Thursday, August 29, 2013

Once might NOT be enough (Nanowrimo, revisited)

I've posted about Nanowrimo before, but not everyone reads all of my posts.  For those who don't know - Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month... although it's international not national, and you don't really end up with a novel. Nanowrimo can be summed up in 4 words...   50k in 30 days  (hmm, is that 4 words or 5?).  The goal is to write 50,000 words of fiction in the time from November 1 through November 30.  There are a huge number of participants, there are very few rules, there is no competition and there are no real 'prizes' in the traditional sense.  Those who run the event are very up-front about the fact that it's not possible to write anything of that length, in that time period, that has any quality to it.  At best, you will end up with something that doesn't even rise to the level of a first draft.

I have been a huge fan of Nanowrimo, and have exerted a lot of time extolling its virtues, as well as energy in trying to encourage others to take part.

Recently, I mentioned Nanowrimo to two gentlemen who are experienced and well-known in the world of digital publishing.   They exchanged looks, noted that they are NOT fans of Nanowrimo, and mentioned their webpage Nanowrimo Nomo!  Now, I don't always agree with these gentlemen, but I have found it's typically worth giving some consideration to their opinions.  So I headed over to their page to see what they had to say.

Hmmm...  turns out they're not really opposed to Nano, rather they're opposed to the concept of doing it multiple times.  They believe that once is enough.  You see - they are assuming that people are taking part in Nano in order to eventually become published authors.  And while there are certainly some who begin writing as Nano participants and end up publishing ...  that is NOT the goal of all the participants. In fact, I daresay that is not the goal of MOST participants.  I'll even go one step further, and suggest that many participants have no intention of publishing - ever.  They're not interested in editing, being critiqued, sharing their writing with the world, going through the effort of either getting an agent, or going the 'indie' route (ie, publishing on their own).

So why do people who do not intend to publish their work, take part in Nano? Well, there are a lot of reasons.  Just as I golfed with no intention of going professional, just as I do ballroom dancing without competing, just as I bake cookies without plans to put out a cookbook, enter a bake-off, or 'sell my wares'..  I take part in Nanowrimo, for the fun of it.  For me, it's exciting to take part in an event that is worldwide.  I like the idea of sharing a goal with hundreds of thousands of people.  I like the opportunity to 'meet' some of those people online.  I like the adrenalin of a deadline that is difficult, but do-able.  And -  I've discovered that I like writing fiction.  As a lawyer I do write every day, and I have a chapter in a published book - "Educating Children After Divorce" (I know.. boring), and I have this blog (hopefully, not boring).  But that's all very different from writing fiction.

But let's get back to the naysayers.  They hold the position that when someone takes part in Nano, that person's ultimate goal is/should be to get their work published.  They feel that Nano encourages people to write like crazy for 30 days, and then do nothing further, until 11 months later when they, again, write like crazy for 30 days... and the naysayers don't like that.  Instead of doing nano year after year, the naysayers think that people should take this habit of writing daily, and continue writing daily throughout the rest of the year.  They then encourage people to take what they've written, and move on through the various phases of editing, as well as designing a cover, putting your book out there for sale, and promoting it.  

Gentlemen, you're missing the point of Nano.  If you go to the nano website, you'll see statements from the Nano people like "Let’s write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together".   You'll see that the Nano people point out there are a lot of different reasons to do Nano, including " the glow from making big, messy art, and watching others make big, messy art, lasts for a long, long time. The act of sustained creation does bizarre, wonderful things to you. It changes the way you read. And changes, a little bit, your sense of self."  They talk about 'art for art's sake', and they talk about 'doing something just for the hell of it'.  Frankly, I would think that those would be concepts that would appeal to you.  And, given those concepts, there's no reason why once should be enough.

As a side note, gentlemen, I think you're also missing the fact that even those who might some day be open to the thought of publication, might not be open to that thought, quite yet.  It might take someone several times of going through the Nano process, before they gain the confidence, the experience, the ability, to write something worthy of editing, and worthy of being published.  And finally, you're ignoring the fact that without ability, I don't care if someone does write everyday, I don't care how many words they write each day, and I don't care how long they do this...  practice does NOT make perfect, and quantity does not equal quality.  Ironically enough, that's related to what I like to think of as the Nanowrimo motto ...  'Our goal is quantity, not quality'.

So, while I enjoy reading what you have to say, and I enjoy watching your podcasts and video chats and HOAs, and I often think you hit the nail on the head... this time, gentlemen, I think you left your hammer at home, and you're trying to hit a dragonfly with your beer mugs.

My goodness, that was far more serious than what I usually do, and it has left me unusually thirsty. Time for another cup of tea!  


  1. Nice defense of a favorite activity!

    "Big Messy Art" is the name of my next rock band. Maybe I'll use Laughably Awful Prose as the title for this year's NaNo. ;-)

  2. I was fairly sure that most people I interacted with on Nano dreamt of being published. Unlike such pastimes as golf it is more difficult to see how bad/good you are at writing, and therefore how realistic/unrealistic the dream might be, but as with competitions - if you don't buy a ticket you can't win. And let's be honest - while bad golfers don't win The Open some published authors write like 24 handicappers. Nano does give encouragement to continue past November - to do something with the big messy art.

    All in all I think I am with the guys - once is a good experience and encouragement to write and provides a good opportunity to meet other writers, but once should be enough for many. In subsequent Nanos the same arguments and discussions are wheeled out on the forums (and generally too seriously - doesn't the serious attitude suggest a serious intent). However, I do appreciate that some people love the communal writing experience and that Nano will mean different things to different people.

    I wouldn't recommend hitting dragonflys with beer mugs - strong likelihood of wasteful spillage.

  3. Although I did self-publish my first NaNo effort, and I was secretly hoping for some sort of JK Rowling success, I never took it all that seriously. I agree that this type of writing forum is valuable. I know that I read much differently now. I can tell when I'm reading a seasoned author versus a first book. In my case, my second effort wasn't as good as the perhaps once should be enough. Then again, not everyone has such a persistent sister in the background with words of encouragement. What I do want to recapture is the feeling of a story taking on a life of it's own and seeing where it takes me.

  4. This is a great post! The goal of NaNo is to... write! A lot. At the same time having a great time with fellow masochists. And after November, well, who knows?