July 31, 2013

On NaNoWriMo: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

A friend of mine is currently working on revising/editing his first big novel. He's also blogging about it, which means he's sharing the fun with all of us. I invite you to check it out and cheer him on.

But regardless. We got to talking over Twitter, and somehow, NaNoWriMo came up. His response was: "...my concern isn't whether I'll try or not, it's whether the result will be any good."

So let me ask you a question: if you're trying to write a novel in a month, 50,000 words, is the result guaranteed to be good? Well, no. In fact, sometimes it's a total crapshoot.

I've naturally gotten better over the years -- Blue Impulse and Dvorak Classic are both NaNo novels (okay, Camp, but officially), and Steel Angel is as well. I'm currently workshopping my 2011 NaNo with my writing group. But don't ask me about 2007. That novel will basically never see the light of day again. And 2012 has some serious work to be done before it can see the light of day (mostly because it's the sequel to 2011's).

So why do I still do NaNoWriMo if I know I won't get a good result every time? I've mentioned this before: the community.

No matter where you live, there is likely to be a group of people -- PHYSICAL PEOPLE -- near you who will also take part in this November challenge. Official volunteers set up groups and events that you can go to, take your writing apparatus, and sit and write. I should know because I used to be one of these volunteers for five years.

But don't think that all we do is sit and write. A year after I left the Oxford, Ohio NaNoWriMo region, I visited them on a weekend for an event. I brought cookies and smiles, and got yelled at by one of the writers saying everybody had to focus and stay quiet.

I wanted to throw something, but all I did was throw myself out.

The beauty of NaNoWriMo is its ability to take itself seriously and NOT do so at the same time. People come in with varying levels of preparation. I come with my plan, which I'll be detailing when it gets closer to November. Some people come only with their laptops and no idea how they're going to get through the month, but they want to. That's enough to start, but usually not enough to finish with.

This is why I ALWAYS recommend first-timers to go to as many events as possible. Being around other writers is infectious, and plus, it means you inevitable glean ideas for your own manuscripts, NaNo or not. I would recommend going to the events even if you don't 100% know you'll be doing NaNoWriMo. It's good for sitting and writing sprints, but it's also good for your self-esteem. The other writers there are all writing, and it's not a competition to see who does best.

It's like a running race where everybody strives to cross the finish line, and where the racers run back and help support the people behind them. The words "I will not let you have this cookie until you meet quota" are pretty commonplace, but so are "Do you need a hand massage?"

And at the end of the month, you have 50,000 words. Unless you're me, in which case there's usually a bit more. Regardless. 50,000 words. Perhaps they all suck. Perhaps you will delete the file immediately. So what? After 50,000 words, you have a group of people who remembered you did the event and won't forget you're a writer. Some of those people will also be in local writers' groups, which will give you a chance to meet year-round. This happened both in Zanesville (the Y-City Writers) and in NYC (the critique group I mentioned before). And sure, you can join groups year-round, but there is something about November and the frenzy and the tornado that sucks you in.

Besides, man...50,000 words. There's gotta be something good in there SOMEWHERE.

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