National Nobodies Writing What?

8 Nov

snoopywriting

It’s National Novel Writing Month

This is an annual event in which people are encouraged to write 50,000 words in a month. It is tremendous fun and the community that has built up around it is amazing. Millions participate. The discussion forums are filled with writers at all hours of the day and night discussing everything from the intricacies of characterization and plotting, to tips and tricks for motivating the muse.

Did I mention that it’s a community? Did I mention that it’s fun?

I try to participate every year. The most I’ve ever managed to write is 28,000 words. Last year I wrote 1,167 words on the first day and never wrote again after that. Life got in the way, like it always does.

Sometime this summer, when I started getting NaNoWriMo emails again, I debated even thinking about participating. There are pros and cons to participating. It is, after all, in November. The Worst Possible Month Ever. There many naysayers, among the people I know, and among actual writers.

Some people I know say I’m too busy, or I have kids, or papers to grade, or scholarship to publish, or whatever. I get made fun of for various reasons. “Well, if you have time to write a novel…”

“Real writers” don’t like NaNoWriMo at all. They don’t like the idea of the rabble getting their grimy hands all over Art and Literature.

The Naysayers say that the poor literary agents and junior editors are inundated with crap on December 1st because the participants are apparently too stupid to either revise their novels or submit them properly. However I’ve discussed with this agents and editors I follow on Twitter and they say they don’t get more submissions than usual after NaNoWriMo.

The Naysayers say that real novels are longer than 50,000 words. While it’s true true that most novels average 60,000-120,000 words in length, most people I know who write a novel during NaNoWriMo either write more than 50,000 words the first time around, or they revise their first draft and add much more after NaNoWriMo.

But just for the sake of argument, here are some novels that are 50,000 words or less:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (46,333 words)
  • The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (52,000 words)
  • The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (50,776 words)
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (50,061 words)
  • Lost Horizon by James Hilton
  • Shattered by Dean Koontz
  • Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
  • The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (56,695 words)

Finally, the Naysayers say that NaNoWriMo produces bad writers. Really? Really? Since when does writing make you a bad writer? One of the things that I struggle with as a writer and writing teacher is convincing people that the only way to get better at writing is to write, and to write a Shit Ton.

I read one snarky blog recently in which the writer said, “How would you feel if it were National Symphony Writing Month? Write a symphony in a month! Well, it can’t be done, and I hate the fact that people think anyone can write a novel.”

OK, let me rain on the parade of the Delicate Genius. Sorry, but anyone can write a novel. And also? Anyone can write a symphony. Sure, it takes skill. Tremendous skill. And it take practice. But musicians don’t sit around writing symphonies. They do scales. They practice pieces. For hours and hours and hours and days and months and years. Good writers do the same thing.

People worry that writing 50,000 words in a month produces bad writing. I actually used to think this was the case myself, and I think it’s something that has held me back from finishing. However, once I actually started writing I came to realize that my real problem has been writing too slow, not writing too fast.

I tend to need a warm-up period, in which my writing comes out creaky and slow and pretty bad. This can go on for as much as 1,000-2,000 words. So if I’m only writing 500-1000 words each day, my usual pace, I never break past that point, and I’m chronically dissatisfied with my writing.

This time around I began writing furiously fast right from the beginning, my word count climbing at an alarmingly fast rate. I noticed something happens around 1,500-2,000 words. My writing gets better. Sometimes it even gets pretty good. I’ve written a few startling paragraphs that have blown me away. I believe I’ve taken my writing to a new level.

Another thing is that I’ve never written every day, for so many consecutive days in a row. I’m hoping to carry this habit into December and beyond. In fact, I’ve created a writing chain, and I don’t plan on breaking it.

I take comfort from knowing that Water for Elephants and The Night Circus are two examples critically acclaimed, best-selling novels written during NaNoWriMo. They also happen to be two of my favorite novels.

For people who think I should be using my time more productively, I would tell you two things. The first is that this is not time I would normally be using to do real work, or socializing with neglected friends and family members, or being a better mother. This is time that would normally be spent surfing the internet or watching television.

The other thing is that I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember. I clearly remember being seven and wanting to be a writer. Writing is fully and completely part of who I am. Everyone who knows me well knows this about me. It’s a dream. A dream. If you don’t think I should be grabbing at it with every fiber of my being, I’m not sure I want to know you.

Finally, the real reason I started writing with a vengeance this time around is that my characters, the ones who have been living inside my head for a long time, showed up at my door one night carrying pitchforks and demanding to be set free.

So I write. And write. And write. I’m at 19,055/50,000 words. I’m supposed to have around 11,000 as of today. So you can see that it’s going quite well. So far. Knock on 1,000 planks of wood. I actually anticipate my novel coming in at around 70,000-90,000 words for the first draft.

I will no longer be posting word count updates to Twitter and Facebook, but I will put a word count widget here in the sidebar of my blog, and I will also post updates here from time to time letting you know how it’s going.