As you may remember, a while back I proclaimed that, after years of putting it off, I was going to participate in National Novel Writing Month. Part of my “I’m going to use turning 30 as an excuse to take up a lot of projects.” Well, today is December 1st, and I’m in possession of a 30-page, 17,899-word document titled “a novel idea.” Which means, by official standards, that I’m a loser. A National Novel Writing Month loser that is, as for being a loser in life, well…that’s kind of still TDB.
I knew from the start that writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days would probably not happen for me. And true to most things in life when you decide that you probably won’t reach a certain goal, you probably won’t. Reaching that exact number of words in the exact amount of days though was never what was really important to me, even though at many times it seemed to be the only thing that was important in the official NaNoWriMo company line –which was where I found the idea of the project a little failing.
Allow me if you will, to break down the pros and cons of my first experience with National Novel Writing Month.
First the good:
The biggest and best thing about this whole project is that I wrote every day (except Thanksgiving). Every single day, even if I had a shitty day, or a freelance article to write, or social plans, I made myself sit down and write. I didn’t pound out the suggested 1,677 words a day (most days it was more like 500). But for someone who spends 9+ hours in front of a computer working with words, sitting down in front of my computer at home every night and writing for an hour is a pretty big accomplishment.
I attended one of the New York City write-ins which was an interesting experience—imagine being in a room with a hundred other people all writing a novel, it’s kinda cool. And that’s the other good take away from this month and the whole idea of this project: feeling a lot of support and yes even that over used word—community from other writers. It’s always said that writing is such a lonely job (which is part of the appeal—as Mark would testify, I preferred to be alone in dim lighting with sad sack music playing when I write), but when you are part of NaNoWriMo, it’s like a month long pep rally of “you can do it!” with weekly pep talks in your inbox from actual published authors and forums filled with commiserating and idea sharing.
The other part of NaNoWriMo that really worked for me was the permission, or even commandment to just write, and stop thinking about it so much. I make a living as an editor, it’s my job to think about how things sound and question and correct. So a decree like this made the daily writing more liberating. “Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.”
And now, the bad:
I guess I get that there needs to be an official goal to make it a cohesive project/idea. But the whole theme of “winning” seemed a little unnecessary to me (spoken like a true loser). You don’t actually “win” anything other than saying that you typed 50,000 words in 30 days. I appreciate the motivation, encouragement and permission to not over think, but the constant chatter around just seeing how many words you can produce was a little grating.
At the write-in they conduct “word sprints” where everyone is challenged to write as much as they can in 5 minutes, and there’s a “winner” (the person at the one I attended spewed out 750 words). On the forums people discussed “tricks” for inflating their word counts like not using contractions or spelling out numerals. As my old boss used to say: “that’s not writing, that’s typing.” And I have better things to do than participate in National Typing Month. On your author/participant page a running tally of novel stats tells you how many words behind you are –how much you should be writing. If I wanted a guilt trip I’d call home, thanks.
But none of it really matters anyways, the whole thing is indulgent, and no one walks away 30 days later with a best seller—even those who blow off all their commitments still have a lot of work to do to make a good book out of all those words. But to me it was worth it because it was a kick in the pants, and because I’m going to keep writing and imagining and being creative and creating. I didn’t write a novel in a month, but I did start writing a novel and I didn’t give up, and I’m not going to stop now just because it’s December.