Thursday, November 19, 2015

Does the World Need Your Novel?

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, everybody!  I don't know quite how we made it this far into the month of November without discussing this topic, but let me be the first to say to my fellow Boarders, "Nyah, nyah, I got here first so I'm going to talk about it."

And what am I going to talk about?  Why NaNoWriMo of course!  Odds are if you're on the internet this month, and particularly if you read this blog, that you already know what NaNo is.  One anecdote which still makes me chuckle comes from my first year doing NaNo, 2009.  I guess I had finally "come out of the closet" to my friends about being a writer and one of my friends, Linnea, asked if I would be doing NaNo this year.  Her husband, Greg, said, "What's that?"  And Linnea responded, "Greg, haven't you ever been on the internet?"

I guess if we considered it ubiquitous 6 years ago, it may be extraneous of me to explain it to you now, but here goes.  If it sounds like I've just been throwing sets of gibberish letters at you, NaNoWriMo (NaNo for short) is the abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month.

The rules are simple.  In the month of November you must produce a 50,000 word work which you self-certify as a novel.  That's it.

But just as there are only 26 letters with which to make words and 12 pitch classes with which to make music, the permutations of NaNo are infinite.  In theory you should write a steady 1667 words a day to reach your goal of 50,000 words by midnight November 30.  But what if you have an off day, like I did last Friday and only write 800?  What if you're on fire, as you ideally will be more often than not?  I routinely finish NaNo on November 25, and I've often tried to cajole myself into making it NaNoWriFoNi or even NaNoWriWe, but so far it's never panned out.  My ambition never seems to match my capacity.

In the past NaNo's motto has been "Thirty Days of Literary Abandon."  I always liked that motto.  Abandon your inhibitions.  Abandon the editor in your head.  Abandon all the people telling you there's no point in trying to write, or there's no money in writing, or you're no good at it.  Abandon everything but you, the page, and your 26 little buddies.  It's refreshing.  Liberating, even.  I love it.

This year the NaNo motto is "The World Needs Your Novel" which is a very upbeat, albeit not-strictly-necessarily-100%-true motto.  Because the world could get by just fine without you ever publishing a word, no matter who you are.  Yeah, J.K. Rowling or Stephen King could toss in the towel right now, and the world would keep spinning on its axis.  How much moreso is that true for lowly peons and squires like us?

I guess the real question is, "How Much Do You Need Your Novel?"  Because if you need it to be out there you'll write it.  Maybe you'll even take NaNo as an excuse to finally pound it out, or at least get a good start on it.  I'm that kind of person.  I love when NaNo comes around every year because it's an excuse to stop dawdling and finally throw together whatever it is I've been working on or even putting off working on.

Which finally brings me around to the subject of the pooh-poohers.  NaNo is at least as much beloved by its adherents as it is bitterly hated by its non-partisans.  So, you know what, if it's not for you, it's not for you.  No, 50,000 words is not much of a novel.  True, writing fast is not the same as writing well.  And, sure, for pro and semi-pro authors, every month is supposed to be novel writing month.  That's all well and good.  You guys, go have fun being superior somewhere else.

Here's the thing about NaNo, and I apologize if I'm starting to sound like a broken record reiterating this.  It's a chance, even just for 30 days out of every 365 to feel like a part of a community.  It's also a chance to break out of your habits, whatever those are.  Odds are, whoever you are, whatever your method is, however you work, you're not sitting down to pound out 1700 words a day for 30 days straight.

There's a common wisdom amongst sex experts that if you push aside everything else and just force yourself to have sex every day, whether it be for ten days or a hundred, the sex will get better and the couple will come closer.  Because instead of looking for an excuse to not have sex, you're looking for an excuse to do it.  And when you have to do it anyway, no matter what, you're going to relax, you're going to notice technique, you're going to improve.

I feel the same way about NaNo.  It takes me out of my comfort zone.  In the normal course of my life, I ebb and flow.  I dabble on different things.  Sometimes I spend a week working on marketing, then I focus on my writing non-stop for three days, then maybe I edit something else for two weeks, then maybe I put together a custom short for an anthology for a while.  NaNo cuts out all the crap, cuts out all the excuses, cuts straight to the bone of you wrangling with a manuscript and not being able to put it aside.

And inevitably I see results I wasn't expecting.  New paths to explore, new trails to blaze.  Just the other day I wrote an incredibly vividly gruesome scene involving a paper shredder and a coat hanger that had never existed in any other version of this novel, either in my mind or on the page.  And it only came about because I was NaNoing and forcing myself through.

So.  Does the World Need Your Novel?  Or, more importantly, Do You Need Your Novel?


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

I stopped doing NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago, even though I loved participating (although I never won). It hasn't jived with my schedule. This month I'm doing edits and those can't wait. But party on, all your Wrimos. It's a fun time.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

Yeah, a lot of people don't like the schedule. I like it in November since there's basically three holidays (Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving, and Black Friday) and when you work in an office setting rather than retail things are usually slowing down at the end of the year. But that doesn't pan out for everybody/

Brenda St John Brown said...

I get really stressed out if I keep meticulous track of my daily word count, so the one time I tried Nano it was sort of awful. That said, I think the community aspect of it is amazing and I love cheering people on who are part of it. So -- Go, Stephen, Go!!! Also, when you say gruesome on the shudder scale exactly do you mean?

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

Erm, with the possible exception of the scene from THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO where the guy got raped to death by a zombie wrapped in barbed wire, this may be my darkest scene. Oh, no wait. There was the ending of "The New Dark Ages," too. That was pretty dark, too. Let's say third most gruesome scene I've written.

Blogger Template by Designer Blogs