Monday, November 22, 2021

In Defense of NaNoWriMo

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Howdy, cats and kittens!  I hope you're all doing well and will forgive me for being brief this month.  I have, amongst everything else going on in my life, a house to buy in a little under a month's time.  If you haven't gone house hunting in COVID times, then I do not recommend it.  I could write an entire post on what a nightmare that's been.

Instead, though, I want to write about the other massive thing that's taking up all of my time this month:


Now, like I said, I'll try to be quick here, not the least of reasons for which being that I still have to go write my words for the day.  This year I'm writing a piece I'm very excited about, my first horror novel to feature no speculative fiction elements, in the vein of Kristopher Triana's excellent and appropriately brutal novel FULL BRUTAL.  I'd like to call mine THE FORBEARANCE OF REPTILES because I'm a pompous nerd, but I can't shake the feeling that since it's about the main character being cancelled online (to the extreme!) that it will end up being called something like CANCELLED!  So for now I'm splitting the difference and giving it a Vonnegut-style dual title.  Here's the cover I dummied up:

And this month has been as close to a steady output as I usually come in these things.  I shot for two thousands words a day, and with a few exceptions reached that goal, which means I'm on track to finish up on the 24th or 25th.  If you're interested, here's a bar graph of my progress:

Now, if you don't know the basics of NaNo, as one of my friends so cleverly put it some years ago, "Have you ever even been on the internet?"  But, in short, it challenges you to write a complete 50,000 word manuscript, the barest of bare minimums to constitute a novel, in the month of November.

For a while it was a very nice thing that encouraged a lot of people who would otherwise dither to start writing.  It also encouraged a lot of people who thought they could write to shit or get off the pot, and they dutifully got off the pot.  NaNo bred a few great successes, for instance WATER FOR ELEPHANTS.  

Then, like all popular things, the blowback came.  And now it seems to me that even more storied than the tradition of people doing NaNo online is people complaining about NaNo online.  And these complaints usually boil down to a few basic arguments:

"Only a poser would need to have their hand held to actually write."

"Any real writer writes every day anyway so you don't need a special month to do it."

"All it does is make people who can't hang feel bad."

Well, I'm not going to counter any of the straw men I just made up.  I'm just going to tell you what I get out of NaNo instead.

This is the thirteenth year I've done NaNo.  With the exception of EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED, which I wrote before I started doing NaNo, and THE HEMATOPHAGES, which I wrote on a deadline, all of my published novels have been composed, to one degree or another, during NaNo.

I would prefer to write every day of the year, but like most human beings I have peaks and valleys.  I work on my writing career to one degree or another every single day.  But sometimes that just consists of composing some advertising tweets.  A lot of times it's editing, which doesn't really count as "writing."  Sometimes it's writing a blogpost like this one.

What's great about NaNo is it focuses me.  It forces me to put everything else aside and "just write."  And whereas during every other month of the year I will write as much as feels natural, or as much as I can to meet a deadline, and slave over sentences sometimes, or give up when I can't figure out a natural next direction, with NaNo I just have to keep pushing through.

Athletes talk about a "runner's high" after pushing through "the wall."  (Despite all of my years of running in the army, I've still never experienced a runner's high.  But I digress.)  Something akin to a writer's high occurs when you just have to pound out 1700 words a day, rain or shine.  I get into a zone where, since I have to push forward, my brain is solving Gordian knots in ways I never would have thought of under my normal process.  I use turns of phrase that I would never use, because some nonsensical ten word mixed metaphor is another ten words written.  My characters solve problems in ways both delightful and mundane, but certainly never in the perfectly crafted ways I would normally choose.

I don't want to be trite, but when the organizers of NaNo say "magical things happen during NaNo," I can personally attest to it.  I've created some of the most brilliant, searing prose of my career because I had no choice.  One month out of the year I have leave to exult in the simple pleasure of the creative process, without being bogged down by all the ancillary hokum.

And getting the chance to say, "Shit or get off the pot" to the posers is pretty great, too.

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