I am constantly surprised (ok, read “annoyed”) by the never ending slamming of the people who participate in NaNoWriMo by writers who, for some reason, feel the need to worry about how the process of writing gets done. Mainly, I don’t understand how it affects anyone else, but then again, I’m a pretty firmly established “live and let live” person. But mostly I think it dismisses the fact that different people have different personalities, different work flow, different writing styles, and that we aren’t all going to do it like Stephen King or James Patterson or anyone else. Not even you.
About ten years ago, as my husband was leaving for the day, I said, “Honey, I’m going to clean out the pantry today, so if you get home and it’s a total disaster, remember, it has to get worse before it gets better.” My intention was to remove everything from the pantry, clean it out, reorganize, throw away expired/stale stuff, maybe use some fancy Rubbermaid containers. But once I got everything out, I thought, “This is really a stupid pantry. The shelves are almost 3′ deep and stuff gets lost, and it could be so much better.” So I got a 3lb hammer and demolished the pantry. I went to Lowes and bought new shelving. I filled nail holes with spackle, painted, installed floor to ceiling 12″ shelving in a U shape that made much more sense, and then put everything back. In one day. Before my husband got home.
This is how my mind works. I am a project person. I loathe doing daily tasks. And I did mean to use that strong of a word. Loathe. I will go in and completely reorganize my office, just don’t ask me to clean it. Ditto my bedroom or any other room in the house. I’d rather go through all my clothes and resort, make a pile for Goodwill, and put up the winter stuff than fold or iron. I have a hard time remembering to take any vitamin or other medication that requires daily doses, for myself or my pets. It’s just how my mind works.
So when I first found out about NaNoWriMo, from reading Chris Baty’s book “No Plot, No Problem,” it wasn’t necessarily the freedom to make a mess that appealed to me (although I struggle with my inner editor as other writers do, and the “permission” to write an entire first draft without editing a single word was a huge thing for me). It was the format. 30 days. That’s it. Get in, get out. Do a project. Done.
The first thing I did was a nonfiction book in May 2011. My husband was working on one also, so we made it our own NaNoFoWriMo month, and reported word counts to each other and kept ourselves on track. It was eye opening – this format works for me. I type fast, think fast, and don’t write until I have a basic outline, so 30 days (or less) is plenty of time. I don’t work outside my home (we have a business and I started a non-profit, but I work from my house, and my last remaining homeschooled child is in the latter years of high school and very self-sufficient), and I can write 3000 words a day in about 2 hours (most days).
When I did the official NaNoWriMo in November, I crossed 50,000 words in 12 days. I finished the novel at 88,651 on the 25th, having taken a couple of days off in the meantime. I didn’t edit as I went, I just wrote. When I printed it out and did a quick edit, I added 3 scenes, and got up over 93,000 words. And it was kind of like reading something written by someone else – because I didn’t edit as I went, it was fresh to me, and, actually, good. I sent it to beta readers (and no, they weren’t relatives), and they loved it. My 3rd query got a request for a full manuscript, and while the agent didn’t think it was in her wheelhouse as far as genre, she asked me to write a novel in a different genre and send it to her. Here’s what she said: “I have to say I’m extremely torn; you are such a good writer, but the story isn’t something I believe is going to work [for me]… please keep me in mind for any other fiction you write. I’d like to keep my eye on you. :-)” In a future email she suggested the romance novel that I just finished in June.
So all that to say – for me (and other “project people” like me), 30 days is plenty of time to write a good novel. Does it need editing? Of course! (Don’t the first drafts that take a year or three?) But just because I write a full length novel (or screenplay) in less than a month doesn’t mean it’s inherently crap. Sure, a lot of NaNo novels are crap. And you know what? Their authors know it. The point of NaNo, contrary to popular belief, is NOT to write a piece of publishable fiction in 30 days. It’s “a global uproariously fun event” to get people writing. That’s all. For a lot of people who do NaNo, it’s the only time of year they write. They don’t claim to be, nor want to be, “authors.” They just enjoy the community, the craziness, and the challenge.
And that’s what the critics seem to miss. It’s fun. Who cares if what you write is ever published… The fun is giving yourself permission to write absolute crap. To tell that inner editor to go jump in the lake. To experience the highs of figuring out a plot problem and the lows of not being able to. Encouraging others who want to give up and celebrating with those who are meeting their goals. It’s about a community of people who want to see their fellow WriMos succeed, even if all that means is 50,000 words of crap. Because that’s 50,000 more words than they had before.
As an introvert, I have often observed the phenomenon of extroverts who believe there’s something wrong with me (and other introverts). If we just got out more, if we just had more friends, if we just… (Introverts, on the other hand, don’t ever seem to tell extroverts that they should do less!) It seems to be the same with those who are so anti-NaNo. If we just took a year (or four) to write our novels, then they’d be good. If we just slooooowwwed down, we’d write masterpieces. Well, to be honest, if I had to take a year to write a novel, it would never get written. I can’t maintain motivation, my train of thought, or carve out that much time. So there would be 3 less novels and 1 less screenplay in the world if I had to do that, and I think that would be too bad.
You might not end up liking my novels. That’s ok. There’s a lot of published stuff out there, even stuff that’s supposed to be wonderful, that I don’t like. But you could not tell me that they’re badly written, or that the plots don’t hang together, or that my historical research is wrong, because whether or not you like them (subjective), objectively those things aren’t true. They are well written. The characters and dialogue are good. The plots hang together. My research is spot-on. And isn’t that the point of writing? To write a story that appeals to at least some people, and that you can be proud of? If I didn’t tell you I wrote them in 3 weeks, you wouldn’t know. And that’s the most telling truth of all.