I didn't write a novel last month.

I've always been a bit of a contrarian about NaNoWriMo, the project where writers and people who don't think of themselves as writers attempt a novel writing sprint during the month of November. Well, it's a 50,000 word "novel," which is in the end a bit short for a novel and a bit too long for a novella, but we'll call it a novel for the sake of simplicity.

My basic gripe is that NaNoWriMo is a fun gimmick for people who aren't used to turning out huge volumes of writing every day anyway, it doesn't do a lot to really ensure or guarantee success. At it's heart NaNo has a very democratizing idea: anyone can write a novel, I fear that it does more to impede success than encourage it.

My reasoning:

  • November is the worst month, with the holidays and the time change, potentially. November also tends to be bad for people who are in school or who teach school, as the semester draws to an end. December might be even worse in these respects. Here are some arguments for other months: February or March, (in the northern hemisphere) are cold months where you just want to stay at home, and what better time to write a novel? May is upbeat and fresh. June has no major holidays and rides a wave of Summer euphoria. Defenders of NaNo say "There's no good month, so we might as well use November." I reject this logic. Picking a bad month of the year can do a lot for the success rate of the people who attempt the project, I figure.
  • The novel is too short. While it would probably also decrease success rate to make the NaNo Novel a publishable length (60-80k or so), I think having people end up with a piece that's sort of unusable in the "real world" can be discouraging as well. If they get something they like from NaNo, and they want to publish it, they have to write at least another ten thousand words and possibly as much as 50 thousand words. Digital distribution helps these things a bit, but the size is an issue.
  • What "real writers" do, is write every single day. The trick to being able to be a writer isn't the ability to turn out a quantity of prose on demand. It's the ability to sustainably work on projects all year round. To turn off the internal editor long enough that you get something on the paper, and then turn it back on so that "something" doesn't suck. They're able to take experiences and turn them into texts.
  • I'm not sure that the fetishization of the novel form is particularly productive. I think there's a lot of power and future in shorter forms. For learning how to be a writer, writing shorter works is probably a more effective way to learn to tell stories and create characters anyway.

Having said that, congrats to the people who did NaNo. Keep writing. You've probably found a few extra hours in your day that you didn't know you had. Keep writing and doing awesome things with that time. And if you're a huge fan of NaNo, don't worry too much about me, I'm just an ornery guy with too many opinions.

It's true: I've been working on a Novel for more than a year, and while I'm closing in on the end of the draft. Its now done yet. Soon, perhaps. Also, I think I should probably do some blogging here about learning to write, and teaching writing given that I got here by way of a strange path and feel so strongly about these things.