Conflicted NaNoWriMo Ramblings


So, I did NaNoWriMo for the first time this year.  That’s “National Novel Writing Month” to the uninitiated or the uninterested. I’ve heard about it and always been a bit sniffy. To be honest, I’m still a bit sniffy about it, not without reason.  But the important thing is that I also rather enjoyed it.

There are a number of reasons I could seriously despise NaNoWriMo and they are pretty solid reasons, I think. Firstly, it gives false hope. Participating in NaNoWriMo does not mean you are a good writer. It doesn’t mean that what you write is in anyway publishable. Yet December sees the ‘self-published’ section of Amazon become flooded with NaNoWriMo ‘winners’ publishing their works.

I don’t think it does the self-publishing market any favours.  It makes the book shelves unnavigable and infinitely more difficult to find quality writing. That’s not to say some of the NaNoWriMo stuff isn’t top quality, but the ratio between quality and suspect is maddeningly poor.

There’s a practical point here, too. Fifty thousand words does not constitute a novel. Most definitions put a novel at between eighty thousand and one hundred and twenty thousand; eighty being considered short.  Less than that is a novella or novelette; more is considered an epic or a saga.

So NaNoWriMo is essentially telling people that they are novelists because they have spewed out nowhere near enough words, with no time to do a second draft, let alone a third, nor to present a fully edited manuscript.  And yet many NaNoWriMo-ers claim themselves to be novelists.

Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely applaud anything that engages people in the creative arts, but, as I said, I think it gives some people false hope. Just because you can type, that doesn’t make you a writer. Well, it doesn’t make you a *good* writer, anyway.

Someone far wiser that I said “Everyone has at least one book in them . . . and in most cases, that’s where it should stay.”

Now, I have serious misgivings about my ‘talent’ as a writer.  I genuinely don’t know if I’m any good at spinning an engaging yarn.  I’ve written for Street Theatre, songs, magazines, radio and countless other media, but not novels. I’ve never had to sustain a tale for so long. I really don’t know if I can do it. Time, I suppose, will tell. That said, I have four on the go now; two vaguely sci-fi, a crime novel and a Lovecraft/Hodgson pastiche.

I do know, though, that the fifty thousand words I spewed over the course of twenty days is, at best, a first draft.  The problem with pumping out that many words without having time to reread and edit is that there will inevitably be repetition or plot holes or things that make no sense as you have for forgotten details from previous chapters; a thousand things . .

I have seen NaNoWriMo winners books on Amazon that are full of such mistakes; poor spelling, nonsensical plots even, god help us, bracketed ‘notes to self’ suggesting that that bit wasn’t good enough and needed rewriting that have been left in! A little self respect and, at the very least, one run through at proof-reading .might help

That said, I’ve enjoyed participating in NaNoWriMo immensely.  Having a target, a deadline, is a surprising joy.  I set out with the intention of blocking out a novel.  Not finishing it, but getting enough of a plot, some good notes, some good scenes, an ending etc., but at no time did I ever think I was going to finish up with a completed novel.  Not in thirty days. A couple of short stories, maybe . . .

But twenty days into the time span allowed, I hit the magickal fifty thousand word mark. I had “won” by virtue of hitting the word count. Not for producing a good novel(la) but for hitting a word count.  

Thing is, I quite like the idea of the first two thirds of the ‘book’ I wrote. The final act, though, is shockingly bad. Pretentious, self-indulgent cock of the highest order. Top quality arse-gravy. If I learned anything from NaNoWriMo, and I did, it’s that I do at least know when I’m writing utter shite.

I wish other people would learn the same.

However pretentious this sounds; however ‘I know better’ I come across as, bear in mind I have edited books for a living. I do know a thing or two.  Just not as an author.  

So, basically, I have eleven months to finish up four novels before the next NaNoWriMo. At the very least, NaNoWriMo is a great tool for focusing the mind; for planning out stories and for that and the aforementioned engaging people in the arts thing. NaNoWriMo is to be applauded for making writing accessible and in that respect I absolutely cannot fault it, particularly as it runs all sorts of literacy campaigns.

But I’m never going to get a coherent novel out in thirty days, however much NaNoWriMo tells me it’s possible.


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