Monday, 29 October 2012

The NaNoWriMo Naysayers

Or NaNOSayErs, I guess...

They come out of the woodwork this time of year, don't they? Far too many (by which I mean 'more than zero') novelist bloggers put out posts saying that NaNo encourages bad writing, mocks the serious business of prose fiction, creates false expectations, blah blah blah.

I think NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty puts it quite nicely in his history of NaNo on the official website:

"Fun was a revelation. Novel-writing, we had discovered, was just like watching TV. You get a bunch of friends together, load up on caffeine and junk food, and stare at a glowing screen for a couple hours. And a story spins itself out in front of you.
I think the scene—full of smack-talk and muffin crumbs on our keyboards—would have rightly horrified professional writers. We had taken the cloistered, agonized novel-writing process and transformed it into something that was half literary marathon and half block party."
The only word in there I disagree with is the 'rightly' before 'horrified professional writers'. I've certainly seen writers, both professional and amateur, actually arguing that writing shouldn't be fun. This is apparently because writing should always be hard work.

These people fail to understand not only fun and hard work, but also writing itself. Yes, writing should be hard, but as the linked post implies, rather like a penis, writing is most fun when it is hard.

And on a more serious note, yes there are times when writing is a slog, when you have to force yourself to crank out another 200 words and it takes an hour or more, but none of this means that writing should never be fun.

Personally, the times when I've worked hardest (and, I should make clear, focussed hardest on the work) at my writing have been the most fun. That's because when I'm working hardest at my writing, I'm being distracted by less and less other stuff, and thus I'm immersing myself much more fully in my stories and their worlds.

And I think immersion is the uniting drive among writers. At base, we're all people who want to live with fictional characters and in fictional worlds (or fictional versions of our own world, which are much the same thing) for part of our lives. In fact, I think it's not just a desire but a need - nothing else explains the devotion that we put into our creations.

Whatever its faults, NaNo is great for immersion. To succeed at NaNo, you need to completely disappear into your own world, to spend your days wrapped up in your characters so that whenever you can grab some keyboard time, they're ready to answer and perform. It forces you to ignore distractions, and thus keeps your writing flowing much more freely.

I actually think that I turn out better first drafts during NaNo than at other times of the year. Why? Because I don't stop every twenty minutes to check Facebook or Twitter, get distracted by something on there and then have to write myself back into the action when I actually get back to writing. Scenes and characterisation flow much better in that kind of context.

All of this is to say nothing of side benefits of NaNo like the opportunity to meet other writers. My long-suffering and saintly beta reader Lynne Hunt is a NaNo buddy, as are a number of my closest friends.

I'm not writing this post because I think NaNo needs defending in and of itself. It's a good time, and substantially less harmful than pretty much any other kind of month-long bender. That needs no defending. But someone seriously needs to shut up the kind of whingy, miserable, short-sighted bloggers who bring up meaningless irrelevancies like the fact that a novel is longer than 50,000 words, or NaNo encouraging bad writing.

NaNo is the most intoxicatingly pure form of the writerly experience that there is. It's not about the result - no first draft is ever much cop - it's about that experience. It's not about what being a career novelist is like, it's about what writing can be like.

Godspeed, NaNoers!


  1. "... Rather like a penis, writing is most fun when it is hard." --> Haha, brilliant! And yes, I totally agree with your post. I think people who say NaNo promotes "bad writing" don't know what they're talking about. If anything, NaNo promotes good writing habits if you ask me. Whenever someone asks me how to finish writing something, I tell them that they just have to crank out a first draft. You're not supposed to think about how good it is; that's what editing is for. Just barf it all out onto paper, and the organization can come later. If you never make your way through that first draft, you'll have nothing to work with. That's what I think is so great about NaNo; it encourages writers to crank out that first draft so that they actually have something down on paper. Sure, it will probably be crap like most first drafts are, but no one writes a perfect book in the first go. Plus, I think writing without inhibitions is what creates the best ideas.

  2. Def. writing is so much fun esp. when the words flow and hours pass in the company of characters with minds of their own:)

  3. Yes, NaNo is all about the experience! No writing endeavor has ever been more beneficial to me! I met fellow writers, learned how to organize my materials to meet a deadline and how to let go and just write already!!

    Wonderful post!! :)

  4. It does get tiresome, all the NaNo-dissing that starts flying around this time of year, doesn't it? And most of the criticism entirely misses the point. It's not like most people expect to crank out a masterpiece in 30 days, any more than someone who immerses themselves in learning French for 30 days would expect to strut out of that experience with a fully developed grasp of vocabulary, grammar and syntax. They'd sure be one heck of a lot farther ahead on that road than when they started, though.

    One of the things the NaNOsayers don't seem to grasp is that many, many, MANY of us simply don't have the luxury of being able to immerse ourselves in our writing for more than a weekend at a time. As you say, when November rolls around, we give ourselves permission--and our families give us permission--to slap on the blinders and ignore all the usual obligations as they pile up in a heap around us. Thirty days of permission to focus. What's so heinous about that?

    Great post, Rik!

  5. What does this person mean "professional writers?" I'm afraid I know. I'm afraid he refers to those us who are career writers, who have editors and deadlines and contracts, and writing is how we pay our bills. (Contrary to what TV and movies portray, and some people seem to believe, we can't afford to lollygag for months on a beach, or run around the world on private yachts, drinking ourselves in oblivion. We have mortgages, and kids in braces, and kids in college. No one is providing us health insurance. We hope we don't get sick.) I am a professional author, but I wasn't always one. It took me a lot of HARD WORK, a lot of persistence, patience, belief in myself when the going got tough. Most of all it took turning a deaf ear to nay-sayers. All of them. If there had been a NaNo when I first started writing, you better believe I'd have jumped on that train before it even got to the station. Good luck, writers, all of you, pros and amateurs. We are in it together. God speed.

  6. I think what I dislike about NaNo is the fact that hordes of preteens/teens use it to slobber all over everyone that they're "writing" a "novel" when in all actuality, they are practicing their writing skills and (hopefully) having fun. It's the pretentious way (some) NaNo folks slap it in their sigs in forums about the 'net and simper on and on about their "book", which is half fan-fiction, half blog, and mostly drivel. Things have their place, and NaNo is about fun (and maybe, once in awhile, sparking some true talent). But when folks turn a deaf ear to you when you say you're a writer because half the world says this because of something like NaNo, then people get annoyed.