With the start of NaNoWriMo's annual Camp, I thought it was appropriate to bring up something I've said once in my life before. As a former writer in NaNoWriMo I think its necessary to admit that as much as I love participating in the challenge, I don't necessarily love everything about the concept. I believe it has merit-able cores but I also know that many people finish off NaNoWriMo and send their terrible first drafts off to publishers en-masse. I wrote this for a class assignment my senior year of college and the opinions here are inflated for the sake of the argument so take this with a grain of salt.
There are way too many god-awful novels in the world and even more aspiring authors. Everyone and their mother has an idea they believe would make a wonderful story yet, ask any eager novelist the last time they read someone else’s novel and you’ll likely get a blank stare in return. There is money to be made in these writing hopefuls and that is the exact motivation behind hundreds of articles, websites, and books claiming to teach the tricks of being a successful author. One event pushes this profitable idea to a new level - NaNoWriMo.
NaNoWriMo when spoken allowed on its own to any random individual sounds like a bunch of gibberish – as do the half-assed manuscripts sent to publishers of the individuals that take part in it. NaNoWriMo, for those not versed in the online pandering to the ever-growing group of narcissistic artists, stands for National Novel Writing Month – a not for profit organization who on their own accord has deemed the month of November a nationally recognized self-imposed, rewardless competition. Actually, the organization has deemed several months as nationally recognized writing projects: March is for visual novels, April for poetry, and February for writing and sending the archaic correspondence of hand-written letters every single day – thankfully it’s the shortest month of the year, less money on stamps.
NaNoWriMo boasts to its 400,000+ and growing participants every year that November is a time to write their 50,000 words of brilliance. Here’s the catch: there are a few arbitrary rules. “Novelists” must follow a few simple guidelines in order to self-identify on the site as “winners.” They cannot start
their work before November. They cannot count anything written past 11:59:59 PM on November 30th toward their total word count. They must write 50,000 words in this time frame. They should just write, not edit, every single day. Do not go back. Do not read past work. Do not change past work. Do not delete anything. Change your plot half way through? That’s fine keep going. Don’t like the entire chapter you just wrote? Who cares, if you worry about it now you’ll never finish the next chapter. Need help figuring out what to write next? There are forums with thousands of writing prompts, other random hopefuls throwing out open ended plot points that they didn’t want to flesh out themselves and an ever-growing mob of people telling contestants that the world needs their story. But do they really?
NaNoWriMo started in 1999 and since this start date, the organization only boasts around 250 novels written during these events have been traditionally published. Roughly 250 books from over 400,000 participants a year. Let me reiterate that: in almost twenty years, 250 out of millions of stories have been published, total. This mostly just speaks to the fact that not every story written during NaNoWriMo could be a “Water for Elephants” and even then, it was reworked time and time again before ever being published. The truth is no one needs the amazing well thought out final product of the story idea someone has in their head and they most certainly do not need the unrevised, poorly thought out, mess that they forced themselves to write in a one month span. Everyone wants to be a writer. Not so many people are eager to read their work.
Though, even with the reality that this event wins you absolutely nothing but a poorly laid out manuscript that you still have to pay to have printed (even with the “winners” discount), and the headache of alienating all of your friends trying to write 1,667 words a day at minimum and being able to talk about nothing but their story the entire month, people still partake every year. So, to all the aspiring novelists that take part in NaNoWriMo that are uncertain of what to do with the unedited manuscripts that no one will publish I have a few ideas of things you can do with it:
- Force all of your friends and family to take a copy of it and make them feel uncomfortable when you ask what they think about it because they got past the first chapter but never finished it. No one really ever reads the books they own anymore and they weren’t entirely interested in yours in the first place.
- Wall paper your writing space with a hard copy to remind yourself that you’re a winner and people don’t know what they’re missing out on.
- Bring it with you everywhere you go and make sure everyone knows that you finished writing a book in only a month so you’re a successful writer.
Or you could just pick up a pen and start editing it. I don’t know. Maybe next time don’t force yourself to just write something so you can hit your goal in a month but instead take the time and effort to actually write your story the way it needs to be said. Then rip it apart, because every first draft is still crap – don’t make it worse than it needs to be.