Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Pros And Cons Of NaNoWriMo

Pic Courtesy mpclemens, Flickr
The following is a guest post from Evelyn Robinson, a writer who approached me through my email-
A mighty fine creative-writing post it is too. Check it out.

The world seems to love a special week or a month, during which time they’ll go ape-crap about a particular theme or topic. Did you know that this week, for instance it’s National Chocolate Week? A period of seven days which basically gives everyone carte blanche to pretend that just like the Ambassador, they are really spoiling themselves by diving head first into three hundred weight of Ferrero Rocher. Co-incidentally, it’s also “Stoptober” for the whole of this month, in which anyone who dallies with Lady Nicotine and her sisters Tar and Low Tar is encouraged to give up. Presumably in this instance they’re just going to end up replacing it with chocolate…
Once we get October out of the way it's November. November means one thing: NaNoWriMo.  For those of us who speak English, it stands for National Novel Writing Month and it encourages anyone with a smidgen of talent to try and write the first draft of a fifty thousand word novel in thirty days.
Anyone who loves creative writing will probably hold the ambition of one day actually being able to complete a novel. Preferably one that sells well, so that all the late nights, the crying and staring wistfully out of the window and suffering for their art is a little more worth it. Therefore, is asking someone to try and complete a lifelong ambition in thirty days just a little too much? Here are the pros and cons. 
The pros of NaNoWriMo
Firstly and most obviously, it does encourage you to write, which is no bad thing. Anyone who wants to be creative, to become a wordsmith needs to hone their craft and write as much as they can. This is one way of doing it and maybe trying to explore that idea you think just might work. It’s a way of finding out whether characters and plots you’ve thought up have somewhere to go and can be formed into a coherent story.
It gives you a sense of what it is like to write to a deadline. Alright, you’re not getting paid for it, it’s not really for real and no-one’s life depends on it, but it’s a good challenge to see if you can actually push yourself to create something to a deadline that’s put in front of you. All writers will have to do this at some time or other during their career, so it makes sense to have a go to see if you can do it.
You can find other like minded writers online who are doing the same thing and discuss your experiences. Many people will be talking about it on the usual social network mediums of Twitter and Facebook. The NaNoWriMo website has its own forum for chatting too. Even if you don’t finish what you’re writing, you might end up becoming friends with other creatives who can make you feel like you’re not ploughing your furrow alone.
The cons of NaNoWriMo
This is where the cynical hat goes on. If you want to look at it in its simplest terms, it’s almost like a literary version of some sort of reality TV programme, The X Factor, Strictly et al. OK, you’re not on TV, but you are, in a sense, going on that over-used phrase beloved of all weeping contestants, “a journey”. Granted it’s a gentler one. You haven’t got Simon Cowell the other end telling you chapter twelve stinks, and the hero of your story would look better in high-waisted trousers, but you are putting yourself open to rejection from the NaNoWriMo judges too. You could put all the effort in during that concentrated period and find it was all for nothing, even worse, it could be the one idea you had.
In a lot of ways, the whole concept goes against everything the craft of writing stands for. Unlike those who choose writing as a way to pay off the mortgage and live in permanent financial happiness before becoming quickly educated in reality, someone who was really going to make a serious attempt at writing a novel for the love of writing would take their time over it. They would draft, re-draft and continuously rewrite until they had something that was truly worthy of a book deal with a major publisher. This does not encourage that. It encourages you to submit something you might not ordinarily be terribly pleased with, but was all you could manage in the tight time frame.
Putting a maths hat on, you have thirty days to write fifty thousand words. That’s about one thousand six hundred and sixty six words a day, if you were being exact and wanting to space it out evenly and know where you were up to. In all honesty, our lives are so busy we might not be able to spend time every day writing. Some days might be more pressured than others; ergo you might end up having to write in huge chunks just to get it finished. That just ends up demoralising and turns it into the university essay you just have to get done, rather than a pleasurable project that you can work on at your own pace and in your own time.
To go for it or not to go for it, that is the question
Writing is such a personal thing that the decision should be entirely based on how you feel about your ability and what you can cope with. In short, consider whether the time pressure and word limit is right for you before you think about committing to it. Honing your skills can be done in many other ways, such as taking part in proper creative writing courses or classes that encourage talent naturally rather than forcing it out in one thirty day chunk. Conversely, NaNoWriMo could be just the push you need to get motivated and get started. You might finish it in time, you might not, but you will have made a start and that’s got to be worth something.

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