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Why I won’t be doing NaNoWriMo this year

Posted by Shannon Haddock on September 15, 2015 in NaNoWriMo, Writing process |

I’ve done it three times and won twice.  I enjoyed it, for the most part, but I honestly feel like I’ve outgrown it.  For me, getting x number of words per month is no longer a challenge, it’s a goal.  And that x isn’t 50,000.  I can do 50,000 a month.  Winning NaNoWriMo twice proves that.  But I can do 30,000 to 40,000 words a month that are good instead of 50,000 that are mostly mediocre, and that’s what I’d rather do now.

I know, I know:  the whole point of NaNoWriMo is to get words down, you can fix the quality later.  And that’s fine, really.  That’s great if that’s what matters to you.  Three years ago, it was what mattered to me.  Two years ago, it’s what mattered to me.  Last year, I did it to try to get in the habit of writing more days than not.  For that, NaNoWriMo is the wrong tool.  Now, I’m in the habit of writing or editing or revising four days a week with another day spent on other parts of being a professional writer . . . trying to figure out what to title a work, writing a pitch that doesn’t suck, etc.  Yes, I know this is in sharp contrast to what I said right after I failed NaNoWriMo last year; I was wrong, it’s that simple.

Well, I was half-wrong.  I don’t need to write every day, I was right about that.  But I do need more structure than writing x number of words a month.  A weekly word count goal is working for me, with me at least trying to devote two hours a day to it five days a week.  So far that’s worked out to four days writing/editing/revising and one day doing other stuff, and that seems like a sane and rational way to keep doing things so I shall.

Now, my goal right now, the main reason I’m not doing NaNoWriMo :  write stuff that I don’t have to do such extensive revisions to.  I can tell the hunks of No More Lies that were written during NaNoWriMo.  The first few chapters, the ones written before NaNoWriMo, needed fleshed out.  They were lacking in detail, but were otherwise pretty solid.   (And the detail thing is excusable because they were written when it was supposed to be a novella.)  But the ones written during NaNoWriMo?  They’re too wordy, and the dialogue is obnoxiously mundane.  I cut an entire scene the other day and it affected pretty much nothing.  The effect the scene had on the story can be accomplished in one sentence elsewhere.  I might move one small hunk of dialogue from it somewhere else too.  But other than that?  That scene gave me 1094 more words, that’s what mattered.

I know there are authors, many of them ones who make quite a bit more than me, who put great stock in reaching daily word count goals regardless of the quality of those words.  That’s fine.  That works for them.  I detest revision.  I do it because it’s a necessary evil.  I’d rather write a clean first draft.  Since a clean first draft seems beyond me, I’d like to be able to do a clean second one.  I can’t do that if too much of the second draft is brand new stuff replacing bad stuff from the first.  I’m a third of the way through revising No More Lies and will have to go back over it all over again before I can reach the point where I’m just copyediting.  I’d like to avoid this in the future.  So, I’m not doing NaNoWriMo any more.

There are other reasons I’m not doing NaNoWriMo any more, ones that are a bit harder to express, but relate, perhaps, a bit more to me saying “I’ve outgrown it”.  While there are professional authors who do it every year, the culture surrounding it feels more amateur.  There are too many people asking questions like “How do you get to know your characters?”,  “Do I have to have an outline?”, and things like that that anybody who’s already got a few stories under their belt knows the only valid answer to is “Well, here’s how I do things, but you have to find what works for you.”  I’m tired of those discussions.  I know they’re important to some people, but I’m personally tired of them.  Especially since it often feels like what people are really wanting is a shortcut to success, i.e. “You fill out this character chart and follow this plot outline, and you’ll easily get your 50,000 words and be a best-seller!”.

I’m also, and I hate saying this because, as I’ve said, it was a good thing for me when I first did it, a bit burned out on the concept of NaNoWriMo because I have read, or started to read anyway, so fucking many self-published books that were clearly a case of someone “winning” NaNoWriMo and then uploading what they’d produced to Smashwords and/or Amazon . . . in most cases they seem to have at least run spellcheck first, which is nice.  Too bad it doesn’t do a damned thing about the fact that most of those stories needed an end to end revision pass or three to not be boring and slow-paced.  (I’m not asking for “thriller pacing”, I’d just like not to have to slog through a description of the character getting dressed and having breakfast every single day if it doesn’t fucking matter, okay?  Once or twice is fine if it illustrates something about the character or setting, beyond that, you’d better have some damned cool stuff going on in that book or I ain’t finishing it.)

I think, and this isn’t just a NaNoWriMo thing actually, it’s an “aspiring writer” (as defined by Chuck Wendig:  writers who do not actually write anything but who sure talk about it a lot) culture thing you encounter on all writing forums, that so much emphasis is put on finishing a novel that far too many people don’t realize that’s only step one.  Or they know it, but they think they’re the exception who can skip all the other steps.  There are people who can go from first draft to print and it’s fine, with only maybe a little copyediting.  Louis L’Amour reached that point, I’ve read.  But he reached it.  He didn’t start there.  He wrote, according to Wikipedia, 100 novels and over 250 short stories over a 50ish year career.  That’s a lot of time to develop a knack for knowing what will and won’t work before you put it on paper.  (Also, he wrote pulp mostly.  It was not as clean as what most publishers want today.  I read an article by his son that said when L’Amour did write for the “slicks”, he did write multiple drafts and revise pretty heavily, which I’d imagine means he did the same for the more literary stuff he wrote later in his career.)

And, my final reason:  There is so much emphasis put on just moving forward, getting those 50,000 words, in NaNoWriMo culture that it feels wrong to go back and make even the smallest change, especially if it would affect your word count.  There are parts of No More Lies that I’ve known have needed fixing since the day I wrote them, in far too many cases I saw how to fix them by a few hours later, but because it would change my word count, I didn’t do it.  I’m tracking, for myself and non-publically, how many words per week I write, edit, or revise, but that’s so on weeks when I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much I can see that I have, even if it did all get thrown out for some reason, so it needn’t be the exact number.  If I discover I can cut a whole paragraph, I can cut it out and not worry about it.  I still wrote those words that week, so they still count.  I don’t need to keep them somewhere where I can paste them into a box at the end of the month so I can get credit for them.  Sometimes I even — and this is not allowed if you do NaNoWriMo properly — delete whole paragraphs right after writing them!  Because sometimes I see that quickly that they aren’t going to work.  Those usually don’t get counted for my word count for the week, because I record that at the end of writing for the day, and since I’m only tracking it for myself, a hundred or so words loss is not a big deal.

Also, the ten thousand words a week thing is not what’s being tracked by the stickied post with the nifty graphs.  That’s how many words are in the currently working file of the story for first drafts, hence why Dangers of the Past went down by 7000 today when I started over, and how far into the previous draft I’ve gotten with my revisions for subsequent drafts.

And if this got rambly or redundant, blame the car alarm that’s been going off off-and-on for the past half hour next door, and my cat for walking around mimicking it . . . or yelling at it, I’m not sure.

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