Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Underlying Meaning of NaNoWriMo

So on the YA Highway weekly roundup there've been a lot of anti-NaNo posts.  And honestly, I don't really care one way or another about it.  It's just a crazy thing that took off.  But I think jumping down too hard on one side or the other is missing the point.  NaNo works really well for some writing styles and not others.

Style's NaNo is good for:

The Perfectionist - Have you ever written chapter 1, then re-written it, then re-written it, then written it again, and then finally realized that it hasn't gotten any better?
A lot of times, if you don't know where you're going, you have no idea what you need to do to revise something to improve it.  And sometimes you can't know where you're going until you've gotten there.

The Wannabe - "I could write a novel."  "Then why don't you?"

Unfortunately, both of these styles are a lot more visible from the outside, and sometimes you feel a little vindictive when you suggest NaNo to these people.  Maybe this time they'll actually write something instead of offering the same chapter for critique over and over again, or maybe they'll realize that actually they don't have what it takes.

But vindictiveness is not what NaNo is supposed to be about.

Styles of writing NaNo is bad for:

The Thinker - Do you contemplate between chapters?  Do you consider your work and still manage to pick up the next section and make progress?  Then fine.  DON'T DO NANO!  If you have a writing style that works for you, then don't mess it up just because everyone else is doing it.  It's like cheating on a test that you've already studied for and can ace.  WTF?

The Cocky Barstard - Unfortunately, this style of writer often comes in the same body as the Wannabe.  "I could write a novel.  Look, I did.  Revision?  Why revision?  I'm awesome."  This is where the big December slushpiles come from.

One of the problems with NaNo is that it started as something for writers with problems and became some sort of self-help cult for the common man.  I often think of Ratatouille here, "Anyone can cook, but not anyone should cook."  Yes, this is the villain's line, but in the end, he had it right.  The ability to be a great artist can appear anywhere.  It's not genetic, it's not even environmental.  Yes, sometimes having a great sense of smell helps, but the one thing you really need to do is care.  Do you love food, do you love art, do you love books?  Do you have a vision that you want to share?  Are you willing to work your ass off?  Are you willing to learn?  To take your lumps and bear up under criticism?  To realize that the world is really never ready for art, but sometimes art is ready for the world?

Underlyingly, NaNo isn't about speed, it isn't even about completion.  It's about overcoming the obstacles we put in our own way, the mental obstacles.  Anne Lamott says, "write shitty first drafts."  She also says, sometimes you lie down on the floor and sob and can't bear it any longer, but then you get up and you get back to work, the work of revision.

So yeah, if you think it will be good for you, do NaNo.  But remember that it's just one step on your path to writerly-enlightenment, one step on a path of incalculable length.

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