Every time November rolls around, I can’t help but begin to sneer at a few things; the cooler weather’s inability to quit ushering in snow and wind and negative temperatures, my inability to physically stay warm for approximately four months despite mountains of blankets and sweaters, everyone else’s inability to stop uttering in their lowered voices the Game of Thrones quote, “Winter is coming,” and my email’s inability to filter out an onslaught of reminders of what is about to happen that month from the National Novel Writing Month squad.
That’s right, writers. You know what November means.
Let me preface this by noting that I am fairly torn about NaNoWriMo as a concept because I really want to love the idea of it. I see the benefit and how it can truly help writers… but we just don’t see eye-to-eye, NaNo and I.
If you’re unfamiliar with what NaNoWriMo is or have never had the pleasure of being a lit theory student trapped in a class with a bunch of professional writing majors who will naturally become blood brothers and complain about whatever they’re forced to write for their professors that week, National Novel Writing Month is an online initiative to get anyone- not only established, published writers- to write whatever novel is trapped in their earthly vessels at the moment. It can be any genre, including fan fiction, which sort of blows my mind, and can be written in any language. You just need to write the first draft of your novel with all revisions and editing TBD at a much later date.
The goal is to reach 50,000 words by the end of November, the approximation NaNo staff created for the length of an average novel (think The Great Gatsby). You give up your entire life for a month to birth this story by November 30th, or else you’ve gotta carry that puppy for a full twelve months and try again next year, except next year it will be full term and the process will be doubly painful.
There are no real prizes for those who reach the 50,000 word goal, but like adults who look back on my generation like to complain, anyone who does complete their goal gets a consolation prize, so everyone is sort of a winner; you can download some type of certificate from NaNo that claims you did what you set out to do.
So why do I lean towards the negative regarding this initiative? I have my own personal reasons that can only apply to myself as a writer. I do not think NaNo is a bad movement or has ulterior motives, but I do think it is worth writers stepping back, particularly at the college level where NaNo is really encouraged, and examining the time and effort that goes into writing a novel in thirty days. If NaNo does work for you and you’ve had some great success with finishing the first draft of your novel, training yourself to write on a daily basis, and accomplishing a personal goal, I’m thrilled. NaNo works.
But NaNo does not work for this chick, and this is why.
One. Creativity Killer
I have been writing fiction since I was in the 4th grade, and when I was in elementary and middle school, I could and did write everyday. As I grew older, got my first job, attempted to survive the throes of high school, and the college game, my writing became more focused for different areas of my life that were no less important than my fiction writing. But since my younger days, I have not consistently sat down and written for hours a day, something that would definitely be necessary for NaNoWriMo.
Though I think every writer inevitably writes something in their own way everyday, sitting down and writing everyday does not work for some people. I am definitely one of those people. Some would argue that it is a lack of discipline whereas I see it entirely as my own style and structure. I view sitting at my desk and pounding away at my keyboard for hours on a draft that will quite likely dramatically change the second I rush into editing one of the most brutal ways to kill any inspiration. It physically hurts me to think about that idea, and it sucks all the joy out of wanting to sit down and write out my novel carefully. There is a pain in my chest and my eyes refuse to stare at the screen, my fingers refusing to touch the keyboard; I do not lie when I say it is a painful experience to force myself to write when the mood is not there, and there is complete devaluation of my personal writing to me, one of the most devastating failures of NaNo. Forcing myself to creatively write just does not work for me.
There is a major difference between being disciplined and forcing people into a mold, and NaNo appears to be all about the latter. Not feeling inspired today? Tough cookies, you’ve got to meet your 2000 daily word limit, so you best get to feelin’ something. To me, NaNo morphs into a numbers game where the goal is only the reach that final number, and I wasn’t an English major and still can’t do geometry for nothing.
Two. The Story is Still Developing
Maybe that puppy is still cooking in there. (Why is everything a puppy in this post?) Maybe you haven’t figured out the beginning or end of the novel or how your characters got to the particularly spot in which they find themselves. Maybe you only have the tiniest flash of an idea of what you want this novel to be about and what it truly means to you to write it for yourself. And maybe this little bit is really all you have to work with, even if it is far from ready.
Well, unfortunately, you don’t have time to figure it out, because the train is leaving the station, and you’re going to be left far behind. A month is only a month which is only a month. Whatever you write during your first draft will likely change anyway, which is, in all fairness, the point of a first draft. But if you’re constantly changing and guessing where you want the novel to ultimately go, it seems so futile to force yourself to write 50,000 words of guesses. If the story isn’t ready to come out yet, it will when it’s good and ready, but at least for me, they’ve never totally shown themselves during National Novel Writing Month. It’s probably for the best.
In addition to not having a story prepared, NaNoWriMo also robs writers the opportunity to research and learn what strategy for planning works best for them. Of course, I suppose you could work on this in the months prior to NaNo; take all of September and October to do your research, make your outline, determine an organization system. But NaNo does not allot for time for this- I believe the first email goes out maybe two weeks prior to November 1st as a sort of reminder to readers that they need to have this on their horizons, but it does not offer time for writers to really take a serious approach to research.
Readers of AIA understand my emphasis on the importance of proper research as well as my background in education. I don’t really care what system works best for you to research, plan, and ultimately write your novel… as long as you have found a strategy that works for you. NaNo robs writers of this opportunity, leaving us with a wifty, incorrect draft that to some would not seem worth the paper it is printed on.
Three. Money Talks
As previously mentioned, I don’t really believe that NaNo has ulterior motives in trying to pursue a strictly financial venture for themselves. To fund an academic campaign such as theirs does require funds, and I do not expect fundraising to be absent from this cause.
But I am alarmed at the sheer amount of emails, website advertisements, and social media posts from NaNo asking for contributions to their campaign. They’re almost on the same level as one of the presidential candidates in raising money to continue fighting the good fight to get people writing one month of the year. Last year, the number of donation requests was mild; this year, it has been incessant. Do I really need to support my writing a novel by buying a NaNo t-shirt? By donating my already limited budget to help fund some message boards for people to harass each other on? (We all see how that works out on YouTube!) Do I want my money being spent on the overhead of NaNo, which in 2014 comprised of 20%, instead of only the 60% that was spent on the actual program? And what results are there to all of this?
I don’t mean to be Grinch-like the month right before the holidays, but it can be difficult to understand the constant berating and demands for donations. If I want to see literacy and writing begin to flourish through contributions, I would rather donate that money to a local library or literacy council that would actually teach someone in my city ultimately how to write a novel instead of allowing those funds to disappear into the great unknown.
NaNoWriMo is not what I would consider an evil enemy. It’s not a mega-corporation that wants to buy out lots of small mom-and-pop stores, work their employees to death, and not offer any benefits while doing so. Great novels can and will be written during the month of November thanks in part to what the initial movement used to be. My fear is that NaNo has grown too much and will continue to grow into the Wal-Mart of writing campaigns and that individuals who choose to participate in this program will not see what they are ultimately being robbed of- the joy, the passion, and the fun of writing.
Currently, the country appears to be more concerned about what is being written on their Starbucks cup than what they themselves are actually writing. So until all this settles down, I’ll be over here, drinking my overpriced coffee from a lovely red cup that I’m just going to throw away in two minutes anyway and working on my novel at my own pace.