An avid reader calls it as she sees it on books, publishing and the written word in general.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo

NoNaWriMo, for those people living on a distant planet, stands for “National Novel Writing Month”. It takes place in November and the idea is to write the first draft of a 50,000-word novel in a month. It’s rather exciting to think that a book could be written so quickly, and I admit a bit of pondering about whether to participate. But ultimately, I’ve decided against it, for the following reasons.
1.       I don’t like setting myself up for failure.
Sometimes I think half the trick of getting by in this life with a moderate level of contentment is being kind to yourself. I admit to a tendency to self-flagellation where I do something wrong, or fail to meet a target. In the lovely Tania Kindersley’s example of forgetting that I’ve met someone before, I’d be mentally kicking myself for days for being so stupid.
I wonder if it’s a particularly female thing. Men don’t seem to have those critical inner voices. At any rate, I’ve decided being kind to myself means allowing myself to fail, but not setting myself unnecessarily up for failure. It’s the beginning of summer, Christmas is coming and there are Christmas parties on the horizon, and gifts to make and buy. There’s no way I can write a 50,000 word novel while doing all of that as well. Which brings me to the second reason:
2.       Writing is not the most important thing in my life.
It’s a kind of heresy in writing circles, I know. We’re all supposed to say that writing is our number 1 priority, and that’s what splits the hopeful amateurs from those who will one day be published. Well, it’s not true for me and I suspect it’s not true for a number of others who don’t dare admit it. My writing doesn’t pay the bills – my job does, so that comes first. I’m not going to neglect my family and friends for my writing because they are a higher priority.
Perhaps this means my novel will take longer to finish (seems highly likely at this point). Perhaps it means I’ll never be published, but I can live with that. Once you admit that to yourself, you actually get back to the essence of why you write, which is:
3.       Er…isn’t this supposed to be fun?

Okay, I know it’s not supposed to be fun-fun, like eating an icecream. But fundamentally, don’t we all write because at some basic level, we enjoy it? And this is partly where I think NaNoWriMo misses the point. There’s too much emphasis on publication and not enough on enjoyment. Sure, we all need a kick up the bum now and then or we’d never do anything, but too much kicking and we’re likely to find sitting down at the computer a drag. That’s one reason I try not to force myself to write, to obsess over daily word counts – I don’t want to lose that previous enjoyment. If I’m not enjoying myself, I suspect the reader won’t be either.

I wish the NaNoWriMo-ers all the best, and I admire their dedication. However my gut tells me that like everything in life, good things take time. I’ve been working on my novel for a year now and I think I’ll need at least another six months, maybe more. It’s a sad truth far removed from the dazzling NaNoWriMo concept, but it’s what works for me and that’s the most important thing.

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