Saturday, 7 November 2015

Why it's Okay to say "Na-NO, Wri-Mo!"

It's that month again. The one that comes around every year and messes with the brains of writers.

I'm talking of course, about NaNoWriMo.

Like teenagers in a How Cool Are You Competition, writers are asking other writers all over the Interwebbyworld "Are you doing it? Have you done it before? Did you get to third base last time? D'you think you'll get there this time?"

So, with that in mind, let's get this out of the way right here, right now... if you're 'doing it' this year - well done you. No seriously - and sincerely - it's a massive thing to undertake, and having the danglies to do so, even if you don't expect to succeed - in fact, especially if you don't expect to succeed - says a lot about your determination and strength of character. And it gets you writing like a thing possessed for a whole month, so yaay for anything that gets people passionate about writing! For a whole thirty days of a randomly-chosen month...

(Dammit, I nearly made it to the end without any hint of snark... I was soooo close.... )

Sorry. I have certain feelings about NaNoWriMo. Y'see, for me it's like having a delicious but huge chocolate cake, and being told that the whole darn thing is for you - yes Preciousss, only you! - but you only have this teeny-weeny time period to eat the entire thing. Now I love me a bit of chocolate cake as much as the next chocolate addict... but what I don't like is being given ludicrous conditions for eating that cake. Especially when the reasons for those ludicrous conditions arose as a result of some random somewhere decreeing "It will be done this way, because that's where my Pin of YOLO landed when I covered my eyes and stuck the point into my Page of Car-azy Rules!"

Thanks for the lovely chocolate cake - much appreciated, believe me - but I will eat it when, where and how I want to - and in a way that doesn't end in me being violently sick and hating chocolate cake for... I dunno, a very long time. Like maybe even weeks.

Not only that, but I watch some ( not all - but definitely some) of the other competitors in this cake-gobbling competition and... well, they make me sad. They take that chocolate cake and they go "Yeah! I'm-a gonna do this!" (probably in a Mr. T-type voice.) And then they go "nom-nom-nom-nom-nom" and succeed in eating the entire cake. And then they are stratospherically pleased with themselves, because it's the only time they ever eat chocolate cake at all, never mind this much in one go. They have basically done a Bear Grylls with the chocolate cake challenge, i.e. done it purely for the sake of being able to tick it off some mental list of Things I Must Do To Be Totally Awesome, rather than for any love of chocolate cake itself.

Which means that, once it's done... well, that's it. No reason to eat chocolate cake again now unless... oh, I dunno, maybe I'll do it again next year, just to maintain my awesome, y'know? But no, not as a regular thing. Why would I  - what's so awesome about eating chocolate cake normally, in smaller, non-awesome quantities, all throughout the year? Pffft, that's for losers!

Some of these Bear Grylls-cake-scoffers take the level of self-congratulation a step further. So impressed are they at the phenomenal amount of cake they managed to ingest in such a short period of time that they decide the world should see that cake for themselves - like, really see it, and right now, before their guts have had time to extract all the goodness from it and decide if it was a healthy, nutritious cake or not. So they barf it all right back up again, in a nasty, slimy pile and cry "Look! Look at what I just did! Behold its awesomeness - bet you couldn't produce anything like that!" And then they get really, really cross with anyone who points out - however tactfully - that it's just a pile of cake-sick. "What the hell do you know, lightweight? D'you know how long it took me to make that? I'll tell you - hardly any time at all! Because I made it in NaNoWriMo 'cos I'm that awesome!"

These are the type of NaNoWriMo-ers that make me feel sad. They're otherwise known as - perhaps unkindly, perhaps not - 'wannabe writers.'

You can spot them a mile off. They talk abut NaNoWriMo as being their 'chance,' their 'opportunity' even their 'letter of permission' to 'finally' write that novel. As if all the mysterious embargoes that were somehow preventing them from writing it in any of the other eleven months of the year are suddenly magically lifted just for November because... um, somebody somewhere said so, and lots of people agreed.

So, when November the first cracks open, they 'know' they've got the next thirty days to be awesome writers. Thirty days of wearing the ball-gown and dancing with prince before - bong! The clock chimes midnight and they turn back into pumpkins again. Those thirty days must seem like precious jewels of time to those writers, and the pressure to use them wisely and come up with the goods must weigh heavily.  Because remember, this is their one chance to finally write that novel...

Sadly, these are the writers that are least likely to know the cold, cruel truth about NaNoWriMo - and probably wouldn't want to believe it even if you told them, because it destroys the metaphorical summit they're heading for in their mind.

You CAN'T finish a novel in thirty days.

You can certainly write 50,000 words in thirty days, as per the NaNoWriMo brief. But calling those 50,000 words a completed, publishable novel is like calling a dead cow a T-Bone steak. There's a heck'a-load of other processes gotta happen before you can serve that thing up for public consumption, and that can take anything from weeks to months - maybe even years. Or maybe even... never. Because, even after lavishing all the time and love in the world on it, it may still just... y'know, not be good enough to publish. At all. Ever.

Seasoned writers know this, of course. They know all about rewrites and multiple drafts and beta readers - and rejections and then more rewrites... They're also the ones who don't wait for each November to rock around before they start word-painting. They're more likely to take NaNoWriMo for what it really is; a jolly game to get writers in the mood for barfing up a first draft as quickly and crazily as they can. It's a calendar-based motivational tool, nothing more.

So if you have 'writer-friends' in your life who try to nag you into doing NaNoWriMo, or berate you for 'wimping out' of doing it year after year... maybe it's because you're already writing stuff all the time instead of just waiting for November. And y'know what? If you are, it doesn't even matter if you're not hitting the magic word-count of 1,667 a day. You're proving you're in it for the long haul - which is what you need for writing anything worth publishing. There's a reason the tortoise won the race and not the hare.

That's why I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year. I'm gonna be too busy writing.


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