Monday, November 4, 2013

#NaNoWriMo Fails

We're a few days into November which means, like every year, that thousands of aspiring writers are sweating with dread. As NaNoWriMo ended last year I had to console multiple people in outright hysterics - just as I finished comforting one, the next IM’d me. After three hours, I think I ran out of patience. It’s for such things that I'm writing this again this year, to reminded you that National Novel Writing Month is imaginary and you’ll all be fine no matter how it ends.

There are a few dozen professional authors with whom I speak regularly. None of them are currently doing #NaNoWriMo the way it’s intended. Most aren't doing it at all; I'm not, either. A few are using the community aspects and inspirational messages to psych themselves into getting as many words as they can for their projects – most of which, I think, are going to finish at double or more the 50,000-word goal line whenever they do finish. Novels are how they pay their bills, and they just wanted progress on hard projects.

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

Do 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.

Are you doing it for camaraderie with other writers? Then enjoy the bonds you're forming. And good news: those people will still be around in December, so you can still talk to them, encourage them, and share your work with them.

Are you trying 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. You've got a lot of November left to experiment, and if it doesn't work, then maybe December is your National 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.

Is the high demand stressing you out, wrecking your outline, or otherwise leaving you unable to work effectively? Then start over with a more generous time table. There are eleven months before the next NaNo, 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: today's word count 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.

15 comments:

  1. If you wrote more than you would've otherwise, then that is success.
    I've participated in the past and use it as a push to write. (I'm a lazy writer otherwise.)
    And it took me almost eight weeks to complete the first draft of my second book. I can't write fast enough to come up with one in under a month.

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    1. I'm a writer of habit, and so mostly do my work six days a week across the year, modifying for health demands. I've never participated in a NaNo since I'm usually editing and submitting stuff by this point. This year I'm revising a screenplay, a novelette and some short stories. I've never done a novel in a month. Like you, I'm just not fast enough.

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  2. I'm using it to connect with local creatives, and to get back into the habit of writing. I also ditched the idea of trying to write one 50k story, and instead write whatever comes to mind - I've got half a dozen flashfic drafts, and two or three things that might want to grow longer.

    What I do have trouble with is not trying to make 50k. It would really be better for me to be happy with "I finished a flash draft today" or "I spent 30-60 minutes writing today", because I have enough other stuff to do, but I still want to make wordcount...

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    1. Using it to connect with others and banging out shorter projects sounds like a perfectly good recipe to me. And you're right that it's healthier to find satisfaction in work completion than word count, but it's a word count-centric festival. It requires you to be mindful of what really matters, or better, to find people who know it as well.

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  3. I'm a very word count centric person. This does not go well with the editing/rewriting portion of being a writer, so I've tried hard in the last decade to place less emphasis on word count and find value elsewhere. Except in November. In November, I have been given an excuse to be a word counting freak again.

    This doesn't mean I'm actually "good at NaNo." I've participated eight of the last ten years and "won" twice. I don't put any stock in the winning/losing aspect. I might be disappointed that I didn't accomplish what I wanted to, but it's not the end of any world. Usually, I use November for pushing out a terrible first draft or for trying out a new project. This year, I'm only kinda sorta participating. I'm in the middle of a second draft and I'm playing around with another project in the background. I like the thought of writing in November, though. All these other people doing the same thing at the same time. (This is the same reason I like read-a-thons. ...Don't get me started on people who do read-a-thons and freak out because they're "failing" after one day because life got in the way and they haven't read a word...)

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  4. I'm using it to render the outline I spent 4 months figuring out. At the current rate of output, I'll hit 50k just past 2 weeks. The entire story in first draft will be about 80k. I'm expecting the initial editing pass to take at least another month, probably longer.

    I'm learning a lot of it is not believing the hype and calming down. That, and using my slow cooker to make meals.

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  5. I am doing NaNo this year as a way to get myself disciplined into writing every day. It's not about "winning." Of course, being the anal freak that I am, I really want to "win" but I'm not killing myself to do it. Last year I did word sprints (during the two weeks I worked on NaNo) and found that my writing is total crap when I do that. I skip important things and the story feels rushed and mashed together. NaNo is not about writing brilliance, but if I'm going to spend the time and energy writing, I want it to be something that is not a nightmare to edit at the end. This weekend, I even stopped and took the time to re-read the entire first chapter I'd written to get a sense of my pace and voice. Other years, I never would have stopped to read. It was about pushing forward. This year, 50K is not my focus, it's just the bonus. Yes, I can decide to write daily any time of year, but just like New Year's Resolutions, there's something exciting and fun and energizing about sharing a common goal, a common jumping board, a common struggle with others. NaNo is just the excuse, writing is the reward.

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    1. Yes. NaNo is the excuse, writing the reward.

      There is something about sharing the nuttiness that this months is with others around the world that actually helps. Of late, I've been pretty much writing every day (I have to. I have another 10 Goldberg Variations to write!)

      But, I agree. December has days in it too. Days that can be used to write. There's nothing "special" - in writing terms - about November. But, shared exuberance, aways a fun thing. :)

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  6. I'm using it as inspiration. Signed, World's Slowest Writer

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    1. It took more than a decade for McMurtry to write Lonesome Dove and Lee to write To Kill a Mockingbird. The publishing industry may not be enthused about slow processes, but I've got nothing but respect for them.

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  7. Love this post. I am watching too many people beating themselves up over NaNo, and this is in the early days.

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  8. I loved what Danielle said and I'm following along her path. I know 50k isn't going to be enough, but it's a helluva start. If you're using Nano to just churn out crap for the sake of a word count, then you're not doing yourself any favours. I am very carefully reviewing my work as I write. On the second day I actually threw out the first 1,000 words I wrote and started over again. It was the wrong path and if I had continued, just for the sake of word count, what followed wouldn't be where I wanted to go.
    Participating in Nano is a bit like running in a marathon (I'm guessing, not being a marathon runner myself). Runners can run marathons every day by themselves. Who needs an organized outlet like the Boston Marathon? And yet, the organized races give them a sense of camaraderie, of competition, of discipline. Plus, it's kind of fun.

    But you're right, John, it's not the freaking end of the world. I signed up last year, discovered I didn't have the time for it, and bowed out without a second thought.

    This year I have the time, the coffee and the determination to be the writer I always thought I should be.

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  9. :) Couldn't agree more. :)

    I did it last year, just out of curiosity's sake, and am sort of doing it this year... but mostly because I need to get started on my next project and have been putting it off for a couple of months and tackling other smaller projects, and so Nano gave me a nice, "On November first, I will have the tiny additional kick in the pants I need to have all my side-projects finished so I can start really focusing on this next novel."

    And it worked. So... I win, I win! :)

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  10. I don't want to deal with the stress of NaNo. I've wanted to try it, but I've never participated.

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