by Tess Adair
November is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The idea is that anyone who wants to, regardless of experience, can participate, as long as the spirit is willing. Participants set out to write a novel within the month, or at least the first 50,000 words of one. It’s supposed to be fun and inspiring, something to get the creativity flowing with a goal so absurd it automatically excludes the possibility that the draft produced will be perfect, thus eliminating some pressure. It’s not a bad idea at all. And I hate it.
I’m not sure exactly why I hate it. I think it’s kind of a hipster thing. I was about 11 when I started spending my free time writing, and I was about 12 when I started seriously yearning to complete a whole novel. By the time I heard about NaNoWriMo, I’d already started preliminary work on my first novel. How long it took me to complete depends on how you count it. If you take it from the moment I came up with the idea until I finished, it took over 3 years. But if you only count the time when I was genuinely making progress on it, it took a little under a year. It clocks in at over 90,000 words.
So I guess when I see NaNoWriMo getting all sorts of press, and all these amateurs and wanna-be-writers treating it like a fun hobby, I start to feel a bit like a cranky old man viewing a field of upstarts who think they’re on a level to compete with him. I get churlish.
Still, I understand the appeal. The idea of spending a month spewing out plotlines and adventures sounds more like a fun project than career work. All of the language surrounding the event evokes inspiration and creativity and flights of fancy--they even explicitly encourage participants to “silence [their] inner editor” and leave all critical analysis for December and beyond.
There are advantages to this approach. One of the biggest mental blocks to writing is self-doubt, and it’s easy to doubt yourself if your goal feels too lofty and special to achieve. But if you strip everything from the goal but pure quantity, it becomes more attainable.
And, ultimately, even if the 50,000 words you come up with are pure garbage, it might just be enough to give you an idea for something better.
For a lot of writers, this is a big draw. A good chunk of writing advice out in the universe is focused on how to find inspiration, how to come up with ideas. The sheer amount of advice tells you just how big of an issue creative inspiration can be.
Except it’s never been a problem for me. I have never experienced a dearth of ideas. If anything, my problem is the opposite--I have a million more ideas than I can ever explore, and I don’t have nearly enough time for the ones I do start.
And NaNoWriMo, sadly, cannot give you time back in your day. Even if I engaged in it, it’s not like I could quit my job, or give up any of my other regular life functions that currently keep me from writing full-time.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t try to use it as inspiration.
It’s a pretty small concession, but I’ve decided that every weekend this month, I’m going to set aside a block of two straight hours to work on Novel Number Two. It might not sound like much, but for the past several weeks, I’ve focused my weekend-work-time on editing Novel One, updating my query strategies, querying, marketing, and blog-strategizing.
In the wake of that, dedicating 2 hours every week to creative writing sounds like a fucking vacation. I’m looking forward to it.
I’ll let you know how it goes.