In Defense of NaNoWriMo

November is National Novel Writing Month–NaNoWriMo for short. I’ve participated since 2002, and my project for this year, Death and Biker Gangs, is the sequel to Grave New World.

The gist of it is that you write 50,000 words in a month. As far as the traditional publishing industry goes, that’s only about half a novel, but it’s actually a bit longer than what I envision Death and Biker Gangs to top out at.  Basically, you sit down and bang out 50,000 words. You give yourself permission to just write and write and write…by the end, if you’re a typical NaNo-er, you’ve got 50,000+ words of stuff. Most of it won’t be instantly publishable, but you’ll have a springboard for revising and editing, and you’ll have a lot of ideas.

There are, of course, some naysayers. Some feel the idea of cranking out words as opposed to cranking out quality is a bad idea, and I can understand that. There’s those that just see it as a stupid stunt. Yep, I can see that aspect of it, too. But the biggest argument I see is that “Noveling takes time. Writers must practice their craft. These little NaNites are not novelists!” The idea behind this argument is that a Novelist is a member of an exclusive club.

Newsflash, kids: If you’ve written a novel, you’re a novelist. You might not be a published novelist, or even a good novelist, but you’re still a novelist. So yes, the NaNoers do get the title, along with every other person who’s ever written a book.

As for the “50,000 words of crap in a month is not a good aspiration” folks, let me tell my little story and explain why I’m so firmly behind NaNo.

When I was in college, I worked at our University Writing Center, tutoring students who had trouble writing. I probably saw thousands over my four years there…and a lot of them downright hated writing. Hated it. Despised it. Wouldn’t mind if it took a long walk off a short pier.

Most of them had also never, ever been allowed to write about what they were interested in (let’s face it, most school writing assignments have nothing to do with a student’s actual interests). I told them “write what you like” and they stared blankly at me. They had no idea where to begin. I started challenging my remedial writing groups to write 50,000 words in November–not necessarily a novel, but 50,000 words of whatever they felt like. Some of them started journals. One did write a story and showed it to me. The beginning read like her essays (which needed a lot of work), but you basically can’t write 50,000 words and not show some improvement. Midway through, the writing style smoothed out noticeably. I asked her about it and she said she picked up some books “that were like the idea” she had (basically chick-lit) and she adopted some of the narrative techniques she saw.

Consider our modern world. Writing ability is virtually ignored in school until students reach college, where they’re expected to pass the Graduation Writing Test (at least in California). Quite a few of them aren’t ready for it. We’re all doing a dozen things at once, we can barely sit down to breathe, and we’re supposed to just write 50,000 words…? Hell, that in itself shows some dedication. If nothing else, NaNo can teach discipline, which is a good chunk of the writing battle.

Let’s be blunt, though. If it gets people excited about writing, it’s OK by me. Write on, my friends.

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