Just a few short days ago a blogger spoke quite openly against the practicality of participating in National Novel Writing Month. The post, “No to NaNoWriMo,” kicked young, creative minds in the teeth with very strongly worded arguments against the month-long race to 50k words.
The 50k Concept
While I agree with the statement that 50k words is not a full novel, it is a pretty damn good start. Most traditional publishers today will no longer consider new authors whose books are not between 80-100k words, tending more toward 80k.
The 50k concept was not just an arbitrary number selected to make participants think they are actually writing a full novel. 50k words breaks down into a more reasonable goal for a month which also includes a major holiday; many participants are college students as well, so on top of the holiday there is usually a mid-term crunch and a prep-for-final-projects issue that consumes a chunk of time as well. 50k is simply considered a reasonable start. Several Wrimos also participate in NaNoFinMo (National Novel Finishing Month), NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month), YWP (Young Writers Program), Script Frenzy, and CampWriMo. Like NaNoWriMo, these other events don’t expect writers to have a polished, publishable piece of work at the end. The idea is to spark creativity and motivate each other to get it done. There are a lot of people with great ideas (and a lot with not-so great ideas), and all they need is someone to motivate them to get it done. Not everyone is a self-starter. Some people will plan their novels to death.
Anyone who truly understands the writing process (and there are a great deal of Wrimos who do) knows that churning out a novel in a month does not make it complete. As Nimue Brown stated in “No to NaNoWriMo,” “at best what you have is a first draft.” I’m not so sure that the participants in NaNo are disillusioned to believe that they have anything but what author Anne Lamott calls the shitty first draft. But this isn’t National Novel Writing, Revising, and Editing Month. Wrimos come out understanding that they have only a shitty first draft.
“National Write a first draft for a very short novel Month would not be so catchy a title, but it would be a good deal more honest. That in turn would give participants more realistic expectations.” – Brown
Who says that “National Novel Writing Month” has to mean finishing a polished and completed novel in a month? I think this assumption takes a giant leap. Again, it feels like the author is assuming Wrimo’s are disillusioned to believe that they will have a one-month-and-done piece. Wrimos know what they are getting into, and they participate for the challenge, the community, and the creativity.
“A novel is more than a big pile of words. It is character and story, themes and style, it has structure and continuity.” – Brown
A truer statement could not have been made. I agree completely. However, the very fact that this statement is made in an article that speaks out against a creative challenge turns the true statement into an insult to all Wrimos. I have watched Wrimos agonize over these very things during the month. The character isn’t developing as s/he should; The story has more problems than praises; The continuity is all over the place; The word choice is falling apart; The style isn’t consistent. Wrimos all have faced some (or all) of these challenges during the month. Saying that stories are about these main points in such a way seems to imply that Wrimos don’t know how to handle any of this. I believe it was New York Times bestselling author Mercedes Lackey who told me that maintaining continuity is never a goal in the first draft. That’s what revisions are for.
“If you need the driving force of a big national campaign to get you writing, maybe you aren’t as driven by the desire to write a book as you think you are.” – Brown
Ouch. Just before this, Brown mentions that outside influences interfere with writing time: family, work, or other life issues. Indeed. These life issues are very real, as I mentioned before. But way to insult the millions who participate. As a full-time college student juggling courses, three jobs, and my obligations to my family and my two toddlers, finding time to just “do it” is a challenge. NaNo is one month both my husband and myself can prepare for. He knows that when November comes around I will dedicate time to writing a novel. He understands that there will be days when my creativity keeps me away from the family for hours at a time. It’s my way to know that I have time in quarantine, just for writing. I don’t need the “campaign” to to get me writing; I need it to keep my family away so that I can actually get time to do the writing. This entire section of the article is insult after insult to Wrimos everywhere.
The very concept that NaNo doesn’t produce publishable books can be easily disproved. Since 2006, more than 100 Wrimos have published their novels with traditional publishing houses. While that may seem like a small number compared to the vast number that participate each year, it is important to consider the level of dedication the authors have. Some Wrimos participate for fun and nothing more. Not everyone has the end goal to get their novel published. They just want someone to encourage them to get it on the page.
Because this blog post (which I have thus far loosely called an article) is written by someone who has published works before, that gives all the statements and insults more credibility right? No. Though some of the statements made in the post were true, there appeared to be a lot of assumption and insult as well. If it were true that being published gave credibility, what happens when two published authors disagree?
Since 2007, I have participated in NaNo five times. This year my schedule just didn’t allow for participation time. I didn’t have my research done or my outline completed, and since my next project is a historical fantasy fiction I have a bit of research to complete before I can get started. Like many Wrimos, I don’t just sit down on November 1st and start throwing words on a page. I research, plot, and prepare in advance. This year I did not, so I did not participate.
While none of my NaNo novels have been published, I’m okay with that. I have another novel published, along with several short stories. What I learned from participating and cranking out the 50k in a month was that my storyline and sequence for my Divica series had a vast number of holes and unanswered questions. It was a learning experience for me. Those novels were more than just shitty first drafts; they were educational tools that helped me hone the series into a more clear vision of what I wanted it to be.
If you don’t like NaNoWriMo, or the concept behind it, then don’t participate. That does not give anyone a right to insult those who do participate. My father always used to say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Disagreeing with an idea gives no one the right to be rude to those who enjoy what they do. All realities of the publishing world aside, NaNo is an experience for people who just like to write, whether for publication or not.
Wrimos don’t write for fame, fortune, or attention, but for by love of creativity and community.