Archive for October, 2011

Four Inconvenient Truths about NaNoWriMo

I am not a novelist.  A novelist is someone that novels, and I don’t.  I want to.  I mean to.  But I haven’t (well, except this once, and nobody gets to read that), so I am not a novelist.  I’m a writer, though, and a published one, and I’m a voracious reader, and what’s more I am Facebook friends and Twitter pals with a huge number of writers of all stripes, real and imaginary, so I have a couple things I want to make sure I say before the annual frenzy of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) begins on All Saints Day tomorrow.  Some inconvenient truths, as it were, about writing this November, or perhaps any time.

1. You won’t find time to write.  You won’t.  You won’t make time, which is a stupid phrase anyway.  How can you make time?  You have the same time everyone else does.  And you won’t get time, either.  If you’re going to write anything this November, you’re going to have to hack time out of your month with a jackhammer.  You’re going to have to put other important things on hold, shed those stupid timewasting activities that you love to indulge, and stick your fingers in your ears when new ones come up.  If you don’t do this in what will be perceived as an irrational and even slightly psychotic manner, you will simply not write.

Why is this?  Well, face it.  If you are a novelist, you don’t have NaNoWriMo.  You have PersonalNoWriLife.  That’s what your life consists of, or at least part of your life does.  But you are not that person.  Your life does not – often painfully not – consist of novel writing.  If you want it to, you’re going to have to delete other stuff that has been part of your life and is probably already in the bowl interacting with the other ingredients, to use a baking analogy.  It can certainly be done.  Absolutely you CAN do it.  But if you underestimate the difficulty of it, even a little, you’ll have NaNoWriDay instead of what you intended.

2. Your writing is going to suck.  I mean, not just that it will be a little unpolished, need a little buffing here and there.  It will be a pit of slime.  Your writing will almost all be garbage of the smelliest variety, and you’ll be able to tell, and you’ll doubt yourself and wonder why you ever embarked on this journey.

Why?  Two reasons, one encouraging and one not so.  Bad news first: because you’re not very good.  If you were, you’d write more.  A writer is someone that writes, and writes compulsively, and studies writing, and practices, and like anyone that practices a lot gets better.  You don’t do this.  If you did, again, you’d be only a peripheral part of NaNoWriMo, because you’d already be writing.  So your writing will suck, because you’re not used to cranking out that much stuff in that short a period, and you don’t have the muscles.  Good News: NOBODY’S stuff is good as it extrudes from the pen, so to speak.  The first draft – and NaNoWriMo is not for anything else – should be so bad that even your family refuses to read it.  It almost has to be.  This shouldn’t bother you, even though it will.  Nobody sees this but you, so your job isn’t to write well, but to write at all.

3. You can’t do this by yourself.  I know, you’re supposed to hole up in a lighthouse on the snowy coast of Maine and write until your fingers fall off, but you won’t, and you can’t.  This is not your fault.  Nobody is invested with an unlimited amount of change mojo, and since this kind of writing is very different from what you are used to, you’re going to need all the mojo you have, and then some, to make it happen.  You must have help.  Get a partner – doesn’t even have to be someone that writes, just someone that will absolutely punish you if you don’t follow through.  Bet someone that hates you $12,000 that you’ll put 50,000 words out from November 1 to November 30, put the money in escrow someplace, and I guarantee you find that you can make the changes you require in order to get it done, because that person will absolutely take your money if you don’t, and you know it.  You need help.  Get it.

4. What you write will not be publishable.  Oh, I know all about Amy Tan and Christopher Paolini.  You are not them.  Your pile of stinking cow dung will not be good enough to get published, and if you send it off breathlessly to Bantam on December 1, you will find out why NaNoWriMo is followed by NaManuscriptRejectMo every year.

Why?  Good writers have good editors.  Some people are good at both, but nobody is good at both at the same time, and rarely is anyone good at both on the same document.  You need a good editor, which you probably don’t have, in order to find the book that is hidden inside the big rock that you carved out of the mountain of possible English words over the 30 days of this experiment.  So if you really want to be published, I recommend making December NaNoReWriMo.

And a bonus: you don’t even really WANT to write a novel.  Look, the world is not crying out for more bad prose.  There are eight people on the planet who will ever know that you wrote anything at all, and most of them will have lives of tragedy and disappointment entirely without your inflicting your attempt at a novel on them.  They’ll smile and tell you that it’s great, that it’s life-altering, that it’s the equal of any of the bestsellers they’re reading now, and they will be lying, and both of you will know it.  Why are you going to subject yourself to this?  You like suffering?  You like it when people run as you approach?  You might want to make this NaNoReadMo instead.  There are a colossal number of really good books you haven’t read yet, and some people that really are good at this novel thing would appreciate it if you’d notice and repair that.

So.  That’s why you shouldn’t even try this.


That’s it.

But…you’re still here, aren’t you?  Well, then, I have one more question for you:

Who cares what I think about whether you can do this?

You don’t.  If you have something in you that you have to write, a piece of whatever-it-is that your soul will die if it can’t express, then do me just one favor: write it.  Just sit down and start typing and let all the crap and the prose and the poetry and the ache and the pain and the joy of all of it come out through your fingers, and just keep going until you finish it, no matter if that’s this month or this year or even this lifetime.  Go. Do.  Don’t let anyone, least of all me, stop you.  All my inconvenient truths are still true, but you are the God of this place, as a much better writer once wrote.  You cannot be stopped by inconvenience.

If you cannot be stopped, then you cannot be stopped.  So go.

On December 1, stop back in, and share what you’ve done.  I’ll be waiting for you.