Wednesday, 24 October 2012

MeNoLikeNo NaNoWriMo

Well, it's almost November again, and that means that the NaNoWriMo hashtag will be soon be appearing on Twitter feeds and Facebook posts all over the English-speaking world.

I'm a writer of sorts, so this is the type of thing that should warm the cockles of my heart, fuel my imagination and cause my "I can type 100 wpm" fingertips to tingle with delight and anticipation.

Should. But doesn't. In fact, I have real problems with NaNoWriMo, and in this post I'll tell you why.

Before I begin...I'm sure that many people will have a fantastically enjoyable month. Some writers may find it beneficial to their work and it may even release untapped creative skill, energy and inspiration. To those people, I can only say: "Well done, and I'm glad you enjoyed the experience."

So, what's your big problem, then, Jane, you may ask yourself. Are you jealous or something?

I don't know if I'm jealous of someone who can write 100,000 words in a month, though I know damn well that I couldn't. This feeling is similar to the non-jealousy I feel about some fool--oh, sorry, I mean person--who runs a marathon. I couldn't do it, so from that perspective a marathon runner has something over on me---big-time. Am I jealous of that person? It's possible, but not very likely.

Back to NaNoWriMo. This event strikes me as something akin to "National Loose a Bunch of Weight Real Fast Month" Yes, rapid weight loss might enable some people to lower dangerously high BMIs. It might encourage other to make permanent healthy lifestyle changes. But for most people, such a month would eventually backfire, the weight would pile back on, and the experience of wild success followed by rapid failure would demoralise and depress, making any real weight even harder to shift.

Of course, with NaNoWriMo, there's no chance of such a reversal. You write the words and nobody takes them away if you don't keep up the momentum (At least, I don't think they do.)

But what happens when an aspiring writer runs out of steam on, say the 10th of the month? Does he or she feel like a loser? Not like a proper "novelist"?  There may be many talented people for whom failure during NaNoWriMo is a real personal defeat. They may not realise that, in fact, writing a novel in a month, is actually quite a daft (if not dangerous) aspiration.

And what about other writers, who are struggling with deadlines, or desperately trying to get a new project off the ground after a submission to an agent or publisher has come back to them, rejected? How do they feel--the blocked, the demoralised--when a million wannabees are posting:  Just nailed my daily 5,000 words!  #nanowrimo

Sick, that's how they feel!

Obviously, I'm being just a tad flippant. Any serious writer would know that  NaNoWriMo is a bit of fun, or use the challenge to push themselves through a stagnant or dormant piece of writing. A real writer wouldn't expect success after only month, or give up if they failed to hit their word-count.

What really bothers me, though, is the way NaNoWriMo seems to present writing as something that anybody can succeed at as long as they write enough words in a short enough time. Of course, many people can write novels, but only with talent, and only after long periods of hard work, diligence and devotion to craft. Similarly, many people can write 100,000 words or so in a month, but the chances of producing something even remotely resembling a "novel" are extremely unlikely.

To me, NaNoWriMo  trivialises both writers and writing.

Maybe I just know too many good writers who are still struggling to get published, or too many authors who've worked for years and years before seeing their work in print. I know the hard slog that real writers put in day after day. To have that dedication and perseverance mocked by an event that makes writing seem like a hobby (buy an official Thermos!), a sport (wear badges and stickers!) or even a  charity (try on a yellow wristbands!) really annoys me.

Yes, anyone can call themselves a writer.That's not new. Grab yourself a notebook and a pen, put on a beret, sit in a cafe.  But to call yourself a novelist? Just because you went on-line, did a lot of typing and used a hashtag?

 That's really #takingthepiss


  1. Careful now, I got into trouble when I laid into NaNoWriMo a couple of years back:

    But for all that, my comments still stand and I agree with yours (apart from the word count target, which is officially 50,000 not 100,000). I don't think we should keep telling people that everyone could (or should) write a novel. Hell, I'm not even sure that I can half the time.

  2. Ha ha! Now that's a hashtag I'd willingly retweet - and have done so!

  3. Thanks, Mailaika. Thanks for the RT. And Nick, I remember your post, and thought I'd get the 2012 one in first! Nothing wrong with it, I guess, but I seriously think it trivialises the work of real writers. And the cheerleadery stuff...don't get me started!

  4. Thanks for a timely rescue Jane - I was actually considering putting myself through the torture just to get up my daily word count even though I'd have to leave my current WIP and start something new and even though I would be putting ridiculous amounts of extra pressure on myself especially if I found myself failing! So back to the WIP and quality not quantity!

    1. Yona, never take advice from me!!! Good luck with the WIP. Want to hear about your Central American film experience soon, too.

  5. Aw... maybe this is way too American of me, but I love the idea that anyone can write a novel. Course, it may not be a good novel, but it's an experience that a lot of people dream about. And if anything, NaNo-ers might turn around and admire us more for our work, not less. At least, that's my dreamy-eyed perspective! ;)

    1. You're right, Anne, that IS too American! Just kidding, hon. I'm not entirely sure why NaNoWriMo grates on me so much. It may be the "Glee" ness of it, the cheerleading aspect. Maybe I feel the way my son does about stand-up. "Sorry, the comedy circuit's full," was his reply to someone asking about getting started!

  6. I do NaNoWriMo every year, the idea of it isn't to say that everyone and anyone can be a writer, and that at the end of the month those 50,000 words will be a perfect novel. It's a tool to encourage writing, a starting point, a kick up the a** to finally sit down and get those words on paper. To at least have a go, whether it ends up being total crap that makes you realise maybe writing isn't for you, or it could turn out to be a gem and something you can work with, build, improve.
    I completed my first NaNoWriMo 3 years ago and have only just finished the final rounds of edits on my book, things have been changed, added, taken out, re-written, the book has been proof read, left alone, re-read, checked, and basically edited in all shapes and forms. It's had as much work on it as any other author and their book. Finishing the 50,000 words was just the start. It's what you do with it afterwords that counts.

    I also take part in the summer WriMo they now run, and I have never completed it - do I feel like a failure? No, of course not. I may not have reached 50,000 words, but the 4,000 I did get down was at least a start and more than I had before,so there was still a sense of accomplishment, and it then gave me something to work off. That is what NaNoWriMo tries to achieve.

    I can understand where you are coming from, but really it is all about perspective and the person. For me, I find I procrastinate too much and put things off, having the community behind me and word count target to boost me, gets me to sit down and get on with it.
    So for me, this November will be spent with my laptop out and my fingers hitting that keyboard to reach my targets!

  7. Thanks for your comment, Becky. I also understand where you are coming from (in fact, your arguments are far sounder than mine!) I hope I didn't sound critical of writers. I certainly didn't mean to be. I hope you have a wonderful, productive month. Good luck!

  8. Thanks, no problem at all! I like to see other peoples point of view on things, interesting. :D I hope I have a productive month too, no more procrastinating. :P

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