Commentary, Literary

Seven Things I Think About NaNoWriMo

I tried doing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) once. It was in November 2001. I was working on a cheap PC in a tiny apartment in Austin, just off Airport Boulevard. I was using the desk my parents bought me when I was twelve. I didn’t finish that novel for another three years. It never got published. Neither did the next one. The next one got self-published. None of them were NaNoWriMo projects, for the simple reason that it takes me longer than that to write a novel. RAIN ON YOUR WEDDING DAY (which was published in March 2013) was written in two sections, the first half in the summer of 2010 and the second half (after a New Year’s resolution) from January to March 2011. That doesn’t include two years of querying, interspersed with substantial and painful bouts of editing.

I have a very narrow amount of time (from about 10:30 to 11:30 at night, on nights when I’m home) to write anything. That means that my output (which includes blog posts like this one and short stories and making fun of people on Twitter) is, necessarily, narrow. I started my current work-in-progress in (I think) June of this year, and I’ve written only twenty-five thousand words from then to now–more if you count short stories. (This includes two separate vacations where I didn’t write anything except my name on credit card slips.)

Could I ramp up my production, just for November? I mean, sure, I suppose so. I could crank out fifty thousand words, in thirty days, at least in theory. In theory, I could learn to do that thing where you drive your motorcycle off a high ramp and leave your seat while still holding on to the handlebars. In theory, I could think of a better joke than the one where you list all of the silly and impossible things you could do in theory.

Seven things I think about NaNoWriMo:

  1. If NaNoWriMo works for you, let it work for you. If it doesn’t work for you, then it doesn’t work and you shouldn’t worry about it. If you want to try it one time and see if it works for you, it doesn’t hurt.
  2. NaNoWriMo won’t make you a better writer. Only failure and rejection can do that.
  3. NaNoWriMo may make you a more disciplined writer, at least in terms of forcing yourself to sit in your chair and write. But it’s not magic. Like most things involving self-discipline, “it works if you work it.”
  4. NaNoWriMo won’t get you published, especially if you’ve never written a novel before. If you don’t understand that, down deep inside, don’t do it.
  5. I went to Baylor, and one of the sports team slogans they’ve had at Baylor in the past few years is “pressure makes diamonds.” That’s true as far as it goes. Pressure and heat and time make diamonds. Too much pressure, applied the wrong way, makes coal dust. You don’t want coal dust. If you are like me (God help you) you already put a huge amount of pressure on yourself to succeed with your writing. If all NaNoWriMo is going to do is make you put more pressure on yourself for no good reason, then don’t attempt it.
  6. NaNoWriMo is a commitment. There’s nothing wrong with making a commitment, and if you’re able not only to make it but to carry it through, that’s a real positive. But your real commitment is not just to write, not just to finish, but to see the project all the way through until you have your own book in your hands, however that happens. NaNoWriMo is an independent step, not an end in and of itself.