I touched on this back on Friday. I know some of you who follow me and drop by are also writers. I have now made my opinion clear:
R. J. Nello (@rjnellowriter) November 02, 2019
Partly it was in response to the likes of this:
Ashley Nicole (@A_Nicole_Writes) November 02, 2019
I could list dozens of similar tweets. This is I suppose my regular yearly post speaking up against “NaNoWriMo.” I do not do it because I get a kick out of being awkward and/or negative, but just because I think that these points need highlighting.
Wikipedia explains what the “National Novel Writing Month” purports to be:
National Novel Writing Month is an annual Internet-based creative writing project that takes place during the month of November. Participants attempt to write a 50,000-word manuscript between November 1 and November 30.
First, I despise the idea of word counts as a “novel writing progress” marker. A word count is really only necessary (to me) for when you are writing a short story for submission and are told by the prospective publisher, say, “No more than 5,000 words.” Then, yes, monitoring words is certainly required.
But for a novel? The number of its words is irrelevant. I never count words.
I just write the book and when I’m about finished I check the general count mostly just to know the broad length. I don’t understand the obsession we see particularly with citing daily word counts; you don’t win some prize for number of words written. It sounds like school: “Write about your summer vacation in 800 words….” And you write anything to hit the magic 800 words… so you can go out and play. If you think writing a novel requires aiming for a daily word count target line, you should probably consider a different line of personal artistic expression: writing a novel is not accountancy.
The writers “join in” the “NaNoWriMo” through its web site:
Writers wishing to participate first register on the project’s website, where they can post profiles and information about their novels, including synopses and excerpts. Word counts are validated on the site, with writers submitting a copy of their novel for automatic counting. Municipal leaders and regional forums help connect local writers, holding writing events and providing encouragement.
Second, I don’t consider novel writing a “group project.” It is intensely personal and is, I think, best done alone. I joked with one writer friend on Insta who said she had tried a variation, called “Camp NaNo,” that novel writing isn’t for a [summer] “camp”; it is an asylum. LOL! Relatedly, nor should you try to measure what you have done against someone’s else’s “word counts” and more importantly vision.
“NaNoWriMo” has five main rules according to Wiki:
1. Writing starts at 12:00: a.m. on November 1 and ends 11:59:59 p.m. on November 30, local time.
2. No one is allowed to start early and the challenge finishes exactly 30 days from that start point.
3. Novels must reach a minimum of 50,000 words before the end of November in order to win.
4. These words can either be a complete novel of 50,000 words or the first 50,000 words of a novel to be completed later.
5. Planning and extensive notes are permitted, but no material written before the November 1 start date can go into the body of the novel.
Third: I have great difficulty believing anyone has actually written an entire 50,000 word novel, or start of a novel, from scratch in this one month period. Yes, there is a list in Wiki of some published titles that “resulted” from it. That said, only real proof would convince me.
And how does anyone actually “prove” when they started or that they had written nothing beforehand? It can’t be done. We are left with taking everyone else at their word that they had not “joined in” with much of a book already written.
Why get uptight about it? I’m not. What I do have is no patience for further misrepresenting to new writers how difficult and all-consuming writing a novel is – those realities already being why the world is full of unfinished novels – in giving out the impression, “Well, you can do one in a month!”
My newly released Tomorrow The Grace is 160,000 words or so – I don’t know the exact number – written mostly over two and a half years. (By “NaNo” standards, I should have been able to churn out a third of that in a month?) The vast majority were typed at my desk alone before or shortly after dawn. The rest were written at nearly all other times and in a variety of locations – including in front of the television, or with Instagram next to me open, or on airplanes, or in airport lounges, or in hotel rooms, or in chalets – here in Britain, in the U.S., in France, and even in Portugal.
Its growing manuscript became a “life companion” of sorts. It was in my Microsoft Surface – and also saved to a “cloud” – and “traveled” along with me wherever I happened to be; I usually had it nearby (or at least I had my phone/tablet, on which I also kept copies) because I never knew when a new idea 💡 might hit me. I’ve lost track of how many times my wife sighed to me, “Oh, you’re here, but you aren’t with me again, I see…”
The tale is the result of not just writing throughout half of 2017, all of 2018, and much of 2019. Like its predecessor (which took 15 months – January 2016 to April 2017 – to write), it stems from decades of reading, education, and life. (Example, this early blog post from February 2014; this site was then only two months old.) They are the kinds of novels I had been vaguely thinking about writing for probably, uh, over twenty-five years. (God, did I just write a quarter of a century? Yikes!)
Producing only a few pages may take me WEEKS. For there is far more to writing than merely piling in words of course. It is also art: it needs an overall style, a tone, to conjure up images in a reader’s mind, an “easy” depth (for instance above you just got a quickly voiced history lesson there) and, most of all, to draw in a reader page after page and encourage them to keep turning pages (or swiping Kindles) because there’s lots more that they don’t want to miss.
Writing a short story in “30 days” is probably not an unreasonable ask. However, writing a novel (meaning at least 40,000 words; below that, it’s a novella really) is a much more complicated undertaking. What you begin today likely won’t see light of completed day for at least a year and probably more.
If you feel you need an online “group project” to motivate yourself and get you focused on writing a novel, bear in mind that in itself may be evidence you as of yet lack the independent personal drive inside to tackle the commitment required to do it. But if you have “joined in,” and especially if you have never attempted to write a novel before, I urge you at minimum to take with a very large grain of salt what others online claim that they are accomplishing. (“It’s Day 3 and I just passed 5,000 words!” – Yeh, I’d like to read those 5,000 words.) Above all, please be careful that you do not allow this
gimmick exercise perhaps to undermine your confidence.
Thus why I do not encourage anyone to do it. I have never participated in it – or in anything like it. I never will.
Have a good what’s left of the weekend. 🙂
Author: “Tomorrow The Grace,” “Conventions: The Garden At Paris,” “Passports,” “Frontiers,” and “Distances.” British Airways frequent flier. Lover of the Catskill Mountains…and the 1700s.