Monday, October 25, 2010

In Defense of NaNoWriMo or "Don't Playa-hate*, participate"

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is one week away and I’ve been seeing a lot of blog posts and tweets about it. Most of them are full of excitement, but many from publishing industry folks seem intent on casting a dark cloud over the event. They all sound something like this:

“Well, I guess, maybe, possibly, perhaps it’s good to get in the habit of writing – if you’re too weak to do that on your own –  BUT it’s all crap and throw it away at midnight on December 1st and never ever let it see the light of day” (I may be paraphrasing here)



Maybe it’s just me, but they all seem to start with some sort of grudging statement of support (“Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate NaNoWriMo or anything”) and end with a two-page-long snark-filled “BUT.”

Many “serious” writers (i.e. those of us seriously seeking publication) are often embarrassed or shamed into explaining away our participation in the event. As if there is no possible way we could get anything worthwhile out of it. As if writing 1600 words a day is just SO out of the norm for writers. As if working quickly automatically equals poor quality. As if no publishable novels have ever come out of NaNoWriMo.

And I just want to say one thing: BACK OFF.

Trust me, I get that there are a lot of badly-written novels at the end of November. And many of these would-be writers query too quickly. But there are plenty of novels written over the span of ten years that aren’t ready either.

It’s the law of averages. A lot of novels are bad. Since a lot of novels are written during NaNoWriMo, a lot of them are going to bad. But some are going to be good (with revision and editing).

So this “NaNoWriMo = bad writing” mentality has got to stop. I refuse to feel guilty for participating in the event because (and this may be why I feel so strongly about this)…

That’s how I write anyway.



Even without a website on which to log my progress and awesome writer friends cheering me on, I write my first draft in 30-45 days. I know I’ve never talked about my writing process on the blog, but it goes something like this:

  • Get an idea for a situation (whether it’s the world, the inciting incident, family situation, etc)

  • Soon after, start developing a character(s) for the situation

  • Read similar works, do casual research, flesh things out with my sister or other writing buddies, have imaginary conversations with the characters, etc for 4-8 months

  • WRITE LIKE AN OLYMPIC SPRINTER ON SPEED. Don’t worry about the details, scenery or too much internal thoughts/emotions. Just get it out before the story makes my head explode!

    • If I know I need to come back to this part, type “ZZZ Find out what the real name is for the zizzerzazzle thingy” or “ZZZ I think I may have already used this name for that guy with the plates spinning on his head in Chapter 3”

    • This is the part that takes a little over a month. I end up with a 45-55k word ‘outline’ that is heavy on story and character development, light on description



  • For 6-8 months, I revise and edit. I do a CTRL+F for “ZZZ.” I add setting, flesh out characters, mend plot holes. Apparently, readers also like to know how your characters feel about certain things – so I throw that in there too.

  • Submit parts that are giving me trouble to a critique group.

  • Give to my unsuspecting Beta Readers/Critique partners. Once I receive comments back, those edits can take anywhere from 2 days to 2 months.

  • Make the decision: To Submit or To Trunk?


So, as you can see, NaNoWriMo fits like a masterfully-crafted puzzle piece into my writing process.

And I don’t appreciate being told it shouldn’t.

So if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo – even if it doesn’t fit well in to your writing process – good for you! Add me as a buddy and know you’ll get nothing but support (and perhaps random incoherent blathering some days) from me. For the rest of you, step away from the Haterade*  ;-)

* I'm way to white to use the terms "hater," "playa," or any derivative thereof in any way, except ironically. Peace out!

7 comments:

  1. I always have mad respect for the nanowrimo people. My life just isn't conducive for that, but good luck to everyone.

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  2. Love this post! I'm very serious about my writing, but I need something like NaNo to help me get that first draft completed. I'm like you--I spend months toiling away on revisions once I'm done.

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  3. First -- no one can judge any first draft novel by how fast it is written. I have read some truly horrible first drafts that took authors years to write and some lovely fast first drafts from others. The only way to judge a first draft is to read -- well, not the first draft at all, in fact. A book can't be judged at all until it is in a final edit. Anything is likely to change between the first draft and that final one. And if some people at NaNo are silly enough to send their first drafts straight out to publishers, they need to think about it better. No one writes a perfect first draft, no matter how much time they take at it. In fact, in my opinion, the longer a person takes to reach the end, the more likely it is that the first part will no longer fit as well.

    Second -- it's really no one's business what you do with your free time in November. Personally, I think NaNo is a wonderful alternative to TV or hitting the bars. However, no one would ever think of telling you that you can't do either of those in November, and you are ruining civilization by doing so. (Yeah, some of them are just about that over-the-top.)

    NaNo is an intellectual marathon. Some people do it for fun. Some people (like me) use it to write a fast first draft or two. (Okay, or three or four.) If it was a secret society, no one would know the difference.

    People who don't take part often just don't understand the pull of standing at the starting line with thousands of others from around the world, all ready to do something intelligent and make it fun. If it was a beer drinking contest, no one would think twice. And that's kind of a sad reflection on the world and the people who just don't get it, and who don't want to.

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  4. I'm on the verge! Want to NaNoWriMo, but I'm chicken. If I let the writing world know I'm doing it and fail? Couldn't live with myself. So, no, no, can't take the pressure of the NaNo.

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  5. Exactly! There will be a lot of bad NaNo novels queried ... but the same works would be queried sooner of later anyways. And I think it's all about the learning experience. The only way to get better is to write, so why not write as much as you can during a month when you have a whole group of people behind you?

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  6. Thanks for the support everyone!

    Zette: You're so right. Writing is definitely better than wasting time in some other way :-)

    Leigh: Don't be chicken; you can do it! Even if you only reach 35k... that's still 35k more than you had to start with! There is no fail in NaNoWriMo.... if you try, you're a winner :-)

    Don't forget to add me as a buddy: GatorSarah is my username :-)

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  7. Hi Sarah. Wanted to drop in and say I'm going to be participating in NaNoWriMo this year.

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