The negative side of NaNoWriMo

Are you amped up for National Novel Writing Month? Itching to start? Have your plot outlines, your character whatevers, your coloured pens and timelines tacked to the wall? All the research done, your pencils sharpened, alarms set for midnight, 1 November, all stocked up on coffee and chocolate? Lovely. I’m happy to hear it.

But …

Gather round, kidlets. We need to have a little talk about the negative side of NaNoWriMo (NaNo). Let’s just clear this up right away. I love NaNo, but it’s not without its faults. So,¬†for the love of the written word, the muse who brings us here, and every publishers’ sanity, keep a few things in mind.

50 000 words is not a novel
It just scrapes by. These days, people want more bang for their buck, that means more words per novel, not less, and unless you write a spectacular, mind-blowing, life-altering, never-before-seen book, no one’s going to publish it. You can publish it yourself, but don’t be surprised if sales are a little on the low side. True, novellas are published, but rarely – if you don’t have a big name to back it up, you need to write something that’s gonna set off fireworks, and that almost never happens.

Your NaNo novel is a first draft
It is not a marketable book. You can not, must not, should not, submit your first draft to a publisher. Ever! You can not, must not, should not, self publish your first draft. Ever! First drafts are for your eyes only, and maybe a close writing buddy who can offer feedback. For the love of all that is good and right in this world, take some time, put your NaNo novel aside for a month or two and wait. Come back to it with fresh eyes in January, then edit and redraft as needed. I know you probably think you’ve just written an earth-shatteringly good book, but odds are you didn’t. I know, I’ve had those thoughts myself. Looking back, I rather enjoy my naivety and often have a good, long, hard laugh at myself.

What you write in November is a first draft, and given that the rules state you shouldn’t go back and change anything, it’s probably not a very good first draft at that. So please, do us all a favour, don’t publish, or submit to a publisher, your first draft NaNo novel, especially if you’ve never written a novel before November. Publishers and readers will thank you for it.

Writing shouldn’t stop after November
NaNo is great for getting you into a routine of daily writing. Do not stop after November! If you are serious about writing, if it’s your passion, then you have to do it almost every day. There will be days when you won’t write a single word, and that’s okay, but then you do it the next day. There should be more days of writing, than days of not writing.

You make your own rules
Every writer has their own way of doing things, there is no right or wrong way. I have gotten discouraged by other writers, English teachers, seminars, and what have you nots, because they made me feel like I was writing the wrong way. There is no such thing. Yes, stories should follow certain “rules”, and every genre has it’s own rules, it’s important to know what your genre’s rules are, but as for the creative process itself – there are no rules. You do what works for you. Can’t work with a plot outline? Don’t! Can’t work without one? Don’t! Wanna delete those last 15 000 words, because you don’t know what the hell you wrote? Delete them! Wanna write the short story that just got stuck in your head, despite the fact that you are 2000 words behind on your NaNo word count? By Jupiter, sit down and write your short story! Wanna go back and change something, even though the NaNo rules say you shouldn’t? Go back and change it! Do it your own way, write as you always write, don’t change yourself to fit some random rules, someone, somewhere made up. If you try to fit yourself to another writer’s “rules”, you’ll be fucking miserable, and give up anyway.

Technically, according to NaNo, this makes you a rebel. No it doesn’t. It makes you a writer. I swear, all the good writers do it their own way, and don’t pay attention to a bunch of arbitrary rules others made up for whatever reason.

If you’re new to writing, find what works for you – another writer’s magic isn’t going to be your magic. Don’t do it the NaNo way because they say it’s a good idea. It’s not a good idea. In fact, it’s a terrible idea, because it suggests you have to try and fit yourself to a mould, and it will end in tears (yours). Do it your way. If you can’t do it the NaNo way, it doesn’t mean you can’t write, or you’re bad at it, you just need to find your magic.

NaNo can destroy your will to live
If you are not used to the pace of writing 1667 words a day, or you can’t write every day and have to catch up over weekends, or if you sit down and force yourself to work on a piece of writing you don’t wanna work on, or for whatever reason, you just can’t keep up, it can suck the joy right out of writing. Don’t let it get to you. Yes, 50 000 words is the goal, but it’s not the begin-all and end-all of writing. When writing novels, word count is important, but what’s more important is a good story, well crafted plot and engaging characters. Don’t get too hung-up on reaching the finish line. Instead, enjoy yourself, and if you sat down during November and wrote every day, but still fell short, know that you are still a winner – you are writing every day, damn it! That’s wonderful, keep it up!

Go on WriMos. Write! Enjoy your November of writing, but keep in mind that NaNo isn’t that important in the great scheme of things. You are no less of a writer if you miss the ‘deadline’ and you are no more of a writer if you make it. If you don’t participate in NaNo, and look down upon your lofty heights on those of us who do, climb off your perch. If you do participate, and look down from your mountaintop on those who don’t, descend with immediate effect. We are all writers, we all enjoy the craft, and it’s the only thing that matters.

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