I admit, I’m having an incredible amount of fun with NaNoWriMo. It was only two or three weeks ago that I was feeling very derisive and smug. Ha! I thought. NaNoWriMo. That’s every month for me! So, that’s a very short turnaround. But then, writers can be fickle.
Truth to tell, NaNoWriMo inspires a lot of strong emotions, and you may be hearing contradictory messages about whether it’s a good or bad thing. So I’m taking some time when I really should be finishing my manuscript (due for professional critique by December 20th) to tell you a bit about my experiences.
As with any other writing tool, part of NaNoWriMo is about choosing what works for you–very rarely do all of the rules work for anyone. Rules I am breaking include: starting a new piece in November (I was many months of planning and a few thousand words in at the start of the month, so November is about me getting down a middle 50k of words), writing without editing, and probably others I have not read all the way through.
The ideal of the program is to get things down on paper (or word processor) without letting that little downer voice in your head, well…get you down. This is, on the one hand, a very fine plan. I have never seen a quote from a career novelist to the effect of, “I like my first drafts.” A first draft is the exhausting process of flailing around with words until you find one gem of a sentence, and then starting all over again. A lot of it will be crap. A great deal of it will seem almost right, and your inability to find the right words will drive you crazy. So “just write and write and write and write” is a very good starting point. You may (and in fact, probably will) stumble across some incredibly cool plot point or turn of phrase, but at the very least, you’ll learn things about writing that you can only learn from experience. This brings us to our first point: No time spent writing is wasted.
However, the imperative to write must balance with good storytelling. Venturing forward with a gaping plot hole in my wake feels like walking on rotten floor boards: eventually, everything will come tumbling down. A poorly-written passage may nag at you. Do not honor the mandate of, “write in November, edit later” above the mandate of storytelling. If you want to edit something, go right ahead. Just avoid Perpetual Revision Land, where you obsess over the same five passages, continue to hate them, and get nothing else done. It’s bleak in Perpetual Revision Land. No one likes it there. The problem is, it’s surprisingly difficult to extricate yourself once you get there. Remind yourself frequently that when the first draft is completely finished, you may have new ideas about how to edit these pieces. So point the second: Edit, but don’t obsess (yet).
An unexpectedly cool part of NaNoWriMo for me was the community aspect. Many writers, myself included, can be solitary people by nature. NaNoWriMo gives you a group of people cheering you on, offering advice and encouragement when you get stuck, and in general, being passionate about writing. This can be very heartening. Point the third: A good writing community is gold.
The fourth point is so important that it comes at the start of the paragraph: Write. Write joyfully, write with meaning, write when you don’t want to write, carve out time to write.
So should you do NaNoWriMo? If it helps you write, sure. Just have fun with it.