This old article has been popping up recently and I had some thoughts I wanted to share. Now I am forcing you to read them.
(Disclaimer: I am not participating as I have exams and mad levels of studying to focus on.)
Most of the people I know do not know what NaNoWriMo is. (It’s the National Novel Writing Month, when people frantically attempt to pound out a 50,000-word novel in November.) I am of the opinion that anything that gets people to start writing and to finish that thing that they started is all right by me.
Succinct as that is, I am as usual going to expound a bit.
Over the past year, I have had the honour of ‘discovering’ and reading a whole bunch of published and unpublished authors. I have read more writing blogs than I have fiction, which is saying a lot. I have parsed mountains of writing advice and have found that the one thing people constantly attempt to hammer in is this: to be a writer, you must first write.
That might seem awfully obvious to someone reading it, and it certainly did to me when I started reading this kind of advice. Over time, though, reading through others’ experiences and having tried this myself, I can unashamedly admit that it is harder than it looks.
Let’s simplify the “writing a story/novel” process into a handful of stages and examine their overarching impossibility.
First, the idea – for most people this is the easy bit, but I find it horrendously, awfully difficult to pick a good idea and flesh it out to a writable form. There are various debates around the internet on the virtues of “plotters vs. pantsers”, and I’m not going to get into that – my only point here is that it is an awfully big step to decide you are going to write a story or a novel based on one particular idea and it is tough getting to the point where you have some clue as to how you’re going to go about it.
Second, the writing – this is unequivocally the toughest part. Even if I know that my intrepid protagonist A will fall into a black hole and find a whole other universe where he meets and fights for helpless maiden B, writing it out in more than 25 words is difficult. You have to communicate the setting, the scene and the characters’ thoughts and also make the reader not want to use your book/story as kindling for winter. Much self-doubt will ensue at this stage, and most people don’t go past it.
Third, the editing – reading your story/novel umpteen times, having it read by numerous people and possibly changing it such that the first draft wouldn’t recognise the last. This is admittedly a painful yet rewarding stage, as your lump of clay will actually end up looking like that refined sculpture you always dreamt you would make.
Of course, no one gets to the third phase without crossing that huge chunk of the second, and that is where most people criticise their work to hell and dump their manuscripts in the bin. It’s hard when you’ve been living with the same idea for weeks or months – you’re sick to the teeth with Lord Elgar and his magnificent sword and you just realised the previous 50 pages of writing were shit. A lot of writers just give up at this stage: the majority, in fact – and this where NaNoWriMo plays a HUGE role.
When you’re “NaNoing”, you’re writing at a breakneck pace – you’re forcing yourself to forge more words without thinking about refining the purple prose you’ve produced earlier. You hope your spell-checker caught all your typing errors and you learn not to care if it didn’t. Short of making your dog jump up and down on the keyboard to produce words, you’re writing whatever flows into your head.
Think of the person who climbed the tallest of peaks to seek guidance at the feet of a great guru; think of Johnny English Reborn and Kung Fu Panda and Batman Begins; think of all those stupid mistakes you made through high school that have made you a wiser person now. If you push hard enough, you can break through to the other side and confidently destroy every wall in your way – that’s what NaNoWriMo can help you do, if you are struggling to write. It stretches you to such an extent that you either crack or weather it to the finish; and if you do finish, the sweet satisfaction gives you the knowledge that you really can do it.
A very key component of NaNoWriMo is the community – there are thousands of people around the world writing at the same time as you, facing the same pressures as you, and they are all out there giving and receiving support. The NaNo community is what makes it completely different from the normal writing process – as a writer, you are well and truly alone as you write and that’s usually why the challenge seems unsurmountable, but as a NaNo-er, you have a huge support group to cheer you along as you go.
Don’t even begin to think you will have even a sliver of a finished product by December 1st – remember that thing called ‘editing’ you conveniently skipped? Countless people have trashed their NaNo manuscripts and started from scratch, and countless others have spent years revising theirs – but ultimately, you begin your new project knowing that you have it in you to finish a book, and that is something you can always be proud of.
And exclusively for the nay-sayers that think NaNoWriMo just produces a bunch of crap that will clog agents’ workdays for the next few months – yes, that novel the silly teenager wrote about her life with her dreamboat may be godawfully bad but the worst that will happen is that it will be relegated to a slushpile. And if it actually is good enough to warrant attention, what’s so bad about that? I’m tempted to take a shot at Twilight here, but I will simply say that getting more good writers published is as important as getting more people to read, and if NaNoWriMo encourages people to write more, then I am strongly in favour of it.