Happy November, writers, aspiring writers, and particularly participants of NaNoWriMo. For those who haven’t heard of it, NaNo is a month-long challenge to write 50,000 words in a month. Technically, the challenge is to write a novel, but people use it for plays, scripts, short story collections, non-fiction, therapeutic journaling and any other sort of writing imaginable. It’s often called a competition, but it’s really only a competition with yourself. Everyone who successfully writes 50,000 words wins.
There is some controversy over whether or not NaNo is a good thing, as some people think that training people to write quickly takes away from their ability to write well. I don’t agree at all. Most writers work in three steps; pre-writing, drafting, and editing. For some, pre-writing or editing are abbreviated steps, but no writer can avoid the drafting stage. If somebody had figured out a way to do it, we all would, because drafting is terrifying. It is the moment when the perfect, beautiful message you had in your head turns into reality, and that reality is never, ever as good as you thought it would be. Which is entirely all right, because the draft isn’t the book.
All art comes in three steps. First, the artist comes up with some idea, a message or aesthetic experience that they want to convey to an audience, along with a sense of how they will achieve that in a unique or interesting way. Second, they procure unformed materials that they can turn into their work of art. Third, they make the materials into the art. Now, for most artists, the second step is the easiest. Dancers are born with their bodies. Singers have their voices. Musicians have their instruments. Paint, canvas, clay, wood, yarn, fabric, beads, and most other supplies can be bought at a craft store. Writers don’t start with any materials, just blank screen, or blank paper, and a conspicuous absence of art. They have to do the bulk of their work in step two, creating their medium from nothing.
They shouldn’t be frustrated, any more than a sculptor is frustrated when they come home from the store and see that all they have to show for the trip is a lump of formless clay. On the other hand, the sculptor only had to take a trip to a store. They can get right to the fun process of editing the clay into what they want. By the time a writer has gotten to the point where they can even begin editing, they have worked for months, sometimes even years. To go through that much work, and only have formless clay to show for it, leaves the writer feeling like they might not have accomplished anything at all.
NaNoWriMo works well for me because it reminds me that a high word count is, in and of itself, an accomplishment. It also helped me get into the habit of writing large chunks every day. Every year I have done it, for several months afterwards I have felt the itch to keep producing words at that level. It was after I started NaNo that I began finishing first drafts of novels and novellas, and not only during November. I stopped giving up on projects halfway through.
So, as is fairly apparent from this post, I’m doing NaNo again this year. I didn’t want to get behind on this blog, though, so I’ve pre-written some posts, all on the theme of writers and the writing process. I’m calling them the Novel-vember posts, because I am a dork.
Best of luck to any fellow NaNo-ers out there. Have fun building your own lump of clay!