Sunday 1 December 2013

No Mo' Nanowrimo

November turned out to be a blur of novel-ing and nagging doubts about whether I was writing enough, or whether I was fooling myself that taking part in something as daft as trying to write a book in a month was anything other than a waste of time, and really really wanting to write some short stories. But it's over now. So what have I ended up with, and what have I learned?

My progress, as tracked on the Nanowrimo website

I decided to attempt the NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth, for the first time, this year. The aim, in case you've not heard of it before, is to write 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November. This works out at 1667 words per day, every day. It doesn't sound much but I knew it would be a challenge. And, as the graph above shows, it's a challenge I never really got to grips with. But I'm glad I gave it a shot.

I ended up with 30,198 words of my science-fiction novel (the one I was going to finish by the end of the year, and then wasn't, and now is back on my list of Things to Get Done). That's more than I'd written during the whole of 2013 up to 1st November, so I'm pleased with the outcome, even if falling short of the required 50K means I don't get to call myself a Nanowrimo "Winner". I think it's fair to say that I would never have done that anyway, so it's not a huge loss.

The other aspect about Nanowrimo is that you're supposed to start a new project on 1st November. As I was working on a project I'd started years ago, it probably wouldn't have counted anyway. Or, there's a possibility I'd have been branded a "Nano Rebel". Again, I got what I needed from it, so I'm happy to have bent the rules for my own purposes.

I decided not to make a big deal of the fact I was doing it. I didn't mention it here; I didn't post daily word counts on Twitter or Facebook. Part of this was because I didn't really think many people would find it that interesting. But the other thing, that took me somewhat by surprise, was how viciously some writers (particularly published ones) decry the whole concept of Nanowrimo. Seriously, they "hate" it, they think it's "annoying", they want people to know it's a total waste of time. Which is bizarre. It's like me complaining about people taking part in the New York Marathon or something else that doesn't affect me in the least.

The haters appear mainly to object to three elements of the challenge:
(1) 50,000 words do not make a novel - which is true, generally, but it doesn't really matter, the point is that it's a decent chunk of a book and is enough to feel like a real achievement.
(2) You should write all the time, not to some arbitrary deadline - this is perhaps the objection that makes the least sense. Publishers have deadlines, competitions have deadlines; if you want to write a novel but need an incentive, why not sign up to an arbitrary deadline?
(3) A month is not long enough to write a good novel - again, it's probably true, but that's not the point. The argument here is that a book needs time to gestate, and to be crafted into something worth reading. This seems to be the main bugbear authors have with the campaign, but it's a flawed objection because it assumes that (a) the writer hasn't had a single thought in their head about their story until they sit down to write on the first day, and (b) the writer considers the book finished at the end of the month. Both of these, though they may be true in some cases, are not what Nanowrimo is about, as far as the organisers are concerned. Yes, they like you to start a new project, but they encourage you to work from a detailed plan, character sheets, pages of notes, etc. - so, in effect, you're fleshing out a pre-prepared skeleton of the book, not merrily churning out interminable caffeine-induced stream-of-consciousness drivel. Unless that's what you want to do. If it is, go for it. I won't want to read it but that in no way reduces anybody's right to write it.

There was a lot about Nanowrimo that didn't really work for me. The weekly (or was it daily? There seemed to be an awful lot of them) pep talks quickly became annoying. The wide-eyed enthusiasm for it all, the strained tones of "Come on, we're all in it together!" "We must be crazy!" and so on ensured I kept away from most of the 'social' aspects of the Nano website. I am spectacularly grumpy when it comes to that sort of thing - plus, the opportunity for procrastination is limitless, so best avoided.

In fact, there was only one aspect of the process that would get me to sign up again, and that was the progress graph. I quickly learned to ignore the target line, shooting stratospherically away from the brown bars that signified my modest progress, but the days when my graph was flat-lining, when I wasn't able to find time to add anything at all to my word count, really niggled at me. Those flat spots were what made me knuckle down whenever I got the chance - they were what got me out of the habit of checking emails, Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest until after I'd done my 1667 words (or however close I could get), which is quite incredible considering how deeply ingrained that behaviour is. Somehow seeing those little bars stretching upwards felt far more significant and encouraging than just logging the word count increase over the course of the month. So, that's the main thing I've learned from this: graphs are the answer. And the beauty of that is that I don't need the Nanowrimo site to get that - I can set something up in Excel and off I go. Any month can be Nanowrimo.

Or, perhaps, Danowrimo...