hurt. On the other hand there are a lot of wonderful stories that aren’t even fifty thousand words. Don’t try to stretch it out if you have enough in a few pages.

Something I’ve read from people who have tried it is that it’s hard to meet the goal. Well of course it is. It’s not hard to write fifty thousand words in a month. Unless of course those fifty thousand words are worth reading. What we’re talking about is creative writing, and creativity is not something you can turn on and spray like a garden hose. Instead of writing like you’re trying to get through it, write as though it’s important. You can’t try to win. I’ve read those very words from people who have taken part and met the NaNo goal. They say that they participated and they won. What exactly did they win? Writing is not a sport. There is no scoreboard. You can not win because you are not supposed to. You can create; you can accomplish. That isn’t winning.

Victory is not my goal when I write. I throw my heart and soul into my stories, and that creates characters that are as real to me as anyone I will ever meet. And not only to me. I’ve heard people laugh out loud again and again reading my work. I’ve seen people literally break down crying at tragedy. That’s worth far more than a score and a deadline.

Whether it intends to or not, NaNoWriMo promotes quantity over quality. You can’t simply hammer away at your work until it’s finished. You have to experience it as it happens. There is something very spiritual about that. If you’re just pouring words onto paper as fast as possible, you can miss that. A set of goals can indeed push you to succeed, but ‘success’ should never be a story teller’s desire. You can’t be ‘pushed’. If you’re telling a story, you have to walk on your own. And it isn’t a mission with an objective. It’s a journey with a destination. You have to believe in what you’re doing. There are no numbers that you can apply. There are no limits that should stop you, and there are no scores for you to reach.

If you’re trying build the experience and skills to write, then you have to do more than just throw out a lot of words. If you’re serious about writing a novel, you have to give yourself the time and the method to do so. Your writing is not a contest. Your novel can not be a trophy. Work for something more than that.

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2 comments

  1. What is this NaNo…Wri..Mo? talking about!? 50000 words in a rush? Not even they believe they’re going to get a diamond from all the carbon there, that’s only a waste of paper and time, as if any of them were infinite…

    1. It seems that way to me. I’ll admit that I don’t know why anyone would take writing advice from me, considering that I’m languishing in obscurity. I have written books though. Most of them are well over fifty thousand words. The thing of it is, while I’m writing, I’m not always literally writing. There are times when I have to stop to rearrange what I’ve already written. Sometimes I need time to form a new direction when I realize that the story isn’t going where I first imagined. Writing isn’t as simple as spewing out words.

      I’ve already had more than one person tell me that it’s a good writing exercise because it forces you to keep writing. That sounds good, but typing away nonstop for thirty days sounds like a good way to build perseverance without building any other skills. Writing is complex. You need more than just keyboard time for it. You need to learn pacing, flexibility and descriptive skill. And that’s a short list.

      I didn’t want to bash a project that so many people take part in, but when I read what it was, I couldn’t help seeing how little use I ever would have had for it.

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