Zero to Fifty Thousand
I’m afraid this is yet another one of those posts where I bleat on and on about writing without actually doing any of it. Well, of course, I am writing, but I’m writing about writing, which I could pass off as some sort of meta exercise, or as a meditation on the creative process, but it is nearer to an act of public self-absorption, or at least an avoidance of writing about something more worthwhile than the act of writing itself.
But…this time I’m actually tentatively looking up from my umbilicus. I actually have some genuine writing in mind, rather than an infinite circle of nonsense here in my comfy part of the www.
I think it was last year that I first became fully aware of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, for short. The event is pretty much self-explanatory, apart from the ‘National’ bit, as they welcome people from across the world. Essentially, over the course of every November people attempt to write a 50,000 word novel. They are free to write pretty much as they please, providing it is all brand new stuff and isn’t just a continuation or a re-write of what the would-be-novelist has worked on before.
Anyway, who doesn’t think they have a novel in them, lurking somewhere? And who hasn’t put off the writing of said novel? The idea of knuckling down and having some form of novel well before Christmas is pretty appealing.
Sure, there is a good chance of failure, of giving up or just not reaching the 50,000 mark. And if the wannabe-writer takes part in NaNoWriMo publicly, which is kind of in the spirit of the exercise, then they could be facing a distinctly public failure. As someone who tries to keep their writing under wraps, certainly fiction-wise, this is a little bit of a worry. I don’t even make much (or any) fuss about blogging out there in the real world as I don’t want to become one of those writing/blogging bores you get at social occasions who think their dinky little site is Really Interesting. I know this place isn’t, so I don’t go on about it, and I like it that way.
Anyway, I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, failure. Even if you reach the 50,000 milestone, there is a good chance that those 50,000 words are going to be a pretty gruesome read. The onus is very much on quantity over quality, getting something done rather than just thinking about it. But what if you complete 50,000 words and realise you really didn’t have that novel in you? That no amount of editing will be able to save it? It is enough to make you fall back into the comforting arms of procrastination.
So, knowing the potential pitfalls for my ego, I’m still mulling over whether to take part or not. There are other considerations to take in too.
Can I really find the time? Am I willing to find the time? Is it fair to other aspects of my life to tap away at an anti-masterpiece?
And what on Earth should I write about? I have a few ideas, and these are ideas I’ve never actually realised on the page, so I wouldn’t be breaking any NaNoWriMo rules. I’m not sure if one of those options, that I’ve spent a little time thinking about, might be more sensible than just sitting down and writing something fresh, or whether I should take the opportunity to let loose whatever is in the darkest recesses of my imagination. And if I can’t decide what to write before I’ve even began, what hope have I of writing 50,000 words in 30 days?
Anyway, enough of my rambling. I suppose if I do decide to take the proverbial plunge then at least you’ll all be spared these ramblings for a month.
So, have any of you out there undertaken the NaNoWriMo challenge in the past? Any budding novelists out there got any tips? Anyone going to take part in NaNoWriMo this year? Thoughts, comments, etc…
Image from the Library of Virginia via Flickr
If you fancy a reading challenge that is a little less daunting, read this post at The Ground Literature. Oh, and apologies for putting you through this ramble when the chances are I’ll decide against getting involved in any real novel writing fun in favour of spending my time posting YouTube videos and lurking on Twitter and generally wasting my time. I annoy myself sometimes.
From my single aborted NaNoWriMo experience, it seems like the 50,000 words in a month is almost anti-literary. The grueling pace doesn’t leave time to edit or ask anyone else whether it’s even good. I know they intended for the month-long process to be a jumping off point where the editing and revision to come later, but I’d much prefer to edit and talk it out as I go along.
I figure it’s more daunting to have 50K words, of which you’re going to have to trash roughly 45K than to to have a decent (if imperfect) foundation.
All of which is my way of saying, thanks for promoting the hypothetical online workshop group.
I can certainly appreciate those reservations. I guess it can be a lot of work for very little tangible reward. Still, the idea of having a novel hidden away in a drawer somewhere is kind of cool, no matter how awful it is.
Perhaps another way to look at it is post-NaNoWriMo the writer has 50,000 words more experience than they had before. Even if the novel itself is terrible, isn’t there a chance that the writer would have improved, and be in a better position to successfully take on less time-bound projects?
Oh, and happy to promote the writing group. I am really looking forward to seeing how it develops.
I appreciate the counterview but I’m still not sold on NaNoWriMo. In baseball terms (I’m big into baseball these days), I view NaNoWriMo like a fungo drill, tossing the ball into the air and hitting it yourself, where sure you get some practice and maybe some familiarity with pen to paper (or bat to ball), but I’m not convinced that the skills will translate to anything meaningful.
That said, I could see NaNoWriMo providing something akin to when I heard Philip Roth talk about a “vomit draft” in an interview, where he just needs to spew the novel idea onto paper and the revisions come later. But then, the Roth interview was in support of The Humbling, the most unintentionally hilarious novel I’ve ever read.
And I’m looking forward to the writing group too. Do you know anyone who might be interested? Pass it on. I got more responses than I thought I would but I still want to get maybe 3-4 more members.
I think that is a fair take on NaNoWriMo. I guess having a daily motivation to write still makes it appealing, plus I’m aiming to publish a novel where the quote on the cover says “Unintentionally hilarious”.
I’m afraid I don’t really know any budding authors. Maybe some of my semi-regular visitors might read this post in the next few days and will join in…
And I guess I have undersold the motivation aspect. I try to write three or four pages a day, but it’s hard without some sort of deadline breathing down my neck.
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I did this last year and am seriously thinking about doing it again. As someone who tends to write in short bursts and then meticulously edit it was a frightening and at first difficult experience. After a while thought the fact that I had no time to edit was almost liberating and I was surprised about how quickly the words mounted up.
That being said I did wind up with a draft of something that, despite later attentions, is pretty dire. It will never see the light of day, though some bit and pieces have made their way into some of my short fiction. I do think I learned a good deal about trying to write a novel in the process though, at the very least in terms of how I need to plan and actually work.
I know it might not be entirely keeping with the rules, but if I do take part this year I’m going to allow myself more than the bare bones outline on two sheets of A4 I had last year. No writing ahead of time, just a plan to glance at from time to time and ignore completely.
NaNoWriMo is both an uncomfortable mouthful and a terribly blunt and inefficient tool. It’s not completely useless though and even if you do find it doesn’t get the job done it costs nothing to take part and should give you some idea of what you actually need to pull that novel from deep within you rather than just vomiting all over the page.
Recently I decided that if you have readers then you’re definitely entitled to call yourself a writer. You have readers here so you are a writer. whether that means you, or any of us, get to expunge that lost novel within is another matter, sadly.
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