Sunday, November 6, 2016

Notes on NaNoWriMo

That’s the acronym for National Novel Writing Month. The goal? “a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.” 

According to Chuck Wendig, this computes to “at least 1,666 words per day over the 30 day period.” And he notes that lots of those words won’t be good, and that a more realistic word count for a novel is 70,000. So what’s the value of this?

Tip: Most writers have bad habits. And most writers benefit from identifying and breaking them.

The majority of writers are serious enough and smart enough to know that novel writing is rarely easy or lucrative. Perhaps they’ve already heard the Ernest Hemingway quote: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

If someone clever and conscientious has critiqued a novelist, then he or she has bravely or miserably learned the truth that “Writing is easy to do, but hard to master.” —  Jeff Goins, “5 Hard Truths about Writing” 

And the solution to “Writing a good book, compared to a bad one, involves one thing. Work.” —Jeff Berkun, “How to Write a Book—the Short Honest Truth”

How does this relate to NaNoWriMo, which involves piling up the words, then revising those words you piled up? Depending on your schedule, writing process, and comfort level, this month offers an opportunity to diagnose habits and decide might change. Recognize any of these?
  • I’m planning. That’s writing.
  • I'm scheduling when I'll write. That’s writing.
  • I’m depressed; I can’t write.
  • I’m ecstatic; I can’t write.
  • I only have two and one-half hours, so there’s no point starting.
  • I can only write if nothing distracts me.
  • I promised I’d write for ninety minutes and I’m already five over. I get to stop.
  • I can only write when I’m inspired.
  • I can only write when I know exactly where the scene is going.
  • I can only write under ideal conditions.
Really? Really? In Marge Piercy’s superb poem, “For the Young Who Want to,” she reminds us that

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

Why not use this month to identify the ways you postpone writing? So you can write more. It’s never relaxing, might even be costly. How many of us applaud our efforts, thinking, “I couldn’t possibly have done better”? Yet, as novelist Chitra Divakaruni put it, “The question is what you would give up for your writing.” Want to use this month to find out?

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