Never in November

Tomorrow is November first. All around the globe, writers will be prepping themselves for NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month. I won’t be…as I’m not doing NaNo. My reasons range from practical to philosophical…and in that order, here they are.

(Disclaimer against torches and pitchforks: these reflect my own experience and writing style. If NaNo works for you, that’s wonderful. It doesn’t work for me and here’s why.)

Word count 

Practical: I write longhand on paper. Trying to do a word count on a piece of paper is akin to trying to count a flock of chickens: it’s a lengthy endeavor that you’ll have to repeat several times because those suckers never seem to stay still. Doing a word count will eat up several  minutes of my already precious spare time. I’m also pretty sure I’d get distracted by typos, or “hey, this word is better for that sentence”, or “Dear Lord, what is this word and why did I spell it that way?” Like I said, it’d be like trying to count a flock of chickens.

Philosophical: Why a word count? That’s not how I judge books anyway. When I pick up a book, I’m not thinking “Feels like 100,000 word book”; I’m thinking “Wow, that’s a lot of pages!” I don’t work for a publishing company, but I’m pretty sure they’re looking at length in pages, not necessarily exactly how many words are on those pages. Focusing exclusively on word count seems to be missing the forest for all the trees.

Discipline 

Practical: I work two jobs, both of which get really hectic around the holidays. I’m also politically active, so there’s a lot of energy going towards Election Day. Starting something I know I’m going to really struggle to accomplish does create discipline for me, it creates defeat. 

Philosophical: 1,667 words a day every day for a month is not a sustainable habit for me. I’ve tried NaNo in the past and that pace stressed me the hell out. I’ve just got back into writing and I don’t want to destroy the discipline I’m currently learning by superseding it with one I know I can’t do. Again, that isn’t learning discipline: that’s learning defeat. Discipline isn’t just about creating a habit: it’s about sticking with it. Creating an unsustainable discipline is worse than setting yourself up for failure: it’s setting yourself up to expect failure.

Quality

Practical: NaNo is quite honest about one thing: if you do it, you’re going to produce a lot of crap. It’s hard (not impossible, but darn hard) to get high quality writing out of a break-neck pace of 1,667 words a day. That’s the kind of writing best reserved for a first rough draft…and I’m not doing a rough draft. What I’m doing right now is an odd, drunken mix of drafting and editing. Parts of the story are totally new. Other parts are being pulled together from the best versions of…too damn many drafts to count. Quality is my top priority at this stage. 

Philosophical: There’s a fine line between ignoring a glaring problem and being an editing perfectionist: I’ve been on both sides of that fence and neither work for me. What works for me, and what feels sustainable, is to learn the balance between. Honestly, this has been the most helpful thing about writing on paper. When I encounter a problem, my first reaction is a wary “Now, is this major enough to justify ripping out and rewriting the whole damn page?” Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it isn’t and I have to rewrite the page again with very little change. Sometimes it is and I’ve gone on anyway, only to get hopelessly mired five pages later. Now that is a real pain…a real, literal pain in the hand.  

Quantity 

Practical: As I’m rewriting this story, I’m noticing that the sections which give me the most trouble are the most…wordy. Expanding a snippet into a scene is easier for me than reducing a paragraph down to a phrase. What I’ve learned is that when I write the rough draft of my next story, it should be short, just the bones of the story. This really shouldn’t surprise me: I do most things back-assward from most people. 

Philosophical: Haste makes waste. There’s a difference between learning to steadily produce good books and cranking out crap. I’m not a capitalist: I don’t believe stories and storytelling are all about content and consumption, but rather craft and community. And if anyone tells me I can’t make it in this world with that attitude, I will refer them to The Change by Garth Brooks. Good books exist. Good authors with good habits exist. Maybe I won’t write hundreds of novels, but what novels I write I want to be proud of. 

And there they are, my thoughts on NaNoWriMo. Just what the world needed, I’m sure!