Have you ever done NaNoWriMo? If not, why? Does the idea seem ludicrous, or too much of a gimmick? Or maybe wholly unnecessary because you already have the luxury of spending that much time writing (good for you!)? Do you assume it’s for amateur writers in the, ahem, genres only and you, by comparison, are a serious writer of literary fiction? Do you even know what I’m going on about?
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) began in 1999 as a way for a group of friends to stay motivated about writing. Since then, it has grown into quite a phenomenon. Check it out here. The rules boil down to this: write a novel (defined as a “lengthy work of fiction”) of at least 50k words entirely within the month of November. Then, in December, use a simple method to validate your word count and enjoy some modest prizes and bragging rights. Seems pretty simple, right? However, this seemingly innocuous tradition has received some rather pointed criticism.
There are many articles out there written by people who just want to complain about something. But there are also a few interesting and thoughtful articles detailing why some people believe literary writers shouldn’t participate in the frenzy. I think Laura Miller’s piece for Salon brings up some salient points regarding what’s wrong with the concept. With one point, I absolutely agree. Publishers’ slush piles are inundated with crappy first draft novels in December, and it makes their lives more difficult during a month in which no one needs additional stress. This is an unfortunate consequence of NaNoWriMo, and I agree that folks who complete a first draft, from start to finish, in November have no business sending it to a publisher in December. Obviously, novels require more care and revision than such a schedule allows. Miller also highlights the troubling trend of amateur writers who only write, instead of also being gluttonous readers. I don’t doubt that such people exist; I’m just glad I don’t know any of them (I know plenty of people who don’t read much, but none claim to be writers). How can you possibly be a good writer if you don’t read voraciously?
Despite the negatives, I have signed up for NaNoWriMo this year. Hear me out. Ever since fifth grade, when Ms. Jones taught my TAG class about free writing, I’ve been a fan of stream of consciousness expression. This is how I think of NaNoWriMo. It’s one big, month-long exercise in stream of consciousness writing. The NaNoWriMo folks fully encourage you to write crap because they know no one can start, finish, and revise a remotely decent novel in 30 days. Anyone who expects to produce anything but the most cursory of work during this exercise is wholly misguided. Or arrogantly stupid.
I intend to deviate slightly from the norm and write a collection of loosely related short stories. The organizers don’t consider this a rebellious act, but even if they did, they might also encourage it. These first drafts will certainly be horrible, but that’s how most stories start for me. I believe that ignoring that part of us that wants to play critic is essential to getting to the crustiness—the trouble—of what it means to be human, which is what all good literary fiction explores. I don’t care how crazy or indulgent or bad it is. I’m going to write it down if it gets me to that daily word count goal. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to pull out some nuggets worth exploring later. Maybe those nuggets will turn into real stories.
Perhaps my priorities are misplaced, but I find myself to be much more productive if I have a deadline. The fact that I will need to write 1,667 words per day to reach 50k in a month requires a significant commitment. For people like me, who write when time allows because we don’t have the luxury of writing whenever we want, this is an exciting motivator. Sure, NaNoWriMo isn’t really a deadline. I’m not losing a paycheck or getting a lower grade if I don’t succeed, but I think there’s something about declaring my intentions to other writers that makes it more concrete than just saying I’m going to write X amount of words daily in perpetuity. I do have a practice of writing every day, but that’s it; I haven’t put any other parameters on the commitment. This exercise will help me find my average, to which I can then make a realistic commitment in December and, with additional practice, maybe improve. Or not.
Also, there are other literary writers out there doing it, so there is support. I just checked the literary fiction forum and there are 20 threads with 418 posts. I know that’s minor compared to the 432 threads with 9,861 posts from the fantasy crowd, but it’s more than the chick lit forum (19 threads, 324 posts), and that’s got to account for something. So what if our numbers don’t approach those of the YA, fantasy, and sci-fi folks on the forums? I’ve never had a problem being the odd one out. Granted, I don’t know any of these people or their work, but I’ve become “buddies” with a few, and I’m looking forward to casually providing and receiving support.
What I’m getting at here is that you too, literary fiction writer, can have a positive experience with NaNoWriMo. It’s not a big deal. Just don’t be a snob about it, don’t worry about what anyone else thinks, and set some enjoyably unrealistic goals for yourself. Try it out. It’s only for a month. Then you can go back to whatever appropriate writing schedule you currently employ.
If you decide to do it, look up CoffeeShopWriter and add me as a buddy. I promise not to expect much of you. Thanks for reading.