Yep, it’s that time of year again. The time when turkeys cower in fear, leaves multiply on your lawn faster than rabbits, costume companies pretend there actually is a reason to take kids’ cartoon characters and make “sexy” versions of them, and last but not least, the time of year when hundreds of thousands of people decide to write a book in a month—I speak of course about National Novel Writing Month.
If you haven’t heard of NaNoWriMo, check out their website here. It’s a really cool idea and has picked up amazing steam since it started in 1999. The basic concept is that you and a bunch of other people all try to write a novel (or at least 50,000 words of a novel) in the month of November.
First of all, let me say that I think anything that gets people writing is awesome. So many times people tell me they’ve always wanted to write a book. And I say, “Well then start writing.” And whenever you do anything with a group of people who have the same goals, it makes it a little easier. So, yeah, NaNoWriMo=very cool.
If I stopped my blog right here, everything would be great. I said the right thing to the right people at the right time. Now is the part where I doff my hat and exit stage left.
Except that, while I think NaNoWriMo is very cool for a lot of people, I also think that there could be times when it is actually could be a bad thing.
Imagine applying the book in a month concept to other activities. Compose a symphony in a month. Train for a marathon in a month. Build ten houses in a month. Perform 100 heart transplants in a month. Have six kids in . . . okay, maybe we will stop the analogy there.
The thing is, different people write at different paces and different books take more or less time. I have written an entire book in close to a month. I’ve also taken a year or more to write another book. Quantity does not always equal quality.
I was recently talking to an editor about an author. The editor thought the author was a great writer, but the author’s work often seemed rushed. The editor felt that the author was hurrying to finish one book after another without taking the time to get each of them right.
I know that NaNoWriMo isn’t about completing a final draft in a month. The idea is that you force yourself to crank out 50,000 words and then come back and edit them later. And that absolutely works for some authors. They do what we used to call in grade school a sloppy copy and then make it better and better as they rewrite.
If you are one of those kinds of people, NaNoWriMo may be a great fit for you. But not everyone can do that. You can’t always “force” creativity. Some stories just take a while to come together. And I worry especially for newer writers that if you start training yourself that writing is like mowing the lawn, you just get up start the mower and get to it, you might be training yourself to be a bad writer.
I think I’d be more comfortable with something where you had to spend x number of hours on your novel in a month. Maybe you create a character bible, maybe you outline, maybe you write that number of hours without worrying about how many words you complete. As an author I’d rather spend an hour writing a great page or even a great paragraph than an hour cranking out 2,000 words that will never be something I’d want to show the public.
I’m not saying don’t take part in NaNoWriMo. If nothing else you will learn whether you are able to write 2,000 words or more a day. I know lots of authors whose first published work came as a result of a NaNoWriMo project.
But if it doesn’t work, don’t feel like you are a failure. Writing is not brick laying. It’s not emptying trash cans. It’s a process that can come together all at once in a rush of inspired storytelling or sweat itself out word by painful word. Sometimes it involves outlining for weeks or months. Sometimes an entire story arrives in only a few minutes with a burst or fireworks and sounding trumpets.
Don’t worry about what other authors are doing around you. Don’t write YA because that’s what everyone is doing. Don’t write a novel in a month because it’s November are you are supposed to. Do what works for you and stick with it.