Just For the Hell of It

On November 1st thousands of people around the world sit down to begin writing a book.

Actually, I’m pretty sure that folk do that every day of the year. What a thought. Someone, somewhere sat at their computer this morning and began the first line of the first chapter of what might be the next Da Vinci Code. Okay, let’s not start that one again.

Anyhow, November 1st is different to all those other days when random people begin writing random books ( which may or may not become best sellers) because it’s official.

November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo as it’s become known. The idea is that over 100,000 writers sign up on nanowrimo.org and begin work on November 1st. They then write like whirling dirvishes until Midnight on November 30th, by which time they will have 50,000 words.

The website is already buzzing with positive slogans and advice. 'Win or lose, you rock for even trying.' The forums are alive with members sharing previous NaNo war stories. In fact if you look closely you soon realise that many posters have done this whole thing not once but several times before.

My cynical other half wonders why they bother. If their previous attempts have proved unsuccessful why are they simply repeating the experience? Doing more of what didn’t work last time isn’t likey to bring results, he argues.

An author mate of mine hates the whole business. She feels the very notion of NaNo devalues writing. The idea that books can be banged out in this way, is, she feels, deluded at best. Learning the craft of writing, she says, takes time. A lot of time.
NaNo says it is for those who have been scared away from writing by the time and effort involved, as that were a bad thing.
This sort of exercise smacks too much of cutting corners, of trying to get to the end result without putting in the hard graft.

I know she’s right...and yet.

There’s something contagious about NaNo. The enthusiasm, the optimism, the sheer joy of writing. There’s no talk of the state of the publishing industry or reductions in author advances, barely a mention of agents and editors. Instead writers ask for opinions on their outlines. They trade characters and story lines – I’ll give you my villain for a sub plot idea.
Yes, some of it is naive. An almost teen-like cleaving to the notion of what writing a book is all about. And yes, I’ll warrant there are some who couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag, let alone put together a story anyone would want to read.

But something still calls to me. The thought that for just one month I can write something for which there is no contract and no deadline looming is terribly appealing. I could write science fiction or bodice ripping historical fiction. I could write a children’s book or the story of a man finding hidden messages in Italian masterpieces...stop it...
You get my point though, the possibilities are endless.

So maybe this year I’ll join all the other hopefuls and spend November writing just for the hell of it. Anyone with me?


Nicola Morgan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicola Morgan said...

(Sorry, clicked send too early - comment full of typos!)

I did a "private" Nanowrimo earlier this year with a group of authors. I would have had all the same doubts and criticisms that you and some of your friends have. But it was mind-opening, word-freeing and fascinating. Switching off the internal ediotr when you're a control-freak like me was very cathartic, very positive. And at the end I had the framework of a novel to work on. I'd recommend it. I blogged about it at the time - if you go on my blog and click the topic label nanowrimo, you'll find it. And I'm blogging briefly about it next week to encourage anyone who wants to try. (www.helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com)

Nicola Morgan said...

Yes, and I'd like to say that "ediotr" was a deliberate mistake. Sorry - it's too early in the morning!

Brian Keaney said...

To me, a full time writer for the last twenty five years, this whole nanowrimo looks like completely the wrong way to go about writing. It's like crash-dieting and binging. It distorts your understanding of what writing is really about. Do yourself a favour - forget the nanonsense, write a novel for yourself.

Gillian McDade said...

Nanowrimo is insane! It's like suddenly embarking on a size zero diet! Why not spend the month revising and polishing, rather than banging out what results in just a massive number of words?

Helen Black said...

Nicola - thank you, I will certainly check out your blog.

Brian - I know exactly what you mean, but don't you find that once under contract you're not really writing 'for yourself'. You have obligations and expectations upon you. Deadlines looooooooooom. NaNo appeals to me precisely because I could step out of that process just for a month. Do you never fancy that?

Gillian - the way my working year works is that at the end of the Summer I finish editing the book that will come out later that year. I then start writing the new one straight away with a view to having a draft with my editors the next Easter.
I guess I just thought I'd have November 'off' to write something entirely different and something that didn't matter. Does that make sense?

Brian Keaney said...

I take your point Helen and maybe it will work for you but for me, writing has to be sustainable, something that fits into and emerges from the rest of my life.

Administrator said...

I think it's a great idea for someone who is suffering from writer's block - a sense of being able to throw caution to the wind and if what you churn out is rubbish anyway well, you weren't producing anything in any case so what does it matter.

I also think it's a good idea for someone like me who is considering changing genre - you could test your new style out and again, if it's utter rubbish, well so what.

I'm not sure i'd start a serious new project in this manner though. Dunno.

But it does sound like fun.

Fionnuala said...

I've signed up! Only becausue I've spent the last eighteen months immersed in the last project (just being submitted) and I want to use NANO to dive deep into the next one. I will only use it though for the discipline of writing every day, rather than an expected word count. I love the 'splurge' of writing that first draft but have found from experience that I also need to edit as I go along - otherwise I find myself in a complete mess. I'm going to try it with a mixture of 'splurge' and 'surgery' thrown in. Nothing different to normal then! Except for the fact that I will write every day in November. Thats the theory anyway...

Paul Lamb said...

It just seems like stunt writing to me. I don't know that it devalues the craft since virtually none of the writing will ever see publication, but I work hard and specifically on my fiction; it does not lend itself to speed and frenzy, which seem to be called for in NaNoWriMo. It seems to be letting a lot of people play at being "writers" without the hard work of imagining, defining, plotting, characterizing, and most of all deliberating. More power to those who give it a go, but as I said, I think it's more of a stunt than something a serious writer could rely on.

Roderic Vincent said...

100,000! Blimey.
I agree with Paul. It's all part of the madness where everyone in the world, including me, aspires to be a writer. What happened to reading? Is there a NaNoReadMo?

Fionnuala said...

Paul, a friend of mine (who has now published four books) wrote her first one on Nano. She admits it needed a lot of pulling together afterwards but the thing is - it got her into the habit of writing daily which has certainly paid off.

emma darwin said...

NaNoWriMo is all about Shitty First Draft - letting go and seeing what happens. There's nothing riding on it, you know it won't be very good, and so it really doesn't matter: just write.

As Nicola Morgan suggests, the very writers who resist it most - the ones who need to feel in control - may well be the ones who need it most, at least one.

I blogged about why and how it works a while ago:

"In other words, thinking quantity, not quality, disarms your Inner Critic: who cares if it's not perfect? 'Write' in this sense just means Shitty First Draft, and if we're in that territory, then 'Good' is beside the point. Good comes later. For now, just keep going! Never mind if your friends are all down the pub, it's only a month, they'll know you love them again before Christmas. Forgotten a character's name/hair-colour/psychopathic tendencies? No time to look back, make a note, keep going. And then on November 30th you look up and find you have a story: it has characters who talk and walk. Sometimes they surprised you, but you didn't have time to argue, you just followed where they seemed to be going. It uses words you'd forgotten you knew, peculiar relatives you spend most of your life avoiding, a deeply frightening thing that happened when you were twelve, and you never told anyone. It has a shape, a beginning, a middle and -- well, you didn't quite make the end of the story but now you know how it needs to go, and there's the Christmas holidays to finish it. And if it's going to end like that, then that bit at the beginning will need a bit of a re-think, but that's okay. And the middle bit, when you'd really got into your stride, now that really is Good, even though you weren't trying to do good writing. Maybe because you weren't trying to do good writing..."


Julie P said...

It's the first year I've signed up for it and I'm doing it purely as an exercise to see if I have the focus and stamina to attempt a novel. I need that time limit of a month otherwise I'm pretty sure I would never do it!

For me, it's not a race and I might not get the 50,000 words out. But at least I'm going to give it a go and I intend to enjoy the whole experience! I don't care what the end result is and I'm under no illusion that it's going to be easy. I also know I won't get a best seller out of it - but for me that's not the point!

Julie xx

Administrator said...

Good for you, Julie, best of luck!

Marshall Buckley said...

I tried it a couple of years ago; managed about 20,000 words in ten days, so was pretty much on target.

But it was drivel, absolute rubbish. That, not the deadline, made me stop.

Fast forward a couple of years: current MS is out for submission, 115,000 words written in exactly 2 months - so their words-per-day rate is feasible, so long as you have a decent story to go with it.

Did it help me? I think not, but I wouldn't criticise anyone for trying.

Caroline Green said...

I've definitely been a bit tempted before...but it does scare me! What if I allow my creativity to have free rein and it turns out there's nothing in there?!!!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Gosh, I am really surprised to read that people think of Nano as a waste of time (I should add that I've never - yet - done it). I imagined that it would be a wonderful opportunity to go for the story - to see what kind of a plot and what kind of characters emerge when you don't worry over them. Of course what comes out the other end will be 'rubbish' - as Emma says, the shitty first draft - but it will be, perhaps, a basis for some considered writing. I'm quite tempted to do a private Nano.

Geraldine Ryan said...

I think it sounds a great idea for the reasons Emma gives - but I'd never do it. Far too anal! Good luck everyone going for it!

Helen Black said...

How interesting that this illicits strong feelings.
I'm still drawn to give it a go, just to see what it feels like...in my mind recklessly abandoned. In a good way.

Debs Riccio said...

I'm in again(for the fifth year).
It keeps me disciplined and stops me procrastinating* for a month - AND I still anally have to edit the previous day's words before I'll start the next, otherwise I would start to believe it was all a pile of poo and probably give up.
Last year was the first year I won it - the feeling was utterly euphoric.
Bring it on!
*For "procrastinating" read Facebook