I’ve mentioned NaNoWriMo before – or maybe it was Camp NaNoWriMo, which is sort of a preparation for the main thing – but just in case. . . NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) takes place in November. Writers register, and then take on the challenge: can you write 50,000 words in 30 days. They send out encouraging and informative emails, organise events such as ‘virtual write-ins’, have professionals around on-line so you can get the benefit of their advice. . . you get badges for meeting smaller goals, and there are the forums and the shop, and apparently a ‘library’. . . (I keep forgetting to check out what this actually is) Anyway, in incredibly brief terms, this is my relationship with NaNoWriMo:
Many years ago, I was told about the whole thing and listened with admiring disbelief – sounds good but I could never do that. Earlier this year, I made up my mind to give it and its spin-off, Camp NaNoWriMo, a go – this is a brilliant thing and why shouldn’t I be able to do it? Today I still think it’s a good thing, BUT. . . I’m somewhat disenchanted. For me personally, it’s not so much useful as it causes trouble.
Because it’s so much easier and clearer to do things that way, I’m going to do a for and against, starting with the positives:
Firstly, and most importantly really, something that promotes writing and provides such an atmosphere of encouragement, support, and friendly goodwill can only be a good thing. Right? And what is termed the NaNo community is said to be one of the best things about the whole experience. Plus, there’s all that enthusiasm – and the organisers and many of the participants really are enthusiastic.
It gives people a place to talk out problems, or just talk, to meet fellow writers both new and published, get advice and share experiences, encourages people to try writing, and lets them know that making time for writing – if they really want to – is not only possible but even important. It gives them the chance to say, ‘look, I’m doing this. Writing’s not just a worthless preoccupation I dabble in, but can be taken as seriously as any hobby or job and I’m going to give it a go’. Oh, and for the forums imagine a coffee-shop has a day where anyone who writes gets free coffee: they can come along, meet people with similar interests, talk about whatever. . . Good stuff.
Now here comes the ‘but’.
Setting goals is all very well, but it can be dispiriting when you’re struggling to meet the daily goals and you hear about other people meeting the month’s goal in one week. Or less. It also means you’re focusing on getting your wordcount up rather than writing anything even halfway decent. Maybe you will end up with a masterpiece at the end. On the other hand, you might have written a story over half of which you have to get rid of because it’s such nonsense. You’re advised to ‘turn off your inner editor and just write’ for the duration. Myself, I’d rather take a bit more time, keep an eye on what I’m writing as I go and have something worthwhile and vaguely usable at the end. I’ve also seen articles that are ‘tips for boosting your wordcount’, which are accompanied by a brief warning pointing out that following this advice doesn’t necessarily make good writing. All too true; if you followed most of the things they said to do you’d have the most terrible piece of writing ever written. It would be really truly bad.
NaNoWriMo also keeps you from doing other writing related things. If you have competitions, or magazine deadlines to deal with, it’s hard to focus on them when that daily wordcount is nagging at you. I suppose you could write whatever you want, and as long as you’re writing it counts towards your words. . . but I think that’s against the rules: For NaNoWriMo you’re meant to be writing a novel. (It’s sort of in the title after all.)
On forums, although I’m supposedly of the computer-savvy generation, I have used the things very little. Therefore I have no idea what I’m meant to be doing or looking for, and I haven’t managed to find anything that tells me. It probably doesn’t help that these things are huge: tons of categories each with hundreds of threads and thousands of people contributing. . . crazy! It also seems to me that if the goal is to write, then how is it helpful to be spending all your time chatting? If I did work out how to use Forums I can see getting sucked into conversations and debates and whatever, and I’d have my attention there instead of on my novel.
The difficulty is that even when I decided that I wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo seriously, and that reaching the goal of 50,000 words in one month was not going to be something I’d do, I still find myself updating my word count every day, ignoring or putting off things I should be doing (and actually want to be doing) to spend my time on this, and feeling a growing despair as my word count sinks further behind. Followed by a great elation as I manage to catch it up over the weekend, only to watch that increase trail off, the bars sinking lower beneath the target line. . .
Oh, yes, that’s another thing: they do some quite interesting statistics. Things like how many words you’ve written that day, and altogether, and how many left to reach the goal, your daily average, target average, how many days to go before the end and when you’ll finish if you continue as you are. (Once my finish date was sometime towards the end of January – that was bad. Presently I’m something like the 3rd December) But again, is this more of a distraction? Does it really matter how many words you write in a day as long as you’re reaching your goal and meeting deadlines? Or, how’s this – does it matter as long as you’re writing and enjoying it.
As a final point, there’s all this focus on the one month. Maybe if you get people started they carry on for themselves, but maybe not. The organisers also say that publishers dread the end of November, because they get floods of unedited and partial manuscripts, because people think if they do NaNoWriMo they have a publishable novel at the end of it. Not NaNoWriMo’s fault true, and if you know that’s not the case it’s not really an issue, but it’s still another blip against it, and for me the blips are growing into an undeniable splodge. I think for me the break-up is going to be amicable but permanent: this will most likely be my first and last NaNoWriMo year.