NaNoWriMo 2011 (or not, as the case may be)

After some thought I’ve decided not to commit to doing NaNoWriMo this year. I have John Ayliff to thank for the conversation that set me thinking – and for keeping me company in the NaNo conscientious objectors’ corner too…

The pros and cons of NaNo are many and various. A month-long furore of writing would have left me with a comfortable bulk of words on my next project (whose working title is Bone Mare, incidentally) and a good idea of how the thing was coming together. But past experience tells me that doing NaNo when you haven’t had the luxury of time to plan in detail and get your imagination well-fuelled is a good way to run out of steam six pages into Chapter Two. And it has to be said that I lost most of October to one thing and another. Flu, changing my working hours and general background stress have left me with only the vaguest outline for a book.

Then there’s the time and energy involved in writing 1800 words a day. I’ll admit that this year has not been one of my best – I have some very demanding things going on in my personal life and getting the Topside Press story out of the door was about my limit, I think. But I’m also enough of a perfectionist in writing that I don’t want to spend time on producing 1800 words of completely unredeemable rubbish. First-draft rubbish, maybe, peppered with my stalwart companions “FIXME” and “________”, but that’s different to disposable words.  I enjoy craftsmanship – I like to take time, think about my vocabulary choices, polish and construct.  The NaNo trick of gaming the system for word count – using tricks like removing hyphenation and expanding contractions, for example – has always been alien to my understanding of writing; I see it as a process of exploring my own creative response and teasing out the story that wants to be told, not a contest directed at beating some external goal. Deadlines get me motivated, but the more I think about NaNo the more I think it’s actually aimed at providing a kind of writing support I don’t need.

If I were the kind of writer who freezes up in front of a blank page and needs the pressure to perform taken off, then I think NaNo would help a lot. However, I’m actually a more meditative, internally-motivated person, on top of which performing is what I love best. I have and rejoice in high standards for my own writing, but NaNo effectively asks me to compromise those for the sake of “having fun”. Contradiction explained. Do I need a prompt to get me started, hell yes – I’m as lazy as the next wannabe – but is NaNo the right one for me this time? Perhaps not.

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One thought on “NaNoWriMo 2011 (or not, as the case may be)

  1. Sinnyo says:

    Interesting. Similar thoughts came to my mind pretty early on, too. I only decided to give it a try the day before NaNo began, falling back upon a few instances where I’d wondered about the plot of some games I’m writing. In a simple sense, NaNoWriMo is my excuse to act upon those wishes, that “I should try writing this down some day”.

    I don’t put great value in the word count challenge either, though my thoughts on the matter are quite contradictory. On the one hand, I relish the chance to shoot for what is quite a well-known goal. NaNo has a community about it, and quite a few people outside of it are aware of what the challenge asks. To meet that challenge would be a boon, proving to myself and others that I can plot and deliver on a creative target.

    On the other hand, it is somewhat of a misleading challenge. The task is not to write a good story, but a 50,000-word long one. This can make it more inclusive to some people, since even the least imaginative of writers might be encouraged to finish. That’s not why I’m doing it, though. I, like you, want to write something good, and NaNoWriMo has really only given me the initial spark of enthusiasm to even get started. I have no idea if I’ll complete the word count, as I’m behind on it already, and to fail that word challenge means the creative worth of whatever I’ve done might somehow lose its shine. Shallow thinking lays down that road.

    I suppose that at the end of the day, I look rather positively upon the fact this got me writing. I’ve never attempted even a short story before, but the process has ignited my imagination at a time when I was running out of things to do. I’ve taken a conscious decision to work on a project I already outlined – not as a book, but as a game. That way, no matter what the outcome I will at last have progressed with my game world. It would be nice if I got a book out of it as well – and nicer again if I can pass the NaNo challenge as well – but “the play’s the thing”. I suppose we just have to be careful in case the challenge serves only as a distraction. Fair play to you.

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