National Novel Writing Month is well under way, and this year I’ve been interacting on social media with it a lot more than previous. Particularly on Twitter. I’ve already shared how much I am helped by @NaNoWordSprints, and I love the community that I find there — lots of random support and willingness to commiserate, cheer, and be silly together.
It’s mostly been a supportive and amazing community, there are even a few lovely people who aren’t participating in NaNo that lend their voices of support. But occasionally there were these other voices that came in. Voices that proclaimed themselves to be “true” writers, who were sick of all the “fakes” and “amateurs” pretending to be writers this month. Some of these individuals do things like pull out their degrees (“I have an MFA”) or their publishing credentials (“I am published with so-and-so,”) as though these were ways to give their words more credence and weight.
Great, I’m proud of you. Really, a Masters Degree is a lot of work (I know, I have an MA myself), and being published is awesome. Congratulations, sincerely. Many of us are aiming for publication and would love to get to where you are. That’s why we’re working on our writing, drafting, editing, revising, rewriting, polishing, submitting… the whole shebang. I’d even bet a great number of us NaNo-ers have MFA’s in Creative writing, or MA’s in some related field, because we are passionate and dedicated to our craft. Heck, some even may have publication credits, because writing is what they do, what they love, and they aren’t afraid of the hard work it takes to get there.
It’s the “holier-than-thou” attitude that always gets me. I just dislike it… a lot. Even more than that, though, is the fact that most of them completely miss the point.
“You can’t write a book in a month.”
Well, actually, you can.
A publishable version of a book, probably not, but I have yet to meet a NaNo participant that doesn’t have plans for a long-road of revising, rewriting and editing to do. Sure, there are probably a great many of people who embark on NaNo that will never finish their work, or who will finish it and never do anything more with it.
I’ve done a bit of that myself. I’ve been involved in NaNo for about 9 years (though my profile proclaims 8…), participated for most of those (I missed 2010 and 2011, and really was just unable to participate beyond the first day in 2013), and have “won” three times. Have any of these been turned into usable novels? Well.. not exactly. But in 2006 I wrote what has been turned into the first section of the novel I am hoping to finish this year (and boy, do I have plans for it). 2008’s “novel” became the base for Disparate Threads, and 2012’s… that too I have plans for, though editing, revising, and completing are first on that list of plans. We’ll see if any of them turn into published novels…. None of them had a reached a conclusion, and a few were just finding their way to the actual story when I hit the end of the month.
But, the reality is that there are NaNo-ers whose work has been published. Independently, as well as by publishing houses. There’s a whole list of them, and I bet there are more that aren’t on the list.
No one (or, okay, very few) think they are going to end a month of frantic writing with a complete, finished, and ready-to-go novel. That’s not the point!
The point is to write that first draft. There are myriads of writers with advice that comes down to the fact that the first draft is not going to be stellar. It might be downright terrible. There will be dropped plot threads, character inconsistencies, and things that just don’t work.
And that’s fine. It’s a draft. But, hey, you wrote it. That puts you leaps and bounds ahead of someone who never puts the ideas on the page.
To me it feels like, somehow, these haters (because I can’t think of another word to describe them) are threatened by all the people writing. Why? Why would you find it necessary to tell all these hundreds of thousands of people (according to their website, 2013 saw 310,000 adults and 89,500 Young Writers.. adn that woudl only be the ones officially participating — I know that some partake in the challenge but never sign up through the website) that what they are doing is somehow wrong? I understand trolling (well, I don’t really, but I understand that it is a thing that people do, for some reason), but I just can’t understand why you would find it necessary to insert yourself into a community just to tell them that they are all wrong. Seems a good way, to me, to get a bunch of people to decide not to read your work. I know that NaNo isn’t for everyone — nor should it be… we all write differently, that’s one of the beauties of the art — there are many ways to go about it. We all find the things that work for us, and do that.
No one is going to force you to participate in NaNoWriMo.
Why I love NaNoWriMo.
NaNo has helped me return to my writing. More than once I have hit a point where I’m not writing (and have a million excuses, sometimes very good ones) not to write. But the idea of getting down 50,000 words in a month, of creating something novel-like, draws me in. I am challenged by myself, and it allows me the freedom to play. To write whatever nonsense and drivel might appear. Buried in that writing is a lot of good stuff — sometimes more good than bad, even!
I have mentioned the community, writers coming together to support one another on our journey, to lend aid. To work together in what is often a very solitary kind of work.
But there is another reason I love NaNo, the reason I will try to do what I can to help support it, fiscally and otherwise, whenever I can.
For a few years I have had to opportunity to run the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program at the Boys and Girls Club where I worked. The Young Writers Program allows the children and teens to set their own word-count goal (providing some guidelines of possible age-appropriate amounts). I was able to order a poster the first year, to track the participants, and got pins and buttons to give out as prizes.
The first year I ran it I was in-charge of the computer room. So the novelists got perks. They got as much screen time as they wanted (as opposed to the hour that the children were normally allowed) as long as they were writing. There were occasional special-snacks for them, and the promise of a party at the end for all who had shown me that they were really trying to write.
Very few of the children and teens who decided to participate were writers to start with. I had a few who loved to create stories, but most of them were lured in by the promise of free-stuff, special food, and a party. But a lot of them ended up sticking with it because they found something new. There were kids in this group who were dealing with some very real, very challenging things in their lives. In and out of foster care, parents in jail or on drugs or both, teenage siblings pregnant, violence in their lives… that time I was able to give them to write, that promise that no one would read what they were writing unless they wanted us to, that freedom to be able to write whatever they wanted without having to worry about spelling, or grammar or punctuation (like they would for school), opened up a world for them. Years later one of the kids I had in that first program came back and she was still writing stories, launched by that first NaNo program I ran.
THAT is what NaNo is about. It’s about giving people the chance to write, granting them permission to put their thoughts and dreams onto the page. It’s a challenge, and an invitation. Some of us may end up doing something with what we write this month, some may not. What does it matter? What matters is we are writing, we are doing something that we love, pushing ourselves, and trying. And maybe, just maybe, someone will discover something about themselves that they didn’t know. Maybe someone will find their way to the story that they have always wanted to tell. Perhaps they will achieve a goal that seemed impossible to them. Maybe they will learn something about their own writing style and method (I certainly have), and find ways to make NaNo work for them to accomplish their goals — goals they may have been striving for regardless.
I’m reminded of some of the controversy a while back about adults reading Young Adult books... and my response to NaNo is similar to that. ANYTHING that gets people reading, in my opinion, is good. Similarly, anything that gets people writing (or engaging in their art, whatever form it may take) is excellent. Writing has been such a great tool for me, a life-saver, a challenge, something that has helped me learn and grow, that I love the idea of others delving into it themselves.
Don’t like NaNo? It doesn’t work for you? That’s fine, don’t participate. I don’t particularly care for (American) football, so I just don’t pay attention to it — I may roll my eyes when it is the only thing on TV, but then I pick up a book, or settle at my computer, and find something else to do with my time.