Cue the Nays

It happens every November. Every year there’s someone that thinks they’ll be amazingly cutting edge, and question the value of NaNoWriMo. I’m a firm believer that people should be able to think what they want, but I start to take issue when these ideas become so ingrained with the process, that we get into a separation of writers (I’m picturing air quotes), and real writers.

Real writers don’t need a special time of year to write. Real writers don’t need an excuse to write. Real writers don’t care about the word count. Real writers know that 50,000 words isn’t long enough. Real writers don’t care about the word count. Yes, the duplication is intentional.

What a load of shit. You’re not edgy or clever. Many doing this care about what they’re writing, so treating it trivially is just being an asshole. Maybe I’m too serious about it, and no, just because you care about the story you’re writing doesn’t mean it’s any good, but it doesn’t have to be yet.

Yes, there are people that do their November writing, and think it’s ready for the world. No, not just a handful of friends or possible beta testers, but think it’s actually ready to be sent off to the publishers, or that agents are going to be knocking on their door. They’re wrong. It’s not. First, you need a bit of distance between you and your novel before you can accurately appraise it. If you don’t need structural editing, you’ll still want to make it tighter, more concise. Yes, that’s going to mean you have less words, but rewriting will also:

  1. expand on the characters, setting and plot
  2. add more effectively used words

The time for this really isn’t November though. On the off-chance that you can quickly rework a scene to make it better and longer, then maybe a rewrite now is on the cards. If a scene really isn’t clicking, and you have a better idea right now for how it should go, then you can probably justify a rewrite of the scene (and may end up with more details and words anyway). If you feel it has to happen, be careful – your Inner Critic is actively looking for a way to take over the writing process, and be back in control once more. You need the IC’s help later, but not until the first draft is down.

One of the core guidelines for NaNoWriMo is also that one starts something new. There’s very good reason for this, and it comes down to the likely nature with which you would have written preceding portions. If you spent the better part of six months carefully writing the beginning of a novel you’ve been planning for a while, the odds of you actually abandoning the meticulous approach to writing you’ve previously had for the sake of a sprint to 50,000 words are not favourable. You’re already too invested in having it be perfect, and being free with your words because it’s NaNoWriMo is much less likely.

There’s first drafts and there’s first drafts.

Some are first drafts merely because they’re first. That’s the literal definition. Not all first drafts are the same, and with NaNoWriMo, you should be rushing through your story with abandon, and treat it as though it’s a draft that must be rewritten later, instead of one that may only need minor changes. It would be great if taking part in this gets you to the point where you can treat every first draft like that – as a prototype for a book, intended as a check on the way the story will be told. A lot of people can’t let go of that need to get their writing right when they first write it down, but the likelihood increases with participation in NaNoWriMo.

On the surface, it could like those taking part consider the 50,000 to be the goal in itself; that we don’t care what words are written, so long as we feed the wordcount. Personally, I think those approaching like that are wasting their time. I believe there are people that think it’s all that matters, but I’m not one of them. I take part in NaNoWriMo because I want the excuse to ignore people, to meet other writers, and to prioritise my writing.

Most of all, I want a deadline. I’m constantly going back to revise other things I’ve written, and it’s only when there’s a deadline that I can somehow put things together well enough that I consider it readable to others – because it has to be. My own arbitrary deadlines never work, because I’m only accountable to myself. It’s only myself, and I’m more likely to put other people before myself, and sacrifice my writing or other hobbies and habits if it’s predominantly for myself. Except for during November. It’s my one time of the year when I feel I can be selfish, and put myself first.

Along with the writing aspect and the socialising element, it’s a huge part of NaNoWriMo for me, and as with every year I take part, want the event to become habit-forming in all of these regards.

Today is November 7 (N7 Day to some of you), which has a set target of 11666 words. Almost a quarter way to the total, and your introductions should be very over by now, and your characters should have encountered some sort of complication with whatever their pursuit is. Be it the call to power, identification of a goal, the big misunderstanding, the point of no return, something should have definitely gone wrong for some of your characters by now. Some would suggest that should have three days ago (roughly at around 8000 words), but it’s NaNo and we do sometimes get lost in the introductions until they find their footing. Some will say it should have been the first scene. Honestly, it’s your novel, but make something happen.

At this stage, it doesn’t matter what. Even if you meticulously planned it, until you actually write the words, everything is changeable. Even then it’s changeable. The point is things will happen in your novel that you haven’t predicted yet, but the ideas will come. Go with them, follow them with blinders, and see what details they uncover. If you get stuck, talk to people. Here, the nano forums, wherever. Got nothing? Close out the scene, and move forward from it. Just keep moving.

If you’re behind, try to write every day anyway. Build the habit.

Other than that, I thought the most recent pep talk by Patrick Rothfuss on the NaNoWriMo site was pretty awful, and instead recommend the NaNoWriMo-focused posts on Terrible Minds by Chuck Wendig. Like our NaNo stories, what his posts sound like they’re about are usually not, and he gets to something great in a very interesting way.


One thought on “Cue the Nays

  1. I think everyone can use a push now and again and so there should be no reason why we don’t spend an entire month encouraging one another to do something outside our comfort zone. I agree with you, people can stuff it.

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