Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Seriously? NaNoWriMo?

Surely you've heard about this aberrant mass literary experiment; it's all over the media lately. That cryptic cypher stands for National Novel-Writing Month. The idea is for aspiring authors (which is, let's face it, everyone) to hunker down and spend this month finally writing that novel they have buried within them. Yes, one month. C'mon, you can do it, organizers exhort us. All we need is the permission to pull this crazy stunt, and all the other factors will magically fall into place.

When I first heard about NaNoWriMo last year, on the Red Room writers' website, my Inner Editor couldn't stop laughing (albeit in that sinister, Ming the Merciless sort of way). She knows I am completely in thrall to her, and I will always do her bidding, no matter what.

But I must admit, doing an end run around the old Inner Editor and spewing forth prose—and plenty of it—directly from the id is awfully appealing. I pine for that kind of spontaneity! Somewhere in the store of writerly tips squirreled away in the olde curiosity shoppe that is my brain, I once accumulated the advice to write a thousand words every day. Maybe it was a reference to the famous work habits of Anthony Trollope, or a prompt picked up from an article in a writing magazine. The idea was, even if a lot of what you wrote was drek, something great was bound to emerge eventually in the sheer volume of verbiage.

Well, if you give an infinite number of rhesus monkeys an infinite number of keyboards, sooner or later one of them might write Hamlet, but you could waste a lot of lifetimes waiting for it to happen . Oh, I was all afire to try it out, at first. I started getting up at 6 in the morning (no small commitment in the middle of winter, when it's pitch-dark and freezing; even the cats are still sleeping, generally on top of me), so I could get in my thousand words before the rest of my "real" day started. But while I dutifully churned out my thousand words of drek every day, greatness remained elusive. In my haste to meet the word count, I never had time to stop and consider the shape of the story, the focus and point of the narrative, the well-chosen word or phrase, or where it was all going.

So when I hit a road block in terms of plot, I found myself filling in with a bunch of boring minutiae on some extraneous detail or other, of no interest to anyone, including me, just to make my daily word count. After awhile I had to switch to a different project, one that seemed more vital, although the thousand-words-of-drek theory soon took care of that. I finally had to give up the whole idea, lest this helpful tip run amok like a virus through all the rest of my precious ideas, leeching the life out of them.

Who doesn't embrace the romantic idea of cranking out genius in a fever of reckless abandon? But as the author of five complete novels, I have to add this caveat: the sad fact is, writing takes work. There are no shortcuts, and powering to the finish line is not the same thing as creating something worth reading. To all the intrepid Wrimos out there, I salute you. Write on! But when you get to "The End," know that the serious craft of writing has just begun.


  1. I think NaNoWriMo serves an important function. It lets never-will-be's bang their opus out in a month, put it online as an ebook, and pester their friends and family for sympathy sales while it rots away like a zombie locked in a dungeon of perpetual obscurity. This helps clear the field for people who can actually write. I hope.

  2. I suppose the other redeeming quality of the NaNoWriMo movement is that all this mania for writing novels implies that there are still people out there to read them — which is good news for all of us (she says hopefully).