There are two fairly tired myths/criticisms of NaNoWriMo and I often see them trotted out regularly at this time of year, usually by people who a) don’t GET NaNoWriMo and b) are offering them as reasons for why they don’t want to play.
The first myth is that there’s no point in writing a ms that’s 50,000 words long, because it’s an unsaleable length. The second myth is that no one writing 50,000 in a month can produce anything that’s actually any good.
My first response actually addresses both of these myths. Nano is not about producing a hot-off-the-presses-ready-to-submit novel. It is about writing a FIRST DRAFT. (or as Justine recently reminded us, a zero draft) First/zero drafts can take many forms. They can be skeletal novels that get fleshed out later. They can be rough-as-guts. They can be crap. As Maureen tells us: embrace the suckmonster. It’s okay. Because your zero draft can also be awesome, and there is absolutely nothing about writing fast that automatically makes a draft/manuscript crap.
[A book's true awesomeness requires a lot of post-November editing and reworking to show it to best advantage, and I do weep a little for those agents who get flooded with unedited Nano manuscripts on December 1st. That's just nasty]
Also it’s worth noting that there are various kinds of books which can in fact be complete at 50,000. Children’s, YA and romance, for instance, can easily run to that length. Many Nano-ites writing in less short-novel-friendly genres like to get around this issue by using NaNoWriMo to add 50,000 words to an existing manuscript (as I did last year), or to write the first 50,000 words and continue in December, possibly at a less breakneck pace. For some reason, the former is not considered “real” NaNoWriMo while the latter is. But everyone is welcome to the party.
That’s the first myth out of the way. Now for the second, which is quite simply wrong. A lot of sarcastic eyebrows get raised at NaNoWriMo. The assumption from outsiders is that this is a whole bunch of amateurs looking for a shortcut to a novelist’s career, and that all 100,000 of them are producing crap which will never amount to anything. Truthfully, a lot of crap is going to be written this month. Some produced by people wanting to tick ‘write a novel’ off their life list. Some from people just wanting to knock 50,000 words off the million words of crap they’re supposed to produce before they can be any good at writers. Some manuscripts will be shoved under the bed (or into the Do Not Disturb folder) and never looked at again. Some manuscripts will be emailed directly to an agent, long before it’s ready to be seen (seriously, don’t do this). Some are just being written for the sake of writing them – because NaNoWriMo is a party in your computer, and it’s sad not to play.
Some Nano manuscripts will be the cornerstone for something publishable. Some will go on to be edited and polished and turned into something of professional quality. Some (admittedly a small number) will sell. Some may have already sold, in fact. (I used last year’s Nano to complete the first draft a manuscript I had already signed a contract on, and am using this year’s to get down the first 50K of another pre-sold book)
The main thing about writing is that the speed at which you produce the words (and in fact the effort it takes to produce the words) has little to no effect on the end result. There’s no such thing as ‘too fast’ when it comes to writing. Some writers work slow, producing polished first drafts. Some work fast, and take several more passes before the manuscript is ready. Some write for twenty minutes a day, some for two hours a day, some for eight hours a day. Many professional writers produce more than the Nano daily word count (1667) every single day. Some of them work at a pace that leaves the 100,000 Nano-ites in the dust. And in fact, many of the people participating in NaNoWriMo this and every year are experienced, professional writers. It’s very likely that what the experienced writers produce will be potentially publishable, just as it’s likely that most of the first novels written during this Nano will probably not be publishable. (Very few first novels are publishable, but that’s true whether they are written over five years or in one month) Some people who are doing Nano for the third or fourth or fifth time are doing exactly what they need to in order to make it as writers. They are practicing.
Nano is not for everyone. Some people can’t write that way. Nano could well blow out the brains of many writers, and would certainly not bring out the best work in others, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend that anyone who already knows they hate writing fast first drafts should feel obliged to participate. But if you’re not sure what kind of writer you are, a blurter or a planner, a sprinter or a marathon stroller, Nano is definitely an efficient way to find out.
Glenda Larke and Jennifer Crusie are among the pro writers giving a whirl this year. So Nano-ites, take heed! Next time someone tells you that your November activity of choice is pointless, remember that you’re in good company.
For the record, if you need an excuse not to participate in NaNoWriMo (other than ‘I don’t want to’ which is, let’s face it, perfectly reasonable) then rather than belittling the efforts of those who do choose to take part, consider just saying: “No way, you people are crazy.” Nano-ites adore being told how crazy they are. It’s a point of pride.
I love being part of NaNoWriMo. It’s like one giant month-long flashmob of creative insanity. It is inspiring and enervating. It’s the month when it’s most fun to be a writer.