Friday, 29 October 2010

The Cult of NaNoWriMo

I started writing a completely different blog post this morning, all about how this blog was getting too cosy and I was worried that I wasn't taking enough risks. And it was such a thoughtful, carefully argued piece that when I read it back, I realised that it proved my point entirely.

So I'm going to talk about something else. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). And how I hate it. It isn't even November yet and I'm already bored by it.

Bored. Bored. Bored.

Nathan Bransford, normally the most engaging of bloggers, has been posting about it all week. Yawn.

All around the web, people are preparing their chapter plans and vibrating with excitement at the thought of writing 1666.6 words of mostly garbage every single day. Snore.

I'm dreading a whole month of status updates as people struggle to fill their quota and fret over the fact that they're not living up to a ridiculously arbitrary deadline. Here is some news just in - novels do not have to be written in November. They can be written all year round!

The worst thing is, I know writers who are good, the kind of people who will take their NaNoWriMo novel and actually edit it into something halfway decent. What must it be like being surrounded by Delusional Wannabes (© Nicola Morgan) who are just going to package up the whole steaming mess and send it off to the nearest agent with an equally delusional covering letter?

NaNoWriMo plays up to the worst kind of writer stereotypes, the "oh, I'm writing a novel" smugness that gives unpublished authors a bad name. It is a triumph of the quantitative over the qualitative. On many days - yesterday for instance - I'm happy to write 400 good words of a novel. Not just any words, but good words that I won't have to revise endlessly for the next six months. Strong dialogue that's funny and sounds natural. Clever ideas and twists that propel the story in fascinating directions. A wholesale rejection of the cliché.

As such an aggressive first-drafter, I suppose you could argue that NaNoWriMo was never going to be my bag. Maybe I'm actually scared of it, frightened of the discipline and commitment, frightened of the fact that I might discover some deep insights about myself. Or maybe I'm just worried that I'll ratchet my already high stress levels into heart attack territory as I waste a whole month and produce a ton of poorly written crap.

NaNoWriMo. Just look at it. Even the acronym doesn't make much sense.



  1. Hi Nick

    In the past I've had my doubts about NaNoWriMo and have never before attempted it and I have under my own fruition written 80,000 words in a couple of months. But I'm getting disillusioned and need a serious kick up the backside, so, for me, it's a way of giving myself an extra dose of motivation. I'm going to write that book that's been an idea for years and just get it out of my system.

    But I think the point is, for many people who may find it hard to set themselves self-imposed deadlines, this becomes a deadline they can try to meet with the encouragement of a peer group.

    Every first draft is going to need work, as you know, and there are plenty of writers sending out first drafts so I don't think NaNoWriMo is going to alter that fact.

    And maybe I'm one of those Delusional Wannabes! Who knows? I certainly don't anymore.

  2. Wow, Nick! Way to be a contrarian. I must say I've never gotten on the NaNoWriMo band wagon either. For those who do, I see it as a good way to kick start some writing and get a sense of the discipline it takes. But I agree that it would need to be edited and re-written. It would be good for the first 'get-it-on-the-page draft, but ultimately it's not about quantity, but quality.

  3. grumpy. and i think nathan bransford's tips are excellent. in fact, i wish i had that kind of advice when i was starting off. and what i would give to do a first draught in one month like these guys are going to do.

    don't let this blog post put you off, wrimo people. if the only thing you learn after the exercise is that you are capable of discipline and commitment then it's a lesson well learned.

  4. Bizarrely I agree with both Candy and Nick! Write a novel in a month? Great. Can be done and it's always good to have a deadline. But, and this is where I veer over to Nick's side, why does it have to be done in November, and with a bunch of other people? Why can't you just set your own deadlines and then quietly get on with it? Or is the point of NaNoWriMo that it must be so publicly in order to get it done at all?

  5. The whole Nano thing makes my eyes glaze over, and my blog reading tends to go down in November. Having said that though, I can certainly see why a network of fellow strugglers and a tight deadline might be helpful for some. Just not for me.

  6. Candy - I wasn't intending to put anyone off and I'm sure I won't. It's partly the orthodoxy of NaNoWriMo that I'm objecting to, the idea that writing a novel in a month in public must be a good thing.

    Thomas - You bring up an interesting point. Maybe I should use all of the noise surrounding NaNoWriMo to my advantage. If I know that I'm not missing anything on blogs etc, then that gives me more time to concentrate on my writing. Although perhaps a better way to protest would be to do no writing in November at all!

  7. Well, I'm one of those people who bored people all month with my status updates as I fretted over whether I would meet my word count or not. Not sure I will ever do NaNo again, but as a person who is trying to juggle a full time job and a 2 year old and find some time to write, it was an excellent exercise in seeing that there IS the time. I did write 50,000 words of crap (well not all), but at least I have something to work with rather than it still being in my head and me wondering when I'll get it out.