In the month of November, hundreds of thousands of people will participate in National Novel Writing Month, in which they attempt to write fifty thousand words of a novel. And like every year, people will write blog posts and columns about why they hate NaNoWriMo.
To be clear, NaNoWriMo is not for every writer. Not everyone likes to write fast – and that’s totally fine.
Many people’s lives simply cannot accommodate the pace. For instance, if you have a full-time job and kids, or a full-time job plus school, I don’t know how you do it, unless there are drugs involved. (I know a few people do manage it, without drugs. I just don’t understand how.)
Personally, I like NaNoWriMo. One of my two published novels started as a NaNo project, and I’m participating again this year. People have fun, they connect, and they challenge themselves. And I’m annoyed that so many of the arguments against it are inaccurate.
“Fifty thousand words isn’t a novel. Nobody wants that length.”
Granted, it is more of a novella, but lots of publishers want that length. It’s perfect for digital. Tor Books went so far as to call novellas the future of publishing. This is a stupid argument anyway, as the guidelines of the event itself make it clear that the 50,000-word count may not be a finished story.
“Real writers take years to finish a novel.”
Go tell Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb that she’s not a real writer. Go ahead—I’ll watch. In fact, I know many successful authors who write and publish several books a year.
“If you write that fast, it’s going to be crap.”
I will be the first to admit that drafting this fast means a hell of a lot of editing down the line, at least for me. But as Hemingway famously said, “The first draft of everything is shit.”
I can tell you from personal experience that it is also entirely possible to write a first draft very, very slowly, and still have it turn out to be shit. So there’s that.
Occasionally I’ve been concerned about people who have done NaNoWriMo several times, but haven’t finished up any of the projects later. I want people to reach their goals. But maybe they just enjoy the process, and anyway, it’s their business and not mine.
“People on Twitter keep talking about their word count and I don’t care.”
Hon. They don’t care about most of the things you tweet, either.
But maybe you could be happy for someone who is achieving their goals, even if you don’t share those goals? Maybe feeling happy for them rather than scornful of them would make the day more pleasant for you. Just a thought!
“I’m an editor/agent and I get a bunch of crappy unedited NaNoWriMo manuscripts every December.”
Okay, yeah. That’s a drag. People shouldn’t be sending you their hastily written, messy first drafts!
But since very few people are editors or agents, just statistically speaking, it’s not a good enough argument against NaNoWriMo. Sorry. We’ll just keep trying to convince our fellow participants not to do that.
“It makes anybody think they can write.”
I have some interesting news for you.
Anybody who is basically literate can write. Some people can’t write very well, but does that mean they shouldn’t do it? We don’t go to public tennis courts and yell at the people playing: “Stop! You are not professionals!”
Moreover, writing crappy novels is the way that most people learn how to write not-crappy novels. It’s the way I learned, and believe me, if there had been an easier way, I would have done that instead.
We mostly get better at things by practicing, so what’s wrong with diving into an intense bout of practice?
If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, I hope it goes well, and I hope you’ll ignore anyone who disparages your efforts and interests. Why does anyone ever want to put down people’s passions and creativity? Now that is a questionable use of time.