November is National Novel Writing Month, also called NaNoWriMo. The official site says of it:
“National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.”
You’re not supposed to spend time editing this novel you’re writing in a month: you’re just supposed to write. It’s intended to stimulate creativity and give anyone who succeeds in writing a 50,000-word novel within the time limit the title of “novelist”.
I don’t get it. At all.
A big joke in video production is, “We’ll fix it in post.” Which means that if there’s a flub during the performance that you can’t or don’t want to re-shoot for whatever reason, you make a note of it and try to edit the final product in such a way as to minimize or eliminate the flub (editing the video is “post-production”). The talent misspoke? We’ll fix it in post. The lights flickered? We’ll fix it in post. The mic operator accidentally brained a cast member with the boom and got blood everywhere? We’ll fix it in post.
In publishing, the intent is to get everything perfect. No mistakes. Perfection is impossible this side of Heaven, but it’s what you shoot for. No typos, misspellings, plot holes, or formatting errors allowed. The cover has to look as good as any human anywhere can make it. There’s no room for mistakes in a product that other people will spend money on.
People love to say, “Practice makes perfect.” Like many cliches, it’s wrong. It isn’t practice that makes perfect: it’s perfect practice that makes perfect. If you do something wrong every single time, all you’re doing is getting practiced at doing something flawed. Your intent has to be to do it right every single time, not to do it quickly, or to just do it. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time, or the second, or the third or fourth or fifth. But you should at least try to make it as good as you can in the beginning. A ball player doesn’t just throw basketballs at the hoop: he tries to make baskets.
With all that in mind, I don’t see the value of simply putting an arbitrary number of words on a page just to say that you did it. Anybody can do that. I understand that plenty of people who write just want to get words on the screen as that first draft, but that makes little sense. Every draft of my work represents the best I could do at that time. The more work you do in the beginning, the less you’ll have to fix in post, and the closer you’ll get to perfection. Start out well, and you’ll finish well.
Obviously, I’m not the gatekeeper for who can call himself a novelist and who can’t, nor do I want to be. It’s very much a meaningless title that anyone can acquire just by saying so. If by the end of NaNoWriMo you then feel comfortable putting the novelist crown on yourself, feel free. Nobody’s stopping you. There’s no barrier to entry, no quality control to endure, and nobody to take it away from you. Is that really what you want?
The writers I most admire don’t do NaNoWriMo, or if they do, they don’t talk about it. I’m very much a “model success” sort of person; if Paul Auster or Jonathan Carroll don’t sign up for NaNoWriMo every November, they probably have very good reasons for it.
Each of us has his own individual process for writing. If NaNoWriMo is your thing, great! I wish you the best of success.
It’s just not for me.