If you watch NaNoWriMo: The Musical really closely, you can see me as an extra in the first and last episodes. It was fun to be on-set for an afternoon, but upon learning that I’m a writer, the other extras, the cast, and crew immediately asked, “Are you doing NaNo this year?”
“Have you ever done NaNo?”
They all seemed surprised by this, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about since. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is “National Novel Writing Month,” in which people try to write 50,000 words from November 1st to November 30th. In some quarters, it’s surprisingly controversial. Arguments for range from, “But it gets people to pick up a pen!” to “It’s all good fun!” to “It’s the community!” Arguments against range from, “It cheapens novel-writing,” to “Come December, the markets get flooded with unedited, unpublishable NaNo pieces,” to “Fifty thousand words isn’t even a novel.”
I’m of two minds about NaNoWriMo. On the one hand, I think it can serve as a launch point: for people who have never tried writing, or never finished something, having a clearly defined goal and extensive community support can provide the initiative to just do it. I know the rules state no pre-writing, but for more established writer-types, it’s a good boost to get 50,000 words on a project.
However, I understand the other side. Now, I would never, ever discourage someone from writing. If you have a story, go to it. But NaNo isn’t for everyone, and as it stands according to the official “rules,” it’s not for me.
Fifty thousand words is not a novel.
I’ve read that technically, a novel is 40,000 words and up. Realistically, a saleable novel runs from about 80,000-110,000 words (maybe 120k). Hapax is 84,000, and frankly, it’s on the short side for a fantasy. Using NaNo to add 50,000 words onto a project-in-progress or to start a novel is not inconceivable to me, but I would be upfront about the fact that I’m not “writing a whole novel” in one month.
Timing never works out.
I write in the late spring and summer. I edit and rewrite through the fall. I rest in the winter. I research, worldbuild, and outline in the spring. And then I write in the summer. I have done this almost every year since I was fourteen. Obviously, it follows the school year—I primarily write in the summers because that’s the time I have off. I’m excited to see what happens when I graduate and school is no longer an issue.
But, the fact remains that when November rolls around, I’m typically in the middle of edits and rewrites. The same holds true for this year: I just got back my beta’s comments on The Next One. I reckon I have about two months for rewrites before I hand it in. I have ideas and plot threads and world-building coalescing for a novel after TNO, but realistically, I know I have to wait until later this winter/spring—NaNo just never falls at the right time for me.
I write anyway.
Some people need the community and excitement of NaNo to push them into actually keeping their fingers on the keyboard. For hobbyists, that’s fine. If you want to do this as a career, I think your motivation needs to be a little more internal.
Again, I’ve been writing seriously, consistently, since fourteen. While doing grad school essays, I’ve been thinking about why, and the answer seems to be boiling down to, “Because I have to.” I can’t not do it (yes, I know that was a double-negative…). Some people need a push; some people don’t.
Communities exist beyond NaNo.
Many writers are solitary, introverted creatures. I am. And yet, many of us thirst for community, for belonging, for people that get it. NaNo certainly offers that, but it’s not the only way to achieve it.
Personally, I love cons. My experience with them is still limited, but so far, I’ve absolutely loved them (draining as they are). It’s a short, intense burst of sociability and community, and then it’s back to work…hopefully with online relationships strengthened through actual face-to-face time.
If you look around, communities are everywhere. It’s just a matter of finding the one that suits you, whether cons, writers’ groups, forums, or NaNo.
Ultimately, I like the basic idea of NaNoWriMo…by which I mean, the basic notion of, “I wonder if I can write 50,000 words in 30 days.” I just think that people need to remember:
- Writers don’t just write in November. Any month can be NaNoWriMo. Heck, EVERY month can be NaNoWriMo!
- If you want it to be a “novel,” plan on writing more than 50,000 words, whether the additional words come before or after.
- Whatever you produce will likely need the heck edited out of it. Not that you wouldn’t do that anyway…right? 😉
And just to be 100% clear: I’m not bashing NaNoWriMo. Some people really take to it, and good on them. They’re writing, and that’s awesome. I will cheer, and applaud, and support.
But I don’t do NaNo.