Thursday, October 28, 2010

John's Thoughts about NaNoWriMo, and NaNoWriMo John-style

November is NaNoWriMo, which is the month when all the writers, pretend-writers, wannabe-writers and folks who want to use the internet for more than masturbation and piracy (as if such a thing is possible?) to churn out a novel in a month.

It's a great idea. It's a great idea in the same way that eugenics could be a great idea in the Sims. Put out a novel in a month? Isn't that what every writer dreams about as they sleep near their keyboards? Isn't that what the sugar-plum fairies of syntax dance about?

But we're just talking about the idea. Not the practice. I know why people don't talk about the practice of writing a novel in a month. I didn't realize it for a long time, and even worse, I was afraid to admit it for a long time.

The reason why so few people talk the act of writing a novel in a month is that it's hard work, and a lot of people lack the talent to do more than craft a slightly above-average story, not a novel.

And "novel" is a misleading word anyway. It conjures up published books we can grab on Amazon or off the shelf. And that's not the case here. It's a few thousand words that sit in a little box on the internet (not unlike this blog). And, just like this blog, it's not screaming "four book deal! With movie rights!". No, this is just an exercise, a big way to get people writing.

My problem isn't with writing. I like when people write. I find it to be a satisfying activity. But the difference between "writing" and "writing a novel" is that you need the three things Elizabeth George talks about: Discipline, Talent and Imagination.

NaNoWriMo is a nice idea, and it meets that Imagination criteria. But those other two elements? I think they went out for lunch. There's not enough discipline. You can hang out with writers, go to write-ins, and then copy your words into that little internet box.....and then what? Wait for December 1 to go back to slacking off? NaNoWriMo is a discipline cocktease. It may take 30 days to craft a habit, but those 30 days require a pretty stiff schedule with deadlines. I don't see NaNoWriMo swinging the mighty hammer down on people who trot out prose for a month. Usually, this is because "it's supposed to be fun". Yes, it is fun. But do you know what's even more fun? Making a career out of writing. Putting together a schedule at a job where you're your own boss, you spend your days writing and your nights happy. And...NaNoWriMo dangles that dream in front of Susie Homemaker and Billie the Unemployed without showing them what's behind the curtain of hard work.

Also gone is the talent, and it's not really gone, I should qualify that idea. It's not gone, it's drowned. It's lost in a sea of average writing, written by people who think they're in the upper 2% of the talent pool because some Mormon chick wrote a BS story about surrogate perfect love and raped the language for four books and films now.

Hi, this is reality calling. Not all of you are going to survive this Darwinian exercise. Writing is tough but fun (I had a professor once say it's like having sex while hang-gliding) but the fun increases proportionally to your talent. If you need to brush up on your grammar and your style, don't expect a circus if you need to spend hours learning not to split infinitives and clarifying your pronouns. But, once you get through the boot camps of grammar and structure, you're free to be a lethal commando of the language, dispensing adjectival and predicative death from the printed page.

So, if you're going to crack open the laptop for 30 days and write your little story, go for it. Just remember, if you want to get it on shelves, you need to treat every month like NaNoWriMo. And you need talent.

Let's get past this. Let's build our own NaNoWriMo. One where we know we have talent and skill and don't need some jackhole you've never heard of giving you the rah-rah speech when you get stuck at the end of a rough week.

I present you with NaNoWriMo, John-style, also called Just Write the Fucking Thing, version 1.5

Here by thy commandments:

1 Thou shall write AT LEAST 6 pages a day, where at least 4 of those pages aren't dialogue where you sprinkle forty words on a double-spaced page.
2 Thou shall write these pages IN ADDITION to doing all the planning and development simultaneously. None of this "spend the first week scratching out notes." Sorry ladies, learn to think on the fly.
3 The minute thee hesitates, pauses, or swears you're going to come back to it later, thou shall add an additional 2 pages to that day's requirement. And then for every further procrastination, tack on an additional page.
4 Thou will either count hours writing OR count pages written. NOT BOTH. And thou will track these hours everyday and email them to your friends. (There's still time to make a friend if you need to, or email me.)
5 Thou shall spend 30 to 45 minutes MINIMUM A DAY reading. Not your own work, and preferably not even work within your own genre. I like to use lunch hours for this.
6. Before the end of the month, Thou shall find a writing group and join. If you're already a member, you'll attend and put forth your best effort as a member of those groups. (Tomorrow or later tonight I will post about how to find a writing group) You will get this 30-day novel critiqued. There's no way around it.
7. Thou will NOT compare yourself to other writers, authors, agents, editors, writing people that you know.
8. Thou shall not cheat and either pay someone to write for you, or ask for help. If you do, you're a sucky person. And you have cooties. And you're lame.
9. Thou will NOT spend undo amounts of time considering your "voice" or your "genre" or your "platform" - your sole purpose is TO WRITE.
10. Thou shall make no excuses for your writing. It's a binary decision - either do it and do your best at it, or shut the fuck up about it and go take up knitting or interpretive dance.

Bonus commandment 1 Thou shall not be a coward, and stop writing halfway through the month because "it's too hard." Man up nancy.
Bonus commandment 2 When faced with a choice (either for yourself or your characters) between safety and adventure, thou shall always choose adventure. Always.

So let's look at the math.

At least 8 pages a day for 30 days is 240 pages. And if you want to gripe about how you can't do 8 pages a day, you can easily do 8 pages if you're passionate. Spark up your imaginations, stop being a puss, kill your excuses and do it already. Or go away. So, you've created AT LEAST 240 pages...a short novel, but you can tweak it later for the remaining 60 to 75 or so later.

I should point out that it's 240 more pages than you had last month, and it's quite a feat to go from 0 pages a day to 56 at the end of a week. If you're like me, you consider 100 pages to be the first benchmark a story has to break, so in 2 weeks, you're already over the benchmark.

There are some people who I doubt have the talent to pull this off. There are some people I doubt have the discipline to finish. There are some people who I doubt have the imagination to get started.

Either do it or don't do. Don't treat NaNoWriMo the way these casual blase writers do, don't trot it out once a year like you spend the other eleven months working on your opus.

If you're going to do it, commit, and apply every bit of brainpower and knowledge you have. If you're not, then no worries. If you're on the fence, make up your mind and ask yourself how long you're going to remain the sort of person who dreams about getting things done and when you'd like to start being the person who actually makes their dreams come true, one word at a time?

Just write the fucking thing, write as if your life depended on it.

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