The dread beast nanowrimo

 

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By the time this reaches you NaNoWriMo will be underway. Some of you will be taking part and to you I wish all the goodwill; may the wind forever be in your sales, may your word processor be reliable, may your pen always be full of the most exquisite ink.

For those of you who don’t know (and why should you?) NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a project by which you aim to have written a complete novel – defined arbitrarily as 50,000 words – in thirty days. Although it’s mainly a solo effort there is a website upon which you can sign up and groups around the world (it should really be called InNoWriMo) to meet and write (and console and drink) with.

I’ve never done it myself. I only found out about it after I was already in a regular writing routine and I felt that was a better way to produce the things I wanted to produce. I still do, and that leads me neatly on to this: another caveat scriptor.

I have concerns about NaNoWriMo. I have concerns about anything that puts pressure on you to produce. 1,667 words a day doesn’t sound like much but trust me, it’s a lot. And for what? For the warm glow of having produced something not very good?

I’m not here to bash NaNoWriMo or its participants. Sometimes targets are useful; sometimes we need a push to get going and this can certainly help spur you into action; if you’ve been spending the last five years wishing you had the time to get those burning ideas down on paper then NaNoWriMo might just be for you.

Just be aware. Writing five (typed) pages a day every day for thirty days is a lot to ask of yourself. So, before you start, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can you do it? Is this target even theoretically possible?
  • How stressed are you likely to make yourself? How will you respond to the stress? Maybe you’re someone who thrives under pressure: great, I envy you. Go to it. But, if not, maybe this isn’t for you
  • How will you feel if you fail?
  • Are you prepared to get to the end, look at what you’ve done, and realise that the work has only just begun? First because 50,000 words isn’t really a novel, and you’re like as not going to have to keep working to get the novel to its real conclusion; and second because there’s no time for editing on a project like this. Forwards forwards forwards, that’s the NaNoWriMo way. Never look back, never crop out the missteps or the waffle where you weren’t quite sure where you were going.

Are you prepared for this to be a beginning?

If you’re not used to writing you will struggle with NaNoWriMo. I spent months building up the mental muscles to write regularly. I still struggle to string one word after another; I have good days, I have bad days, and to expect to sling nearly 2,000 words down on a page from a standing start is, I fear, a doomed venture.

Ask yourself this: would you be better served in putting yourself under such pressure or would you do better to try and build those writing muscles? By all means use NaNoWriMo as motivation but, instead of aiming for arbitrary targets, why not work on giving yourself a regular writing hour (or whatever) and building it into your life? Instead of leaping into a raging torrent, dip into the shallows and practice so that, when it’s time to throw those water-wings away, you can ride the wild rapids with confidence.

I put How will I feel if I fail in bold because that’s what’d kill me. Mental health is a noisome beast. Make sure it’s one you can handle.

I’m not here to bury NaNoWriMo: I’m more nanambivalent than nanonegative. Let me rebalance the argument by giving some of the positive aspects of the project:

  • A goal is a real motivation
  • You’ll be part of a community; you’ll get help and advice and sympathy if you want it
  • If you’re wanting to really leap into the writing world, doing NaNoWriMo can give you the confidence to say ‘Yes, I am a writer.’
  • You can do a lot of the NaNoPrep before the start on November; indeed, you’re encouraged to start planning months earlier so that, by the start of NaNoWriMo proper, most of the heavy mental lifting has been done
  • It’s easier to edit a bad book than to start one from scratch
  • It gives you an excuse, a reason, to seize precious writing time from friends and (especially) family. You’re doing this specific thing so you need this specific time: this is your hour, and it will remain so henceforth
  • It is, at the end of the day, one hell of an achievement if you can finish…
  • …and even if you don’t get to 50,000 words by the end of the month you’ll have made a great start

So to all you who are embarking on this project, I wish you fair weather and smooth seas. May your characters be verbose and your plots tangle-free. I salute your endeavour.

Remember this, though: no-one will think any less of you if you decide the journey’s not for you. We want you to succeed, and sometimes success takes longer than a month.

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