NaNoWriMo: You’re doing it wrong!
It is officially December, which means NaNoWriMo is over. NaNoWriMo, for those who don’t know, stands for “National Novel Writing Month.” It is a creative writing competition in which thousands of writers from across the globe race to write a novel in a month. The goal is to start the novel from scratch on November first and have at least 50,000 words of it done by midnight on November 30.
My opinions of NaNoWriMo have changed slightly over the past month. I don’t feel any different about the activity itself, though I think I’ve found more and better ways to use it to aid me. No, it’s not NaNoWriMo that irritates me, it’s some of the people. I don’t care what the “rules” are for NaNoWriMo. I don’t care what your final word count is at the end of the month. The only way you can fail NaNoWriMo is by attitude.
Let me start by assessing the reasons people hate NaNoWriMo. Number one would be the quality versus quantity debate.
It’s no secret NaNoWriMo promotes quantity over quality. The whole point is to write as much as you can without caring about plot holes, one-dimensional characters, clichés, and grammar. For a first draft, this shouldn’t matter. Jane Austen’s first drafts were riddled with such mistakes. Making mistakes is part of learning.
However, the NaNo-haters are right about constant quantity-centered thinking being bad. Writing a bunch of nothing in a short period of time is useless if you don’t learn from it. If it doesn’t help you improve, it’s useless. As you progress from novice writer to intermediate writer, writing 50k+ words of crap one month out of the year is nothing to be proud of.
NaNoWriMo tells beginning writers that it’s okay if you’re not perfect, because you’ve done something you’ve never done before. If you’re not a beginning writer, if you have done this before, you have to change your goals to reflect that. Here I refer you to my post on How to Use NaNoWriMo to Improve as a Writer. Unless you only participate in NaNoWriMo for the fun of it, if you pour out 50k+ words of trash-worthy muddle every year, you’re doing NaNoWriMo wrong!
Next argument! I believe it’s something along the lines of “You can’t write a bestselling novel in 30 days.”
True. Very few people could manage such a thing, though I’m sure there are a couple fantastic writers who could. I know I’m not one of them. NaNoWriMo doesn’t expect you to be one of them. The outcome of NaNoWriMo should be a rough first draft that is in need of heavy editing. It’s the skeleton of a story, the outline, the general idea. Not a completed novel.
Alas, there are many people who think otherwise and mail off their poorly-written query letters to agents, hoping to land a 6-figure deal on their 50k word-long novel they wrote by the seat of their pants in 30 days or less (or your money back!). The fact is: you can’t do this. If you thought about doing this, don’t. If you have done this, hang your head in shame.
Writing a novel is a lot of work. Most people go through at least three or four revisions before they consider querying an agent. This doesn’t take a month, it doesn’t take two months. More often than not, it takes a couple years. If you submit your unedited NaNoWriMo manuscript for consideration come December, you’re doing NaNoWriMo wrong! And should burn in the fiery pits of Slushpile Hell.
There are several other arguments against NaNoWriMo, but they all invariably boil down to the individual participant. Insisting NaNoWriMo is evil is like the 6th grade teacher who banned pencils, calling them murder weapons. Pencils are brilliant tools for creation, but in the wrong hands, they can do physical damage.
The intent behind a pencil was to offer a tool to create without the fear of making an irremovable mistake. NaNoWriMo is no different. NaNoWriMo strives to create a worry-free environment for beginning writers to accept the fact that they can and will write poorly, and that is okay! Poor writing is the first step to better writing.
However, NaNoWriMo becomes a murder weapon when the word count goal towers over the quivering writer. When the writer caves to the stress of writing 1,667 words every day and panics at the thought of being 10,000 words behind, NaNoWriMo turns into NaNoWriMonster. Kyeli Smith wrote a fantastic guest post on Men With Pens that demonstrates this type of “NaNoWriMo failure.”
Owning a pencil does not mean write or perform seppuku.
Joining NaNoWriMo does not mean hit 50k or consider yourself a pathetic failure of a writer.
Not everyone can write 50k words in a month. Not everyone can shut off their inner-editor and write regardless of mistakes. NaNoWriMo is not for everyone. But guess what? That NaNoWriMonster is a figment of your imagination. As Kyeli said, the only person judging her was herself.
If you feel pressured into writing and consider yourself a failure for “falling behind,” you’re doing NaNoWriMo wrong! If you feel shadowed by such fears, whether in NaNoWriMo or something else, do what Kyeli did and take your fear on a date. You may find out that murder weapon is just a pencil.