Saturday, December 1, 2012

#Nanowrimo Fails



Yesterday I consoled two friends who failed to write 50,000 words in a month. Just as I finished comforting one, the other IM’d me. After three hours, I think I ran out of patience. It’s for the hysterics I both witnessed and heard about yesterday that I’m writing this today, to reminded you that National Novel Writing Month is imaginary and you’ll all be fine.

There are a few dozen professional authors with whom I speak regularly. None of them were doing #nanowrimo the way it’s intended. Most didn’t do it at all; I didn’t either. A few used the community aspects and inspirational messages to psych themselves into getting as many words as they could for their own novels – most of which, I think, are going to finish at double or more the 50,000-word goal line. This is how they pay their bills, and they just wanted progress on hard projects.

I frame this in terms of what they did to ask you something simple: what did you want out of this thing?

Did you want a publishable book? Bullshit! Almost no one in the history of almost everywhere has ever written a decent novel in one month. Maybe Stephen King, maybe once, out of a career headed for triple digits.

Did you do it for camaraderie with other writers? Then it only matters how you bonded. And good news: those people are still around, so you can still talk to them, encourage them, and share your work with them.

Did you do it to start writing again? Then you did, and if this art form expressed something from within you that nothing else reaches, you probably ought to keep going. Maybe writing this, maybe something different, maybe something shorter. Maybe December is your Short Story Writing Month, where you nail a smaller thing that squirmed out of the novel, to feel that you can conquer an idea. Or maybe you just keep pace until this novel itself has an end.

Did the high demand stress you out, wreck your outline, or otherwise leave you unable to work effectively? Then start over with a more generous time table. There are eleven months before the next November, and many talented people will be writing during those, including every single professional author I know. It is actually legal to keep writing today. You have my permission.

Look: 50,000 words in a month doesn’t make you a novelist. Unless you were contracted to someone for a manuscript by today, you haven’t failed at jack shit. You will only fail if you don’t embrace what you wanted out of this before you die.

Also, take it for granted that if you die, there’ll be greater concerns than word count.

17 comments:

  1. Great summary. I've successfully completed NaNoWriMo a few times, but never with anything worth pursuing that wouldn't have meant throwing out all 50,000 words and starting all over again. It's great for getting over a hump or making writing a normal activity (again), but it's not a finished thing in itself for sure.

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    1. Jumpstarting your habit seems like a reasonable function. I missed if you used it this November too for that end. Did you?

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  2. I love your writing, John, and this might be the best thing you've written here on The Bathroom Monologues. Great points each. If I ever choose to do a NaNoWriMo, it'll be to simply push me to write as much as I can in a month, not worrying about finishing a manuscript. And, as you say, I can always do that in March. Or July. Or whenever. I think NaNoWriMo is a great exercise for many, but everyone needs to chill the heck out if they don't "win." Did you like what you wrote but didn't get to 50K words? Then you won. Didn't like what you wrote? Well, you wouldn't have won even if you got to 50K words, so that's fine. Try again in April.

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    1. To be fair, not everyone freaks out. The organization has its "Participant" badge and seems pretty positive toward those who don't make their goal. It's simply that the goal is so stressed that some people destruct. It's something that I had to write about.

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  3. Nice post. NaNoWriMo can be fun, but it's not like writing is only permitted during November.

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    1. I believe it can be fun, and might work better for some people if they focused on that goal.

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  4. Perhaps you could/should repost this at the START of NaNoWriMo next year. I have read incredible stress and anxt about the month and have found myself wondering how much of the 50,000 target would be retained in a final product. Not only do I not believe that a novel is written in a month, I suspect most need at least that long in editing.

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    1. I don't have hard editing times for many authors, but I wouldn't trust a typical book that only had a month of post-composition on it. Just my first wave of revisions is clearly going to run into January.

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  5. Great post John. I do NaNoWriMo most years--sometimes I hit 50K, sometimes I don't. I love the challenge--and the luxury--of dedicating a month of my writing solely to one project. I send my editor on a 30 day vacation, and just write.

    My NaNo words are largely pre-writing--character building, story and plot notes, whatever. I rarely use any words I write, but as far as I am concerned, every word I write is another word of practice.

    Good novels take time, just like all good things in life. Peace...

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    1. Quite a bit of time, in my experience!

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  6. Good points, all of them. I didn't do NaNo this year because of many things - getting ready to move to the Midwest primary among them.

    Last year, my 4th NaNo, I came within 3%, in terms of the number of words written, of hitting 50K. As with Linda, the month is about dedicating a block of time to one project. The previous years I hit the target. I didn't feel a whole lot different in terms of "success" or "winning" last year than the previous two.

    The first year, that was different. Crossing the 50K mark was a huge charge.

    In effect, this November was similar the pas few years. It was dedicated to final edits and review with the copy-editor of my first long-form piece. So, still dedication to one project.

    I agree with you, part of the goodness that is NaNo is the fun. The sheer exhilaration of getting words out and down on paper/screen/hard disk. That, for me, is the real target - letting the creative and playful part of me loose for the entire month with no censure (or editing) going on.

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    1. Is there a time when you're going to start proper composition, with your blocking out of the way now?

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    2. I'm not entirely sure what you mean by "...a time when you're going to start proper composition..."

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    3. I'm sorry, Kevin! I shouldn't have made that comment so close to bedtime and missed your fourth paragraph. Obviously you're way past composition on this project.

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    4. >>Obviously you're way past composition on this project.

      I hope to all that's good and glorious that I am! Two last one word changes (one addition, one substitution) and I'm down to the formatting of the Chapter titles as produced by Scrivener and how they display on a Kindle PaperWhite (which is different to how they show on a Kindle HD or the Kindle app on an iPad.) All from the same output file!!! *sigh*

      Not to mention how it's going to look on a physical Nook, Kobo reader or iPad in iBook form.

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  7. Hey John. Nice post. I think the 50k thing is an tough but attainable goal that new writers can reach and feel validated. But maybe people project their future career on meeting it.

    I'm a bit of a word counter myself and I've struggled with my current project because I can only write it slowly. I know it's a different style of writing. It's probably better than what I've written before but it's hard to quantify that. Words are a nice way to measure progress, even though it's often an illusion (especially when it comes to edits!).

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    1. Qualitative things like your current output being better seems more important than quantitative things like flying by in word count. Especially at this stage in your career, wouldn't you rather figure out what produces your best material? Before a publisher starts begging you to turn out two books a years, naturally.

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