Monday, October 15, 2012

Building a better NaNoWriMo

Good morning everyone. It's October, which means it's practically November, and you know what happens in November -- I spend thirty days decrying the alleged goodness of NaNoWriMo, the month long event that turns people into writers and screeds into manuscripts.

But what if the event was different? What if I were in charge of it, how would it operate? Well, I mean, honestly, I'd do away with it at the first available second, but if I just had to have it, how would it be changed? Let's look at a few changes:

1. I'd remove the false hope that all you need is time, not talent. For too many people, NaNoWriMo is a hopeful time, where they race to smash words next to each other everyday for a month and in the end have a finished product. Not a good product. Not a demonstration of their talent. Not a showing of skill. Just words next to each other, hammered out day after day without too much thought because didn't you know novel-writing is basically a 5k race and it's enough just to finish? The false hope here is deadly, as people start thinking that all you need to write a "perfect" story is thirty days and a box to vomit words into. So the first thing I'd remove is that hope, and point out that writing is a skill and a process, and that writing a draft is PART of the longer series of events.

2. I'd elevate the status of the other parts of the process. Absent in NaNoWriMo are steps like editing and revision and getting unbiased eyes to look critically at your work. Gone are the steps that turn a stack of written pages into a cohesive manuscript, as if they're unimportant. Being that my livelihood is made in those steps, I'd say they're quite important. And they're not easy, but they will make you a better writer (ask anyone who has received editorial feedback).

3. I'd thin the herd. The FAQ for the site even goes so far to say this: "Aiming low is the best way to succeed" Pause here a moment, because that sentence infuriates me more than it should. The problem isn't that people should aim low, that's not the point in pursuing your dreams. You should aim high, but if/when you fall short, it should do two things: a) challenge you to work harder and smarter b) possibly make you readjust your goal. Everyone could use more (a), and in the NaNo case, a lot more people should make use of (b). Not everyone is cut out to be a writer. Not everyone is cut out to be a novelist. It takes talent, skill, time, and discipline (more discipline than 30 days of writing once a year), and the bar is set high so that people who do cross it have really accomplished something, not just churned out 50 shades of fluff and called themselves an accomplished novelist any more than if launching a bottle rocket on the fourth of July makes them a rocket scientist.

Is there anything wrong with spending November writing? No, but why aren't these people doing it during the other eleven months out of the year? If they really want to be writers, why is the rest of the year off-limits for their efforts?

And if you counter all this with "NaNoWriMo is for new writers, not really experienced writers" why teach new writers to aim low, churn out word vomit and not educate them on craft or the other steps in the writing process?

To me NaNoWriMo is not the best route to produce your best work. It won't train you to be better. It won't teach you about rejection or discipline or editing. It is a poor man's accelerated lesson in bad writing habits, and it needs to be changed from the ground up.

Happy writing.