NaNoWriMo ’09 Journal: T-minus 14 Days

The start of a NaNoWriMo journal.

Yesterday, I spent a lot of time reading old blog entries as part of the process of adding excerpts that would appear in search results.

And now I must go off on a tangent to explain why….

On Tags and Excerpts

A few weeks ago, I added a feature to this blog that would list related posts at the end of each post when viewed in single page view. (If you don’t see what I’m talking about at the end of this post, click the title of this post to switch to single page view and you’ll see it.) This feature uses the tag feature of WordPress to match the current post’s tags to other posts in this blog. The posts with the most tag matches are listed as related. Makes sense to me and it actually works pretty well if all the posts are properly tagged. I set this up so it displays an excerpt after the post title. I tend to use vague titles in many of my posts — a blogging no-no, I know — so the excerpt helps readers get a better idea of what the post is about.

The trouble is, if I don’t create a custom excerpt, WordPress uses the first bunch of words — 50, I think — as the excerpt. This is not satisfactory. So I need to go through all those old posts and update them so they have excerpts. While I’m at it, I’m also updating the tags.

And, of course, I’m reading a lot of those old posts.

Why This Blog Exists

This blog has been around since October 2003 — six years this month. As I’ve explained elsewhere on this blog, I embraced the idea of blogging early on. I’d always wanted to keep a journal of the things going on in my life and blogging seemed the way to do it. Rather than rely on myself to keep a diary or journal that only I read, I could put a lot of my thoughts and experiences on the Web where others could read about them. Their comments and other means of interaction could help me understand other points of view and grow as an individual.

Sounds silly and idealistic? I don’t think so. I’ve met a lot of people through blogging — people I’ve become friends with. Miraz, for example, co-authored a book about WordPress with me a few years back after we met on my blog. Ann flew with me once and has introduced me to other people after finding me on another site I manage, There are other folks who have connected with me through my blog. They’ve all made my life richer and have given me good reason to continue blogging.

So, with 1,910 blog posts on this site and another 100 or so in the archives still waiting to be imported (long story), I’ve built quite a journal with plenty to look back on.

I do want to mention here that I’ve had a personal Web site since 1994. This blog is simply the current incarnation of it.

Back to My Original Train of Thought

So, as I was saying, yesterday I spent a lot of time reading old blog entries. It reminded me why I started this blog — as a journal of my life. So it makes sense to journalize my NaNoWriMo ’09 experience as it happens.

I announced that I was thinking of participating in NaNoWriMo this year in a blog post yesterday. I’d actually written the post the night before, but the Internet went down (as it often does in Wickenburg) and I wound up posting it the next day. That was a big step for me. Although I didn’t say for sure that I was going to participate, publicly suggesting that I might was enough to get me thinking very seriously about it.

And if I move forward — which I expect I will — I thought I’d journalize the process for future reference.

Just Say No to Forums

I don’t think the digital ink had dried on that blog post when I got my first query from a Twitter friend:

so whats your userid on NanoWriMo ? you can probably guess mine ;)

I could guess his, but I won’t share it here. My response was this:

I will not be participating on the NaNoWriMo Web site or forums. I don’t see any benefit.

My advice: When you’re ready to start writing, stop goofing off on the NaNoWriMo site. You can’t get work done there.

Indeed, I’d checked out the NaNoWriMo site back in 2005 when I’d first heard of NaNoWriMo. I was appalled. The site seemed to exist primarily to raise money — $110,000 — to build libraries in Laos. It was heavy on the NaNoWriMo-branded merchandise and requests for donations. Someone was obviously making money — possibly lots of it. It really irks me when I see people or organizations preying on wannabe writers.

The forums were full of NaNoWriMo participants chatting about writing or not writing. It seemed to be an extraordinary waste of time. Why would you spend any time participating in a forum when you could be spending that time actually writing?

Remember, the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a novel-length work. I think the number of words tossed around is 50,000. With 30 days in November, that’s nearly 1,700 words a day every day for an entire month. Miss a few days and that number rises dramatically.

It seems to me that a serious author should be more focused on the writing task, not the socialization aspects of yet another writer’s forum.

Another Twitter follower had this to say about the forums:

lol maybe not but its addicting – as is twitter this year for me. :p It’s good advice though :)

I replied:

I haven’t checked it out this year. I was turned off last time I was there. Lots of people chatting, no one writing.

She replied:

Hmm… well that’s what the forums are for. You write the novel in your own time. For me the forums are a break during writing.

I’m afraid I let my cynicism get the best of me in my response to that:

If I need a break from writing, the last thing I want to do is visit a forum full of people whining about writing. IMHO.

I later pointed out the fact that I’m a cynic and linked to my first blog post about NaNoWriMo back in 2005.

What I also should have linked to is one of my more popular posts, “Why Forums Suck.” I think it pretty much covers my opinions on forums in general. Although a well-moderated forum can be an incredibly useful tool for getting and sharing information, the vast majority of forums have a signal to noise ratio that’s just too low to be worth wasting time on.

And I’ll go back to my original point: why participate in a forum if you can spend your energy writing the actual novel?

The way I see it, the NaNoWriMo forums may have value now, before the month begins. But come November 1, the serious writers should pretty much abandon it and get to work.

100 Monkeys?

I’ll step out on the line one more time here to remind folks that the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a complete novel. That means it needs a beginning, middle, and end. It needs character development. It needs plot and subplots and underlying themes. It needs dialog and description. It needs to create loose ends and tie them all up before the last page. It needs to be compelling so someone will want to read it and written in good English (or whatever language you prefer) so someone can read it.

When you write a novel, you’re telling a story.

What I took away from my NaNoWriMo non-experience back in 2005 was that people seemed to think it was more important to get the 50,000 words out than to actually write a coherent piece of literature. Even one of my Twitter friends this year gave me this impression when he wrote:

Doubt I’ll make anywhere near the 50,000 words.. real life will get in the way ;)

It’s not the word count that matters as much as whether the entire work holds together as a novel.

100 monkeys with typewriters can churn out 50,000 words of text in a month. If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, don’t be a monkey.

On Life Getting in the Way

The above quote brings up another topic for consideration: the responsibilities of life preventing you from completing a NaNoWriMo project.

The main reason I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo is because of work and related responsibilities. I write for a living. The last thing I want to do at the end of a day full of writing step-by-step instructions for completing a mail merge with Word (for example) is spend any more time in front of a computer, writing.

I also travel extensively and, when I do, I have numerous responsibilities for either getting work done or seeing to the safety and comfort of passengers. Clearly, NaNoWriMo would interfere with my ability to perform while on the road.

Notice that I said that NaNoWriMo would interfere — not that my work would interfere with NaNoWriMo. That’s because if I participate in NaNoWriMo, it will become a priority in my life. That’s not to say I won’t do anything else — I do have other priorities. It just means that I won’t let life get in the way (if I can help it).

Isn’t that the point of NaNoWriMo? To force you to finish the novel in a month? To make time for it? To make it happen?

And this goes back to something I said back in 2005: You cannot write a novel without the complete support of your significant other or family. Fortunately, NaNoWriMo makes this easy. After all, you only need their support for a month.

More Coming

I think I’ve written enough about this for today, so I’ll stop here. Tomorrow, I’ll get specific about what I’m doing to prepare for NaNoWriMo.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Let us know by sharing your comments — and perhaps a link to your own journal — here.

What do you think?