Wednesday, 2 November 2011

NaNoWriMo? NoNoNoNo!

NaNoWriMo has been around for a few years now, but I'll wager that at least one person reading this is unaware of it and wondering what the hell that assortment of letters has got to do with anything. Its basic concept is a very simple one however - in the thirty days of November, you write a 50,000 word novel. Once you're done, you submit it, and then everyone cheers and gives you a certificate you print out or god knows what. Sorry, haven't got that far with it, so I may be underselling it a tad, but it's the sense of achievement that makes it, I guess.

I've always resisted it, normally because by the time I've heard about it it's the 12th of November so too much time has passed, or it's March and November feels a lifetime away. But this year, for the first time, it was on my mind as we hurtled through the days and arrived at November 1st, so with a full heart and clear eyes I sat down and scribbled 2,100 words. Hurrah! "Only 48,000 to go!" the website told me. "Keep up your average of 1,500 a day and you'll do it!" it screamed. "Want to look at your overall completion percentage?!" it asked me, at which point I clicked "Help" and looked up how to delete my account.

(Deleting your account on there, by the way, is a right bastard. You have to e-mail them and give them info and all sorts. I gave up and simply logged out, never to return)

It's the 2nd of November now and I've had time overnight to think about this. I have several problems with NaNoWriMo, but it needed me to sign up and give it a go for me to fully realise them. First of all, it's not a bad idea. I think it's aimed at people who don't normally write - to give them confidence to just give it a go and to hell with the quality of it. That's fine, and I wouldn't necessarily stop anyone from attempting it. But, for me, I wasn't comfortable with that.

"Good writing is re-writing" is something I must have heard about fifty times in the past few years. And it's true, even for a non-pro like me. I ain't Ian McEwan, but no piece of fiction I've ever penned has stayed the same from the initial idea to the finished piece. With NaNoWriMo, you're asked to write - to write and not look back. I didn't feel there was any time for editing, for pondering over a sentence, for writing and re-writing and re-writing and re-writing a passage until it was just right. "Oh but you can edit later, you can go back and fiddle about with it after November!" you might think, but in which case why bother with NaNoWriMo at all? In that case, just write a novel! Write a novel without having to fret over the fact that you need to go shopping and drop a prescription in at the chemist but you've still got 436 words to write for the day. That's the thing that defeated me, I think - it's so restrictive. "How many words to go!" and "Let's look at your overall completion percentage so far!" just scared me. It made me feel like I was writing an essay, a thesis, an assignment, and that time was critical and it was all one big challenge. In short, NaNoWriMo, for me, sucked the fun out of writing. And when that happens, it becomes the most pointless thing on the planet.

The funny thing is, the words I did write weren't terrible. They weren't brilliant, either, and that bugged me - I've been taught to re-write until you submit your best work possible, and NaNoWriMo is the antithesis of that - but there's an idea there. I love the location I have, the main character needs a bit of tweaking but is usable, the story isn't a bad one. But it wasn't a novel, and 2,000 words in I was already padding bits out and inventing stuff on the fly just to bump up the word count. I won't delete what I wrote - I'll just shape it into something else. The shorter form of fiction is still my favourite, both for writing and reading. Jeffery Deaver once said about short stories that "all bets are off" and I knew exactly what he meant by that. They're a lot of fun to write.

So then. NaNoWriMo. Nice idea, but not for me.

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