Many (most?) of you know that it’s November, which is the official month of Pie Consumption, as American Thanksgiving is at the end of the month.
It’s also NaNoWriMo. If you don’t know what that is, follow the link and then come back. Okay. Everyone all caught up? Good.
I’ve never said much about NaNo, because I have such mixed feelings about it. There are authors who’ve openly disparaged it, and there are other authors who do it every year to churn out drafts of new books. I don’t participate, because NaNo doesn’t work with my “process,” which I think might sound sort of snotty, but it’s TRUE.
That’s why I’m so iffy on the whole thing. Of course, I support the idea of people who want to write taking the plunge and drafting a novel. I think that’s great! Aspiring authors, I cheer for you! Yay, words! Yay, writing! Yay, art!
But . . . to participate in NaNo, you have to write 1,750 words a day, every day, for the entire moth. That’s how you get a 50,000 word draft and “win.” 1,750 words is a lot. That would be a lot for *me*, every single day, and this is MY JOB and I’m used to doing it regularly. I write, on average, 1,500 words a day, five days a week. Yeah, some people write faster than that. Someday, I might, too. When I started writing seriously, my daily goal was 250 words. ONE PAGE. That’s it. I knew if I did that five days a week, I could have a novel in less than a year. And the thing was, it was realistic. It was accomplishable.
Writing is like any form of exercise – you know how fitness experts are always recommending that people start small, with realistic, accomplishable goals? They suggest that so that you don’t burn out and give up altogether. It’s nearly impossible to go from couch potato status to running 5k every day and eating salad for lunch and steamed chicken for dinner. It feels GREAT for a few days, but then one day, maybe your left ankle’s bugging you and you can’t run, or your mom has a birthday dinner with lasagna, and because your plan is ALL OR NOTHING, you end up picking nothing, and you’re right back on the couch.
This is not an unusual story, but it’s EXACTLY what NaNo encourages people to do. NaNoWriMo is the crash diet of the writing world.
I’m sure there are people for whom this sort of adrenaline-fueled sprint is just the thing they needed to achieve good writing habits and publishing success. I think for most people, though, they end up either 1) quitting because they can’t maintain the pace, feeling like a failure, and giving up the dream altogether, or 2) pushing themselves through to the end, and feeling like they’ve drained themselves and abandoned the rest of their lives just to end up with a crappy draft that needs to be completely rewritten anyway. (NB: All first drafts need to be rewritten. IT’S FINE TO WRITE A CRAPPY DRAFT. The point is that if you feel so used up by the process that you can’t bear to start again, that’s no good.)
Because the reality is, once you finish your novel, it’s not done. Every year, agents start complaining in December, because they’re getting queries seeking representation for novels that were written AS FAST AS POSSIBLE the month before. NaNo books aren’t ready for querying. People who don’t know that, people who thought that finishing the draft/winning NaNo was the end of it, they get crushed when they realize that it was just a start.
If NaNo works for you, great. If it doesn’t, you don’t “lose.” Failing at NaNo is not the same as failing at writing, but it sure makes things feel that way.
Please, by all means, write. Please, figure out the maximum time you can devote to it and do that. And you’ll get faster. My personal word count minimum has crept higher and higher. It’s like adding miles to a one hour run. Eventually, you get faster. You get used to it. Eventually a nine minute mile is easy. Then an eight minute mile. But not right away. You don’t win a marathon the first time you strap on your running shoes.
Anyone who tells you otherwise is either full of crap or participating in NaNo.
Now go have a piece of pie, and then get back to your novel.