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...


Chloe said...

Good for your for getting 30 000 words done in a month! Well on your way now...

I got an agent with a NaNo novel (one year and three re-writes later I hasten to add) and I know of at least two people who got traditional publishing contracts this year with their NaNo books too. People can be snobby, but you can't argue with that!

Anonymous said...

Dational novel writing month?

I suppose!

Anyway, well done on 30k, that's a lot of words and not to be sniffed at. I've done NaNoWriMo three or four times and have only won once (which involved a lot of filler as I reached 50k and just wanted to get it done). Like everything, it is what you make of it. 25-35k is probably my limit, each time I've tried it I've been told I'm doing it wrong because I want to go back and edit each day. It probably hinders me getting to 50k, but if I'm happier with the words I have got, I'm happy.

Also, "really really wanting to write some short stories" - written like a true short story author. Good luck with your novel, but don't go all the way over to the dark side!

Rachel Fenton said...

It doesn't matter how you got your words - you made amazing progress and tried something new to you - what's not to admire about that?

Dan Purdue said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I guess people will always have their objections to anything that encourages others to write in a way that doesn't work for them personally. I'm glad I gave it a go. Live and let live, I say!

Anonymous said...

Totally true! Congrats on the 30,000 words. I loved NaNo, and although I'm not usually into the whole American "you can do it guys" kind of talk, I actually really enjoyed them. They helped to keep me fired up.

I don't understand to the NaNo snobbery. I guess it's from the same people who believe that nobody can be taught to be a writer.

I'm thinking of doing a similar personal NaNo style tracking system throughout next year. Maybe with editing or with writing new material on alternative months. I haven't decided yet. But I'm excited. :)

Dan Purdue said...

Thanks, Freya. Good luck with your projects in the New Year - let me know if you find a good way of keeping yourself on target!

I've worked out an Excel record sheet that will keep track of my progress (though not on a graph at the moment). With luck, it'll keep me focussed and it won't be long until I can finally say I've reached the end of this seemingly interminable first(ish) draft!

Anonymous said...

Just found this, Dan, and want to say I totally agree on the usefulness of deadlines. I did a Writing MA a few years ago and have been known to say I spent £2000 on a deadline. Not that the MA wasn't useful in some respects, but the main thing was it got me to write a novel in a mere 3 years to the point that it was taken up by a London agent. This alongside part-time work, parenting and family, so the deadline was really useful. Now trying to get to the end of the first draft of my second novel, taking far too long, due to full time work and other life calls, and trying to set myself deadlines. I use an excel timesheet which works for me most of the time, and recently entered for the Northern Writers' Awards for work in progress, which moved the novel on enormously, and was worth entering just for that. Whatever works...

Dan Purdue said...

Hi Penny, welcome to the blog and thanks for taking the time to comment. That was an expensive deadline, but it sounds like it did the trick. Congratulations on finishing your first and hooking an agent.

I set up an Excel progress-tracking sheet. It doesn't have a graph but it does nag me if I'm not getting the words down quickly enough. Unfortunately I was over-ambitious when I set my targets and it nags all the time, which lessens the impact considerably. Yet I'm loathe to change the targets as it feels too much like admitting defeat...

Good luck with the NWA and Book 2!