Don’t feel bad for not doing NaNoWriMo, okay?

Because I don’t do it either.

For those who think I’m having a stroke and just putting random syllables together, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The idea is that you take the month of November to hitch up your pants, dig in your heels, get down in the trenches, and write a 50,000-word novel (hopefully using significantly less clichéd phrases than I just did).

Or part of a novel. Or a novella. Or whatever you want, really – the idea is that it at least gets you writing, provides you with a community of others who are doing the same, and gives you an incentive/goal/kick in the aforementionedly-hitched-up-pants. Which for many people is a good thing. A great thing, even!

But it’s not for me.

It’s not that I can’t write 50,000 words in a month. I can, and I have. It’s not the speed I prefer to go at, but deadlines are tricky monsters that make you do crazy things you wouldn’t otherwise do (like hole yourself up in your house all summer and consequently forget what the sun looks like). And it’s not that I don’t think goals or target word counts are enemies, either – I keep track of them, and I don’t think it is entirely unreasonable to celebrate with a bag of Pirate’s Booty when such goals are met.

But take this fun idea I’m working on right now, for instance. It may or may not work its way into an actual book (my hard drive is littered with the corpses of “fun ideas”), but I’ve been percolating it for a while now – a few months. Guess how many words I’ve written.

Zero.

Well, technically I’ve written around 2,000, but that was a false start that upon rereading I have declared to be unfit for eyeball consumption. (“This isn’t how teenagers talk! This isn’t how humans talk!”) Other than that, I haven’t written anything at all, because I already know that if I boldly sally forth on this project, these are going to have to be some solid characters. REALLY solid. Like, I-know-what-they-had-for-breakfast-and-how-crispy-the-bacon-was solid.

And that sort of familiarity takes time. I’ve been sitting with these guys for weeks now, getting to know them, having imaginary conversations with them, getting odd stares from people on the subway as my face does weird things. The thing is, I don’t know how late this little cocktail party is going to go. It may end soon, and I’ll be able to jump in and start writing; or it may be a raging all-nighter, and I’ll stumble in sometime in the wee early dawn hours with 37 cents in my pocket and Pirate’s Booty in my hair.

Inspiration is unpredictable, and that’s why NaNoWriMo doesn’t work for me. It may work for you, in which case you’ve got your pencils sharpened and you’re ready to write like mad, and that’s awesome and I wish you the very best of luck, truly. But if it doesn’t, if your pencils are dull and currently being used to keep your hair out of your face: it’s okay. Just don’t do it! Work at your own pace. Don’t be pressured into it because you think that’s the only way you’ll be able to write, or because you want a nifty t-shirt, or because all of your writerly friends are doing it too. (If all your writerly friends jumped off a cliff into a bottomless plot hole, would you do it too?) Because you will just get frustrated and end up sabotaging yourself, and that is not cool, man. NOT COOL.

And just to be clear: I’m not dissing NaNoWriMo or the people who participate in it (of which I know many, and they are lovely and talented) or saying that it’s a bad thing. It is neither good nor bad. It is a tool, and like all tools, you should be the one to decide whether it’s the right one for you. You wouldn’t use a hammer to clean your teeth, nor would you use one of those curly-dentist-picks to build a bookcase. Do it for the right reasons, or don’t do it at all.

So there you have it, my thoughts on NaNoWriMo. Neither an endorsement nor a criticism, but a public service announcement from your friendly neighborhood published author to reassure any writers out there who may feel as though they’re defective for not wanting to participate. It’s all good, kids. I hereby give you permission to forego it, if you so choose. Or if you don’t want to take my word for it, here’s Lenny in his unicorn Halloween costume.

2013-10-30 15.08.31“What she said.”

I will leave you with a wish for a spooky and safe Halloween, and with my early frontrunner for best costume of the day, a man dressed as the Tour de France.

2013-10-31 09.05.20He’s holding a baguette! A BAGUETTE.
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3 comments

  1. I’ve done NaNo the past two years and planned to do it again this year, but with work and trying to write a decent draft of a novel, I just don’t think I have the time to spare on another writing project. I do like how it gets me thinking during the month, though I hate the aftermath of wanting nothing to do with writing for a month or two. DX

    Also, I get bad/too many ideas all through that intense writing process. This is how I’ve ended up with an idea for four different sets of trilogies that are all connected–pretty much a series, but separated by characters, locations, and time periods.

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