Monday, October 31, 2011

It's All-NaNos Eve

Since I'm too poor right now to afford candy for the kiddies, I'm celebrating this evening in my own style--sitting here at home, waiting for the clock to strike midnight, and wondering, when it does, what I might put down as the first words to a brand new novel.

And also thinking about this post by a guy named Chuck, who seems to think he has this NaNo thing all figured out, and considers himself an expert on writing.

So, because I have a few hours to spare and need to keep my mind occupied, in rebuttal to many of his points and agreement with some, I will say this:

1) Writing requires writing.

Well, duh. People who endlessly talk about writing aren't writers unless they also put some of those words down on paper, or into a word processing program, or write them in the sand with a stick, or prick their finger and use blood on the wall. Otherwise, they're wannabes.

If you're a wannabe, maybe what you need is a deadline and a whole lot of friendly folks from all over the world to spur you on. If so, you may just need NaNoWriMo.

2) Writing requires finishing.

Who says? I've written many partials. Some are just the beginnings of what may turn out to be full novels, or stories, or non-fiction books. Some of them are just bad ideas that will eventually be trashed (if on paper) or deleted from my hard drive (if on computer).

If you write and don't finish, you're still a writer. You need to finish to publish, at least in most cases. But if you write, you're a writer, and if you don't finish, chances are pretty strong that you've learned something about writing in the meantime.

3) Discipline, With A Capital "Do That Shit Every Day, Son."

Okay, I'll admit that discipline helps. A lot. But is it exactly necessary?

No. I'm about as undisciplined as you can get, and I've still finished one novel, and "won" one NaNo. During the NaNo I won, I got behind on some days, then rushed to catch up. Then got behind again, then another rush.

The tortises win more races, 'tis true, but we hares do win sometimes. (And I am working on more discipline--it's not a bad trait to have!)

4) The magic number is 1666.

Yep. That's the average number of words per day you need to write if you intend to write 50,000 words over a 30 day period.

But it's an arbitrary number, not a magic one. The magic number is actually "1". Don't believe me? Sit down to write a coherent sentence. Start with the first word.

Bet you couldn't stop until the whole sentence is out, now, could you?

The first word of any writing session is always the "magic" one, because it leads to more words.

As for 1666 (or 1667 every third day), the reality is that very few of us are average. Some days, you'll write 5000 words (and those are really magic days for most of us), and some days you'll write none. The trick is to make it all average out. If you write no words for twenty-nine days in a row, and you manage to crank out fifty thousand on day 30, congratulations! You've hit the magic number, too!

5) The Problem With 50,000 Words

Um, he's just plain wrong here. It's true that in some genres, 50,000 words would not be considered a publishable novel. But as Chris Baty points out in No Plot? No Problem!, several well-know works of fiction are about that length, including The Catcher in the Rye (not that this particular book is readable, but it was published and continues to sell well), Of Mice and Men, Brave New World, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Hmm. It seems publishers would disagree with Chuck.

Furthermore, my own personal belief is that as e-books become more and more accepted, the length of novels won't be as important. Publishers of paperbacks don't tend to like books shorter than 90,000 words not because they're inferior, but because consumers are reluctant to shell out ten bucks for a skinny little book, and a thicker book also automatically garners more of the all-important shelf space, making the book more visible to consumers.

As e-book popularity grows, the length of the book will become much less important. E-books are dropping in price, to the point where many are only a buck or two, and folks will shell out two bucks for just about anything. (And if you don't believe me, take a trip to your local dollar store...) And shelf space no longer matters nearly as much as an author's willingness to market the heck out of his or her book.

6) The True Nature of "Finishing"

Actually, the true nature of finishing depends on what your goal is. My goal for the NaNo I actually "won" was to complete 50,000 words of fiction, and to have fun. In that sense, the partial book I wrote is finished. I won't be working on it again. It doesn't have an ending, it's never going to be published, but it is finished. I've let it go.

If you want something more along the lines of a complete novel that's submission-ready, of course you aren't going to be finished at the end of November! You've only just started.

But then, having a submission-ready novel was never the goal of NaNoWriMo, and never will be.

7. Draft Zero

Here, Chucky-boy is just plain silly. No, your NaNoWriMo draft is NOT a zero draft, it's a first draft. The idea that a first draft should be more complete than a NaNo draft is daft, and the fact is that some folks can turn out a very good first draft indeed in thirty days.

8. Quantity Above Quality

This is one of the most misunderstood parts of NaNo. NaNo was not really created for folks who have no trouble sitting down every day and producing two thousand words of high quality work, or even two thousand words of crap.

It works best for those of us whose inner editor is so insistent on "high quality" that no words get written. Ever. Those of us who previously considered a writing session a failure if we didn't turn out a polished, ready-to-submit manuscript with the first draft.

Writing quickly, without regard to quality, bashes down that roadblock of perfectionism, and enables us (and yes, I'm one of those writers) to get the words out.

And when we do, we're often surprised at how good the book we've written really is.

One of the regrets I have with the NaNo I "won" is that I deliberatly wrote a book that by its very nature is unpublishable (because it includes characters and worlds that are the property of other writers). I did it that way because I was in a horrible slump, and realized that the only way I'd get any words written at all was to remove even the possibility of publication.

And what I wrote turned out to have a plot and a theme that was so resonant to me, and writing that in parts was so good, that I might have gone on to do more work on it, if I'd had any chance of publishing it.

But that isn't why I wrote it, and it acheived its purpose by restoring my confidence in my ability to write a good story.

9. Beware "Win" Conditions

I'll just quote him here. I wouldn't have been so crass at the end, but he's right.

If you complete NaNoWriMo, I give you permission to feel like a winner. If you don’t, I do not — repeat, awooga, awooga, do not — give you permission to feel like a loser. This is one of the perils of the gamification of novel-writing, the belief that by racking up a certain score (word count) in a pre-set time-frame (one month for everybody), you win. And by not doing this, well, fuck you, put another quarter in the machine, dongface.

Every year, I have to reassure people who are afraid to even start that the only losers are the ones who are so afraid they'll fail that they don't even start. If you write one single word more in November than you would have writen without NaNo, you've won. If you made some new friends and had a little fun, you've won.

That's why, when I refer to my official win, I put the word "win" in quotation marks. Because I've won every single year I've entered. November has, for the last seven years, been the most prolific writing month of the year. I expect this pattern of winning to continue.

10) We're Not All Robots Who Follow The Same Pre-Described Program

True enough. NaNo isn't for everyone. What confuses me is this: If NaNo isn't for you, Chuck (and seems from your post that it's not), why are you wasting so much time and energy blogging about it? Spend some time blogging about something you enjoy, for Heaven's sake! Or even (gasp!) writing another novel!

11) November Is A Shitty Month


Excuse us for not all being American, and having Thanksgiving to deal with. Nor does everyone in the world celebrate Christmas with a huge month-long shopping spree.

The point of having it in November, btw, was because it is a crappy month for Americans. The weather's not great, so you don't feel left out by your buddies who are heading off to the beach. You've got so much else to do that time spent alone writing a novel feels more like a treat than torture.

It's all in how you look at things...

12) The Perfect Is The Enemy Of The Good

Right again, of course. That's the whole point of NaNoWriMo right there--to take the pressure of perfection out of the picture, and allow the goodness to happen.

13) Total Suckity-Ass Donkey Crap Is Also The Enemy Of The Good

Not necessarily. Think of your first steps. Not very sturdy, and you fell down a lot.

Or your first printing. Probably didn't look like anything recognizable.

Or your first words--the ones only mom could understand.

But you experimented, and learned, and if you kept practicing, you eventually became able to walk and chew gum at the same time, and print your name so that most folks could read it, and speak in a manner that gets your message across.

Why do we think writing is different? We think that because we've already learned to spell, and write in complete, gramatical sentences, that we should be able to write a decent story.


You have to learn to do it suckily before you learn to do it well. And the writer who tells you that his or her first novel was a runaway success is NOT telling you about the hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of words that were written that will never see the light of day.

I've been writing since I was six years old. Intentionally, and not just for school.

And I'm still learning new skills, and sometimes I write suckily.

But with everything I write, I learn. And the next think I write is less sucky.

So, if NaNoWriMo can teach you anything, it's that you're almost certainly going to write a lot of stuff that sucks before you write anything good. And every NaNo is a step towards being less sucky.

14) You Have Permission To Suck -- Temporarily

Um, just who in Hell's name do you think you are?

First off, no matter what I write, it's not ME that sucks, but my writing. And if I keep writing (with the intent to improve, that is), OF COURSE that sucky writing is going to be only temporary.

But even if I write for my own amusement, and every single thing I write is sucky, your permission matters not at all, sir.

I'm going to skip over the next bunch of points in order to indulge in a bit of a rant.

Most of the folks who do NaNo know what it's all about, and engage in it for the right reasons. But on the Absolute Write boards, and in blogs like this, there are those who think that because it's not for them, it's a useless and even harmful exercise for everyone.

I don't get it. They're ranting about the "rules" of NaNo being too restrictive, and not conducive to good writing, yet the rules they set out for others are far more restrictive and crushing than any of the actual rules of NaNo, which, for the most part, are more along the lines of official suggestions.

And Chris Baty and friends set up the challenge, so they have a right to set out the rules. If you don't like them, that's your perogative, but they do work for most of us who participate, and if they don't work for us, we disregard them. There's even a whole section on the NaNo forum for "rebels," folks who, for one reason or another, find it necessary or desirable to modify the "official" rules.

End of rant, because Chuck's last point is one that needs to be emphasized.

25) November Is Just Your Beginning

Now, for some, it may be the beginning of a life without writing. Been there, done that, may or may not have bought the tee shirt, but it's not for me. The world can live without my words.

Fair enough. I am not a better person than you because I write, and you are not a better person than me because you don't write.

For those of us who do write, November is also the beginning.

If you get to the end of the month with a manuscript — finished or not — in hand, celebrate. Do a little dance. Eat a microwaved pizza, do a shot of tequila, take off your pants and burn them in the fireplace. And then think, “Tomorrow, I’ve got more to do.” Because this is just the start. I don’t mean that to sound punishing — if it sounds punishing, you shouldn’t be a writer. It should be fucking liberating. It should fill your heart with a flutter of eager wings: “Holy shit! I can do this tomorrow, too! I can do this in December and January and any day of the goddamn week I so choose.” Don’t stop on November 30th. You want to do this thing, do this thing. Your energy and effort can turn NaNoWriMo from a month-long gimmick to a life-long love and possibly even a career. Let this foster in you a love of storytelling made real through discipline — and don’t let that love or that discipline wither on the vine come December 1st.

Those words, I can agree with wholeheartedly. They bring tears to my eyes.

November, each and every November, is the beginning of the rest of my life as a writer. And that, my friends, is why I'm impatiently waiting for midnight. Beginnings are magical times, and the fact that I'm beginning again doesn't take away from the magic, any more than celebrating Christmas or birthdays or the first really warm summer day gets old.

Happy new beginnings, friends, and whatever you do, may you have joy in the task!


Charlotte Jane Ivory said...

Happy All-NaNo's Eve to you too! It's probably already midnight for you (mine was past 14 hours ago) so I hope you've got some good wordage in! I can't wait for tonight. when I finish my nine-to-five job and start my November love affair. Or rather, my November love-hate affair :)

Ruth Cooke said...

Still an hour and forty minutes to go, Charlotte. Argh! I'm running out of ways to keep my eyes open. Maybe I'll stop trying, and set my alarm for midnight.

I've already thought through my first chapter in my head, and I'm anxious to get it on paper.

ellastasia said...

Dongface is the best. When I "won" nano in '09, I did about 2k words a day for the first week, then it was completely random. And forget about the holidays, though in perfect honesty, it didn't detract too much precious time from finishing up the word count.

I've learned to take Chuck's 25 things lists (and everything else he says for that matter) with a grain of salt. He's entertaining but er, yes, he's more of a screenwriter than a 90k+ word novelist.

1 hour left for me, but even then, I'm not going to stress a whole lot. At 1667 words a day, if I get 5k done in one night, then I've gained around 3 days, right? Haha well good luck!!!

Ruth Cooke said...

That's how I did it when I won--I had a couple of days when I hunkered down and did 5K, and the rest was really uneven.