So, yes, I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year.
aynjel wrote an eloquent anti-NaNoWriMo rant last year and I’ve come across a couple others, and it’s certainly reasonable to ask why somebody who’s actually gotten a few credits out there and has, at some points, entertained thoughts of being a professional writer would bother trying something that is, on the surface, so blindingly silly. You’re guaranteed to write crap! It’s a terrible way to produce things! These people (participants and especially organizers) don’t take writing seriously!
Here’s a few counterpoints to chew on, both general and personal.
Anyone who seriously wants to be a professional writer will make time to write every day. If they’re starting out when they have a full-time job, they’ll make that time around that job. They’ll carve out, more than likely, two or three hours each day. And the chances are excellent they’re going to write one or two thousand words a day because in the grand scheme of things that is not a lot of writing. The awful truth is that the NaNoWriMo quota isn’t nuts. Most of us think that it is. Most of us will never be professional writers.
“But wait—if professional writers are putting out that many words, why aren’t they all as prolific as Isaac Asimov was?” Because they rewrite. Multiple times. The chances are high that a NaNoWriMo-produced draft will be crap. But there’s nothing about that writing method that guarantees it’s going to be any crappier than any other rough draft. The question isn’t whether you’re going to end up with crap at the end of November; the question is whether you’ll end up with salvageable crap.
What NaNoWriMo does force a lot of people to do, including myself, is to stop rewriting during the rough draft. And for some of us this can be a real issue. I think my stuff tends to be pretty polished, but I also tend to start going back to the beginning of the work almost from the second day, tweaking things. And I may be going out on a limb here, but this is probably why it’s rare for me to get a story longer than about 15,000 words written, and I’ve never broken 35,000 with a completed manuscript.
There’s a certain value in NaNoWriMo for people who have no intention of developing a professional attitude toward writing anyway. It demands a certain discipline which is useful anywhere. If you participate in the regional groups, you may actually turn it into a social event, too, which is kind of neat. (I’ll probably be attending a few “write-ins” myself.) And it may be an interesting challenge for a lot of people who haven’t really tried to write at all anyway, to give them a taste of what really goes into it.
But that discipline is the biggest single skill anyone needs if they really do want to become a professional writer: the skill to be able to sit down and say, “I will make my quota today, even if I don’t feel remotely inspired and the prose is so dull that just typing it is putting me to sleep.” Those who already do have this skill, like haikujaguar, don’t need to be in NaNoWriMo because they’ve already put themselves through the equivalent multiple times. For me, though, it’s a skill that I’ve never fully developed. More worryingly (to me), I’ve been getting worse over the last few years. I want to start getting better at it again.
Lastly, and most personally, it’s an excuse to be experimental. I’m not writing completely without notes (and I expect to develop more notes as time goes on), but by my standards, this is pretty seat-of-the-pants. It’s not genre fiction, but rather slice of life, much more consciously “write what you know” than I’m used to doing. It’s simultaneously uncomfortable and exhilarating. My word count is lagging behind that of several friends I know who are participating, but that’s okay. (I hope.) Currently, that’s 5200 words.
I may talk more about the project later, I may not; it depends on how things develop. If you’re interested, my NaNoWriMo username is (appropriately) wattsm.