NaNoWriMo ’09

Is this the year for me?

As I finish up a crazed month and a half that included of two 6-day helicopter excursions and a week-long trip to Ventura, CA to record a new video training course for Lynda.com, I find myself with an almost empty schedule — right before the start of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

The idea behind NaNoWriMo is to write a novel in a month. The quality or marketabilty of the novel doesn’t seem to matter. Apparently, it’s more important to get the words out, preferably to complete a story, than to write something that might one day be published.

Whatever.

I commented extensively on NaNoWriMo back in 2005. I didn’t have much to say about it that was nice. I expanded on my thoughts in a post a few days later. You might want to read those two posts before you continue. My opinions haven’t changed.

In fact, my opinions were confirmed just today. I happened to be in a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Flagstaff, AZ. On a little table near the coffee shop area was an arrangement of books for and about NaNoWriMo. Despite the fact that November is still two weeks off, publishers and bookstores are cashing in on the needs of wannabe writers, offering them guidance for writing a novel in a month. I counted eight titles, from a small paperback to a shrinkwrapped “kit.”

I didn’t buy any of those books. I’ll never pay for anything branded as NaNoWriMo merchandise or in support of NaNoWriMo or even designed to help writers succeed in their NaNoWriMo efforts. I detest the very idea that organizations and individuals are trying to cash in on NaNoWriMo.

I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo. My excuse is that I’ve just been too busy. When you spend all day writing about computers or something equally dull, you don’t want to spend your evenings writing.

I don’t have to prove I can write a book in a month — I’ve already done it. More than once. And my books have been published. And I’ve even made money on them.

But this year, I’m thinking I might use the ticking clock of NaNoWriMo to write the novel I started and lost. Maybe NaNoWriMo can motivate me to finish it.

So this week, I’ll pull out my notes and look them over. I’ll track down my outline and blow the digital dust off it. I’ll remember all the loose ends and how I planned to tie them up. And maybe — just maybe — I’ll be a NaNoWriMo author this year.

Anyone else out there thinking about giving it a try?

6 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo ’09

  1. I read a couple of your entries on the subject of nanowrimo, and since you seemed to invite response, I figured I’ll chip in what I think.

    As far as merch goes, do you really need a shirt to write 50 000 words? No. Does it make them evil to offer you the choice? No.

    Like any other organisations with t-shirts, for example, sports teams, people wear them partly to show support, and partly because it’s a clear identifier of a common interest. Granted, you get less people who look at a Nano shirt and say, oh you like that, than you do people who look at a team jersey and make a comment, but it does happen. No one forces someone to a buy a shirt. You can if you want to. It’s not part of participating. So why is it bad?

    Donation isn’t mandatory. Unlike many writing ‘scams’, you can do it without it costing you anything. How is someone telling you that you can succeed a predatory act?

    You seem to take the concept rather personally. You’ve written books, and making your living off writing. Congratulations those are both big awesome things. And yes, for some people, Nano is a waste of time. For some others, it’s helpful. Writing a novel isn’t about making something good or publishable, at least not to everyone. It’s about fulfilling the need to tell a story. If someone plays a sport, badly, and will clearly never make the big leagues but doesn’t care because they enjoy it, would you say a local league that allows them to play for free with other people who enjoy the sport is a scam?

    Lots of editors don’t like Nano, because they get deluged with crap in December. And that’s understandable. But you write non-fiction. Professionally. I don’t understand why you would feel so passionately, not only that Nanowrimo would be a waste of your time, but that people who participate are poor deluded, naïve souls who lack both talent and the capacity for rational thought. Nano at it’s worst, is harmlessly useless. And at it’s best, is a fabulous mentally and socially stimulating movement prompting people to get over there fears, and do what they feel compelled to. Prompting them to ignore their own fears, the doubts of the word around them, and just Write.

    • I think what bothers me most how it has been commercialized, apparently as an attempt to separate wannabe novelists from their money. I used to think it was a cool idea. Then they started with the merchandising and begging for donations. Why? Do you think a group of people that managed to grab the NaNoWriMo domain name and build a Web site around it should be capitalizing on what should be a fun challenge for writers?

      There’s no reason to send these people money just because they put together a Web site. There’s no reason for people to waste valuable writing time in the forums there. There’s no reason why November has to be a special month for people to write.

      A real writer — someone who needs and wants to write and succeed as a writer — will do it without all this nonsense. They will overcome their “fears” and write without the rah-rah crap that NaNoWriMo dishes out. (And I’m not quite sure why they should have “fears” — your word — for pete’s sake, they’re just writing. What’s so scary about that — to real writers?)

      I’ve written over 70 complete books in 20 years. I can assure you that a real writer should have no trouble writing a complete book. Adding a ticking clock — other than an editor waiting for pages — is not going to make the output any better or prove anything. You can sit a monkey in front of a keyboard and get the 50,000 words (or whatever they say you need) to make a novel — in less than a month.

      I do find your comment regarding editors being “deluged with crap” (again, your words) in December very telling. Are you saying that most NaNoWriMo projects are crap? Now, that’s not in the spirit of NaNoWriMo, is it? Aren’t we supposed to put all that judgmental stuff aside and just be glad that a novel was churned out in a month?

      Instead of wasting your energy bashing me for sharing my opinions on my own blog, why not get down to work on your book project? It’s the forums all over again. The wannabes spend more time whining and bragging and defending themselves than actually creating publishable work. If you want to be a writer, write.

      And look at that! I’m encouraging you to write and haven’t asked for a dime.

  2. I didn’t mean to ‘bash’, and I’m sorry it if came across that way. What I was trying to do was offer a different, although no more or less valid viewpoint. I am one of those monkeys with a typewriter, who is not a real writer, but who is a writer non-the less. I spent my November writing 84 000 words in the community of Nanowrimo. I read the pep talks and encouragement that the staff who run the web site had put together, I attended meetings and won prizes (part of where donation money goes) handed out by my local Municipal Liaison. I met people I wouldn’t have otherwise, and ended up joining my first group in a community I just moved to; a writing group that meets 2-4 times a month to work on projects and offer critique that formed a year ago from people getting together to do Nano.

    As far as writing crap during Nano, it’s true for some people. Like me. I have some good parts, some ideas that are refined and show up later, and every year I get a little bit less bad, but none of my stuff is publishable.

    Thanks for the encouragement, and the reply, and I will be taking your advice. I will be continuing to write, even if I never make anything worth submitting for publication, and I will be doing it both inside the Nano frame work, and outside of it.

    • No, no, no! You’re not a monkey. Your comment and follow-up comment proves that you’re passionate about writing.

      What I’m saying is that you don’t need NaNoWriMo and its support group environment to be a good or published (or both) writer. All you need to do is read and write. Read good writing to get input on styles, rhythms, and the other things that make good writing good. Then write to practice what you’ve learned. And keep doing both.

      Don’t spend much (if any) time in the writers forums. Most of them really are a complete waste of time. Think about it — I know you’ll agree. Sure, there may be one or two forums or participants that can help you. But also think about the hours you waste reading through the whining and ranting and bragging to get those occasional helpful tidbits. You could be spending that time reading and writing, learning and practicing.

      Isaac Asimov said, “Writing is a lonely job.” I couldn’t agree more. When you get serious about writing, when you’re ready to make it your living, you must brush aside all the distractions of writers’ forums, Web sites, and support groups and go it alone. It’s only then that your own voice and style will emerge so you can mature as a writer. While you might feel that these groups are supporting you, they might also be holding you back.

      As for work being publishable…there’s a lot of published crap out there, including some bestselling published crap. (Dan Brown’s work comes to mind, making me wince every time it does. Cardboard characters, stilted dialog, illogical character actions/interactions, wildly implausible plots — ick!) There’s also a lot of unpublished gems. The difference between them: usually, a lucky break. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in all three of my careers — past and present — it’s this: to succeed, you have to make your own luck. Keep at it. Work hard and work smart.

      Good luck!

What do you think?