It’s that time of year again!
I’m surprised to realize I wrote “A Writer’s Alternative to NaNoWriMo” two years ago now.
Looking back, it’s fun, but I realize I’ve been reconsidering my opinion of it, especially in light of recent posts and novels.
To be honest, I never really understood NaNoWriMo, mainly because I adhere–at least in theory–to the ass-in-chair school of writing. I’ve always been pretty certain that my favorite writers–as well as some of my not-so-favorite writers–uphold the age-old standard of writing every day. That never a day goes by when words are not set down on a page.
Maybe this has changed in recent years because there are days when I don’t sit in a chair to put words down. And because even then I still rarely feel as though I ever stop writing.
I think my most major beef was that I thought NaNoWriMo propagated the idea that writing a novel is easy, and anyone can do it, and in 30 days at that!
What I’ve realized, though, is that what it really propagates is the idea that writing a draft is easy, and anyone can do it, and it doesn’t actually take that long (I’d wager closer to 60 days, with 1,000 words, but that’s probably because 1,000 words per day induces far less stress than 2,000).
And that’s maybe not wrong at all.
The idea behind “A Writer’s Alternative to NaNoWriMo” alludes to John D. MacDonald’s introduction to Stephen King’s Night Shift, which remains my favorite-ever collection of short stories. In it, MacDonald mentions that for years, at dinner parties, when people ask him what he does and he tells them he’s a writer, universal response is always “Oh, fascinating, you know, I’ve always wanted to write a novel.” MacDonald’s response was “You know, I’ve always wanted to be a brain surgeon.”
I obviously thought there was some truth in the joke.
The fact is, everyone writes. I used to say that everyone thinks he or she can write, but ultimately most people write, in some way. Whether notes to people or memos or text messages or etc., ours is a culture based on language, and because we are such a visual species, much of our communication is accomplished visually, so language gets set down.
I think, because of that, people think that writing well is a common skill, as opposed to realizing that writing is a common action. I also think it’s one of the most major reasons for what has traditionally been perceived as a common stigma against “self-publishing,” as well as one of the reasons that stigma is sometimes apt.
Because everyone writes, writing itself seems not to be seen as the sort of specialized skill that music or film composition is, which may be why independent filmmakers and independent musicians are seen in generally different light from independent authors. And because so many people feel that way, some might rush to publish their work.
But should that really be any reason everyone shouldn’t try it?
No. No it shouldn’t.
And who knows, maybe the people who attempt a draft will realize what a fine and precise skill writing well truly is.
Of course, that neglects the possibility that people already have. Because a lot of people already know that, and just use it as a kick start, and that’s pretty awesome, too.
There’s another reason I’ve been reconsidering it. Most people acknowledge that no one is going to write a good novel in a month, and doing so isn’t the point. The point is to finish a draft. To tell a story completely. To experience pure storytelling without the second-guessing of revision and editing (which both come later).
But there’s that word again. “Good.” What’s “good enough”?
I realized, this time around, this year around, the “good enough” bar for writers has been lowered substantially.
It is, if you think about it, pretty great.
You’re a better writer than Snooki. You’re smarter than Sarah Palin.
Your female character? Cooler and more awesome than Bella Swan. Your hero? Not so creepy/stalker-y/abusive as Edward Cullen.
No matter what you write this month, it will likely be objectively better than A Shore Thing.
It may not be great.
But will someone like it?
Well, you’re never going to know until you write it and share it, are you?
So what’re you waiting for? Get cracking.
But here I make a humble request/suggestion:
Don’t get too focused on the idea that the only time for serious writing–and by serious I mean the sort you do every day, getting your hands dirty with words and story, and not, it’s worth pointing out, “serious” like full of social commentary or something (not that social commentary or something are bad things)–should be restricted to 30 days in late Autumn. It’s great to focus on writing every day, but it’s greater to focus on writing every day always.
It’s, I guess, a little like declaring a National Having Sex Month. It’s great to focus on sex with your partner or partners for a month. It’s wonderful to say, hey, this May my lover(s) and I will work every day to practice physical intimacy and concentrate on pleasure. But it’s likely better to incorporate that practice into life overall, isn’t it?
Every month could be National Practice Becoming a Better Writer Month, and just imagine the novels and stories you might produce then.
But you probably already thought that, and imagined it. That’s why you’re doing this. To which I say: awesome.
As we used to say at USC, write on.