Friday, July 16, 2010

Writers and NaNo

 First and foremost -- NaNo is not for everyone. It just isn't. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to take part in the madness. However, I've been seeing more negative material aimed at NaNo again and much of it based on misunderstandings. I can understand because people who don't take part, and who don't understand the basics, latch onto what they perceive as bad and forget that there might be an upside. That negative material gets spread from place-to-place because people are often quicker to write about a negative than a positive, especially when dealing with something like NaNo, which draws so much attention.

So, let's have a look at it and especially on how it is related to publishing. Sure, there are going to be people who haven't a clue about writing in the real world -- and aren't willing to listen to those of us who tell them that writing the words is the easy part. They don't want to know about editing, reworking poor plots and making their story into something worth reading. That's never going to happen for many of them because they just don't want to work that hard. This isn't a problem unless they convince themselves they need to send their poorly written first draft to some poor publisher or agent. If they self-publish, that's also not a problem because no one has to see it. So really, the trouble is just in a very small percentage of people who are convinced that they've written something worthwhile and send it right off and who believe that they can continue to work in this way all year round and turn out worthy material. They have first drafts and that's good enough because they know they're brilliant.

I've been part of Forward Motion for eleven years and owned it for the last six. Guess what? Those people are out there anyway. I see some of them every year, passing through FM. They are always convinced that their work is done once they have the words written -- whether it took them years or months. And, by the way, you can't judge the first draft by how long it takes to write it. I've seen people who spend years on a first draft and end up with something no better than someone who wrote 50k in one month. I've met people who edit as they go and who still have a lot of work that needs to be done at the end of the manuscript.

Ability to write a good first draft has nothing to do with speed, but rather with the willingness to learn and to practice -- and to understand if you write better if you write slower. That's not always the case. The problem is that there are many who think all they need do is write the words, send out the queries (if they even bother to learn that much about publishing), and publishers will grab up the manuscript. Parts that need fixed? Well that's the editor's job, not the writers -- right? I'm not joking: I've had more than one person tell me that they are not going to do the editor's job for them.

This kind of cluelessness often gathers in NaNo groups because the vast majority of these people have no other link to the writing world. But even so, it's still a very small percentage of the people who take part. Some of them are willing to learn what it takes to write a good book, edit it and present it to a publisher or agent. Others don't want to work that hard, but convince themselves that they're good enough anyway. In other words, they are much like people in the rest of the writing world.

What if someone decides, based on NaNo, that they can write five books in a year and have the work ready for the publisher? Well, that's unfortunate, but wasn't it Holly Lisle -- and long before NaNo -- whose first submission included a statement about turning out a book a month or something along that line? She didn't know any better back then. The same is true of these people. NaNo has nothing to do with it except to gather a lot of those people into one area. In some ways that's good. It's easier to go into the NaNo boards and address all of them. The ones who are willing to learn will actually listen.

Some people write fast first drafts. Most of them are wise enough never to show those first drafts to anyone. That, again, has less to do with NaNo than with the way the person works. After all, there were fast writers long before NaNo began (Rex Stout comes to mind). Editing is harder, longer -- and wonderful. But you can't edit something until you write that first draft, and if NaNo helps some people get a fast first draft to work on, then that's good.

So, what else is good about NaNo?

For many people, it is a push to try something they never thought they would do. A month? They can devote a month to writing and see what they get. NaNo has less pressure from the start because, outside of the word count (and that isn't even pushed -- do the best you can is the real motto), no one is going to tell you what you have to do and how you have to write. You can try it. You might not like it. You might not find a reason to write anything ever again, or you may not write outside of November and NaNoWriMo -- but there's no crime in giving it a try.

For those of us who already write, the lure is something else.

Think of it as a running marathon with thousands of people lined up. Sure, you could be off running by yourself, and maybe that suits you better. Many people find that NaNo is not for them. But for others, including me, there is something wondrous about standing there at the lineup and knowing that you are going to take part in an intellectual game that has spread across the world. Some of the participants will write better than others. Some will write faster than others. That's not the point. Everyone taking part is going to be using their brains, rather than sitting mind-numbed in front of the television or playing some video game. For some part of the day, they are going to have to think about what they're writing, even if that writing is fanfiction or the total silliness of the NaNo dares.

Why would anyone think this is a bad thing? Why would anyone discourage people from taking part in an intellectual marathon just because it doesn't suit them and because it is, really, kind of silly? Yes, there is going to be a lot of bad writing. That isn't going to affect others because the majority of the NaNo people never show their writing to anyone else. The ones who do send the material out are learning, year by year, that it's not a good idea. Some of us try to educate them on the NaNo boards -- much as we do the same thing year-round at places like Forward Motion.

There is another aspect of NaNo that a lot of people just don't understand at all. It's fun. Yes, really -- for some of us it's just plain fun. I try to clear the first week of November of all other work so that I can leap in, devote most of my time to novel and just fly with it. I get to bury myself in the story and not do much more than post word counts. What could be more fun than that? I can't do this kind of stuff year round, so I purposely set aside the time and take part in the November madness.

NaNo is an easy target because it's big, flashy and fun. There are people who don't understand and who just can't see the point. There are others who have become the self-proclaimed Door Guardians of All that is Worthy in Writing who rant and rave about how horrible it is -- as though it's any more their concern than if the person spent their free time in November standing on their head or knitting. If you don't like NaNo and don't want to take part, that's great. You understand what appeals to you and what doesn't. However, don't assume every bad thing in the writing community is the fault of NaNo and that nothing good has ever come of it.

If people can have fun writing, no matter how bad their prose may be, that's a good thing. If they are interested in writing for publication and willing to learn what it takes, all the better. Other than that -- don't worry about it. Encourage the interested people to be wiser. Leave the rest of them to their fun.

(Who has done well at NaNo? Check out the growing list of published work at the bottom of the NaNo FAQ board -- You'll see people published by Warner Books, Pinnacle and more. You'll see big name presses, small press and maybe self-published -- I haven't looked closely).

1 comment:

Live Out Loud said...

Awesome post.

NaNoWriMo is fun - and you do learn about yourself as an author because you are writing! If you really do it, really write 50,000 words in a month, year after year, you learn about your strenghts and weaknesses as a writer, what works and what doesn't work - all of it in a short amount of time because you're forced to.

It's fantastic.

You also learn about yourself as an editor and improve that, too, if you're so inclined.

I want to get published and I hone my craft and there's nothing like that mad November dash to light that fire under me. I know people all around the world are doing this right along with me and I can feel their energy and know I'm contributing to it as well.