NaNoWriMo or No-NoWriMo?

Every November much is made of NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month -- which encourages aspiring authors to set aside their procrastinating ways and blitz out a 50K word manuscript in 30 days.

From the NaNoWriMo web site:
National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Here's what I love about this endeavor:

Writers learn by writing. I truly believe there is no other way to learn how to write a novel. Just do it. Yeah, baby. I applaud that approach in writing and in life. I'm up for just about anything that includes "seat-of-the-pants" in the instruction manual.

Daily ass-to-chair application is the foundation of the writing life. Thirty days of due diligence is probably going to entrench the work ethic -- or at least the habit -- and train family and friends to honor writing space and work hours.

The process is demysticated. Yes, I just made that up. It's a hybrid of "domesticated" and "mysterious...not". I was always a voracious reader, but the daydream that I could write a book and get it published seemed as realistic as travel by tornado to the Emerald City. It's healthy to boil the process down to a doable little pot of potatoes and get it done.

On the other hand...

Not "everyone who's thought fleetingly of writing a novel" is a novelist. According to the NaNoWriMo site:
In 2007, we had over 100,000 participants. More than 15,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists., they didn't. I have fleeting thoughts of pole dancing. I share on a basic structural level the physical ability and innate sense of rhythm it takes to pole dance. I have the wherewithal to purchase necessary technology and could probably muster the will to practice daily for 30 days, but thinking that's all it takes is an insult to dedicated pole dancers. Unless I recognize that pole dancing will never be more than a hobby for me, I can only be a danger to myself and an annoyance to others.

There's a lot to be said for the "painstaking craft" being chucked out the window. I'm on board with the NaNoWriMo "build without tearing down" philosophy, but I don't think "obsessing over quality" is a bad thing. Unless December through April are to be designated NitNoEdPro (Nitpicking Novel Editing Process), the product of the 30-day effort is a rough draft, not a novel -- it's a manuscript, at very best -- and I get crankled when the vast difference between is disrespected. That first draft is a huge step, yes, but only the first of several huge steps. I've produced eleven manuscripts; only seven of them have gone through the refining fire to become honest-to-God books. I work incredibly hard to see a draft through that journey. I've sacrificed a lot to make this process my living and livelihood.

As a memoir guru, I get flogged with that "everyone has a book in them" axe. My standard come-back: Everyone has a spleen in them, too, but it takes a particular skill set to get it out.

Bottom line, I love the idea of NaNoWriMo as a writing exercise, and I don't discourage anyone from going for that 50K. I can definitely see it sparking the beginning of a writing career. Participants are bound to discover some things about the creative process. I just hope one of those discoveries is that it takes a hell of a lot more than 30 days to be a novelist.


Suzan Harden said…
One of the nice things about NaNo is it weeds out the wannabes from those who really want a stab at a possible writing career. As you pointed, only 15% of those who attempted NaNo made the 50K goal. The other 85% (me included) understand better the really hard work that you and Collen put into just the FIRST draft, not to mention the confounded editing process.

Don't take NaNo as a slam, but the jump-start us wannabes need to be serious writers.
Fabulous post, Joni.

I think NaNo is a great first step for some promising writers. For others, however, it's probably terribly discouraging. Not everyone works in the intensive-binge-draft followed by edited manner Na No suggests. If I had to work that way, I'd quit for sure.

And it goes without saying that not everyone has the innate talent to be a novelist, regardless of all the persistence in the world. It's unfair of anyone to tell aspiring writers that. But if someone is driven to do study, work, and endure the ego-stomping crush of reject and has some innate talent, that writer stands a chance.
mamele said…
"Everyone has a spleen in them, too, but it takes a particular skill set to get it out."

great line.
Se├ínan said…
I'm too fuddled by travel to elaborate, but your writing and my thinking are closer than cousins.

Thank you, Joni, for this post.
Joni Rodgers said…
Hey Seanan ~

Thanks for stopping by despite the intercontinental jet lag. And congrats on the NY Post article this week!


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