#NaNoMyWoe

The alternate title considered for this post was #NaNoWhyThough. I’m not trying to troll anyone, nor attack the whole NaNoWriMo project. This is an account of “my personal struggle” with the purpose of the thing.

Chatter on the interwebs suggests that a great many writers/would-be writers find the whole “write 50,000 words in a month” idea at once seductive, useful and motivating. I do not.

The #NaNoWriMo target is a manifestation of that oft repeated and irredeemably obnoxious piece of writerly advice: “Writers write”. This advice is frequently shortened to “Write”.

Is it really that obnoxious? Aside from being facile, self-satisfying and slightly insulting, I think obnoxious is the word. It’s the writing, stupid1. Seriously.

There are too many posts about advice for writers that:

a) state that you can’t tell people how to write, that you need to write to feel/know how to write in your heart, and,

b) insist, sometimes twice, that what you need to do is write

In response, I don’t believe that you can’t tell people how to write.

Most writing, including what little I’ve written, amounts to little more than abject hackery. That’s fine. Most people don’t want to write a dense, difficult novel. Most of us want to write an epic urban fantasy romance between a were-clown and a spaceship2. And you can tell people almost exactly how to do that. Indeed, most writers who earn a crust writing about writing write often about their ebooks and workshops that are selling exactly that. But they tell you that there aren’t shortcuts.

Telling people that “how to write” can’t be gifted to the uninitiated, that there are no shortcuts, seems disingenuous in the extreme.

The reader may be wrong-headed in their belief that “being a writer” is a binary state, that until they write/complete3 a thing, they can’t call themselves a writer4. There’s no excuse for writers, who should know better, to compound that misperception by implying that becoming a writer is a Hero’s Journey™ that involves such trials as “figuring out what kind of writer you are”.

But isn’t “Writers write” that antidote to all that alchemical symbology?

Perhaps, but the motto is also itself a mystical charm. One designed to imbue the act of writing with a undeserved power. To be absolutely clear, I do not believe that writing is inherently good. Yes, you need to write to get better at writing, but the flaws in the idea that you will get better specifically by writing 50k words in a month should be obvious.

If you told me to make 100 chairs in a week, what you would get is maybe 50 rubbish chairs. Crucially, I would have learnt and reinforced bad habits and corner-cutting while improving my ability to make chairs. Perhaps I would be better at making a chair at the end of the week, but I suspect I would get better, faster, with a little more patience, research, and consideration.

This is the central issue I have with NaNoWriMo. I am not writing hundreds of words I am proud of; not even hundreds that will do,  at least as a first draft. Its junk. Not in a “what was I thinking” sense, when reread. Junk. I know it’s junk while I’m writing it. But that’s what matters. 1,667 words a day. Any words, just bash ’em out.

I’ll admit to living out on the far edge of the slow, redraft-as-I-go arm of the writing-style galaxy5, so I find it difficult to write quickly regardless. The target count is just about manageable for me, provided that I do nothing else, but all I am doing is cobbling together rubbish chairs. I’m not thinking. I’m not enjoying the process.

But I am writing. And that’s all that matters…

The second serious objection that I have regarding the #NaNoWriMo thesis is the notion that completing a thing is inherently good or is important; specifically, completing a novel of 50,ooo words is important. Why the obsession with completion?

I suppose it’s technically more useful to a reader to read a complete story, but how can a first draft written at breakneck speed be any kind of complete? What about all the complete sentences, paragraphs, chapters?

I would rather half-complete something I enjoyed writing, to a standard I felt representative of my ability, in a style and tone that felt like me.

But you can! That’s the beauty of NaNoWriMo. Like all the best cults, it can be whatever you want it to be. Whatever you can dream.

The above sentiments are monstrous, but I stand by them. Lack of motivation is such a common, debilitating weakness, and anything that gets one off their “ass” and flexing the willpower muscle must have some value. But NaNoWriMo feels like that workout regime that’s really inefficient, and may even be weakening your joints.

You are writing. You are completing. But at what cost?

I strongly believe that if, at the end of the month, you have written 50k words you are not happy with, the whole thing was a waste of time.

Perhaps for some it would be better to find another model for motivation. Try qualitative targets, or get a spotter for your yarn-gym. Try less Z-grade6 motivational twaddle. Fewer blog posts, for Dickens’s sake7.

Find a way to form a writing habit, starting as small as possible, but make the time regular, and easy to manage. That’s the only way I could manage it, anyway.

Or you could grow a moustache, abstain from alcohol and partake in myriad other lunar projects until you find yourself.

This rant totally counting towards my word count.

  1. Inset James Carville here.
  2. On average.
  3. More on this later in the rant.
  4. For my sins, I subscribe to this belief.
  5. I know, the outer edge of a galaxy’s arm moves faster not slow.
  6. As in bad, not zombie-grade.
  7. Dickens’s? Dickens’?