This being November, it's time again for a little exercise in insanity called NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month. To quote their website:
"National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.
Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.
Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly."
I've had a lot of people, especially students, ask what I think about NaNo, and it's this:
I think it's a terrible idea.
Don't get me wrong. There's nothing inherently evil about it. The organizers are very upfront about the fact that since all that matters is output, you'll mostly be producing crap. However, they argue that you'll also produce some pieces of value, and that you'll overcome the mental block that's preventing you from writing a novel. So in theory, come December, you could take a break, look over what you've written, and attack it fresh, keeping the good parts and dumping the junk.
Except I don't believe it actually works that way. I think that unless you are a professional who is doing this on something of a lark, like my friend Joe Konrath, what you'll end up with is 50,000 nigh unusable words and no skill set to improve them.
Look at it this way: would you participate in National House Building Month if you had to live in the result? Of course not, because a house takes care to build. It takes time and skill and forethought and consideration. Could you slap something together in a month? Sure. And in theory, you could come back and fix the leaky roof and sinking basement later.
But the truth is that once you've laid a foundation, even a rotten one, it's hard to change. Moving walls and adding stories isn't easy. And if you're going to take the time to do that part right, why not take the time to do it properly in the first place?
Whenever authors talk about how difficult writing can be, people have an urge to say, "Yeah, but you could be digging ditches." And they're right--being a novelist is a very pleasant way to make a living. But I've dug ditches, and while I'd rather write novels, it's not because it's easier. More rewarding, definitely. But not easier.
If what you want is to spend a month toying with your creativity, then by all means, go with NaNo. It's a charge, I'm sure, and there's a terrific community around it, and when you're done, you'll have the joy of printing out something you've written that's two inches thick. All of which is groovy.
On the other hand, if your goal is to write a novel, then don't kid yourself. A month's worth of coffee and sore fingers ain't going to do it.
But hey, that's just my opinion. Anybody have good luck with NaNoWriMo?