Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 44

by Laura Anne Gilman

All right, yes.  Like everyone else this month, I’m going to give you my take on NaNoWriMo.

I think it’s a f**king brilliant idea

Yeah, I know the arguments against it: that it results in churned-out messes of 40-60,000 words of unpublishable crap.  That people treat it like a game, and thereby undermine the real work being done by people taking their writing seriously.  That people flail in with a vague idea of a plot, and expect somehow, miraculously, to end up with a coherent story.  That December results in a flood of aforementioned crap, clogging submission piles for agents and publishers alike.

That’s all true.  But all that?  Happens the other eleven months of the year, too.

[trust me, the slush piles are pretty ugly in March and September, too.  And January?  January used to make us quake in fear]

But NaNoWriMo doesn’t start there, and it doesn’t stop there.

It starts with the idea: if you sit down, every day, and write, at the end of the month you’ll have something.  Maybe not a GOOD something, maybe not even a FINISHED something… but there will be words on the page.  Fifty thousand words, if you “win.”

Fifty thousand words is a lot of writing.  It takes focus, and determination, and more than a little bit of craziness.  Most folk won’t do it.  Of those who try, many realize halfway through that it’s not for them, that they don’t really have the gut-fire, they don’t have the willingness to give up other things to feed the page.

More people fail than win at NaNoWriMo.  And they walk away saying “wow, that was hard.”  Yes.  Yes, it is.

Some of them never try again – once was enough.  Some of them try it again the next year, with a better plan, a more realistic idea of what’s needed to win.

And some of them…try it again in December.

And that’s where NaNoWriMo stops.  When it stops being WriMo and becomes WriEvMo.  When a participant says “that was hard…” and keeps going.  When someone realizes that writing every day, no matter what, satisfies something inside them, scratches the itch in a way nothing else can.

When someone takes what they wrote in November, and revises it in December.  And January.  And then writes more, a little bit or a lot, every day

When NaNoWriMo becomes, as many of us are calling it, FiMyDaNoMo.

NaNoWriMo is a game, a lark, a project, a training ground.  It is a sifter, separating the wannabees from the needtobees, shaking away all the excuses and distractions, giving writers a taste of what this writing thing’s really like: not the fun bouncy social part, but the gritty, painful, gleeful meditation on your keyboard.  You.  The words.  The story.

NaNoWriMo teaches you that in order to win, you’ve got to go all in.

As an editor, as a writer, I think that’s f**king fabulous.

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Coming up in Week 45:  Shut up, calm down, and mellow the hell out.

Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, including the THE SHATTERED VINE, Book 3 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy, IN STORES NOW! (ahem), and the forthcoming urban fantasy TRICKS OF THE TRADE (11/15/11). Her SF collection, DRAGON VIRUS, which SF Signal called “amazingly evocative….a potent ride through a changing future,” was published by Fairwood Press in June 2011.  For more info check her website, her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman)

She also runs d.y.m.k. productions, an editorial services company (www.dymkproductions.com).

And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.

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About Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne is a recovering editor-turned-novelist, with an Endeavor Award, a Nebula nomination, another Endeavor award nomination and a Washington State Book Award nomination under her belt. Her most recent series is the award-winning "Devil's West" trilogy, starting with SILVER ON THE ROAD, and her same-universe story collection, WEST WINDS' FOOL, AND OTHER STORIES OF THE DEVIL'S WEST. The novella GABRIEL'S ROAD was published by Book View Cafe on April 30th, 2019. Her Patreon, featuring original fiction, writing advice, and original Rants, is at https://www.patreon.com/LAGilman Learn more at www.lauraannegilman.net, where you can sign up for her quarterly newsletter.

Comments

Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 44 — 6 Comments

  1. Well said! Although I sort of admire the gall (or is it self delusion?) of anyone who thinks sending off the NaNo manuscript in December could possibly be a good idea… imagine having that level of confidence in your work!

  2. Perhaps naivete is more accurate than gall?

    I also like NaNoWriMo, although to me it’s just NaWriMo — I use it to challenge myself to just write more, more consistently.

    I know full well I’m not going to get a novel written in a month, even if I wrote 8 hours straight a day. But I love the feeling of a lot of people’s creative juices flowing pretty steadily, talking about it, commiserating.

    I don’t love the idea of posting daily word counts, though, personally. It doesn’t work for me (feels too much like balancing a word-checkbook, and it makes me bull-headed, soI do it every couple of days, when I remember.) I don’t care what I hit as long as I’m writing every day.

    But it really works for many people, so YMMV.

  3. Every workshop I attend, there are writers who can’t find the time to write. I usually suggest they try 10 minutes while the kids are doing the dishes after dinner. Not only do they train themselves to write a sentence or a paragraph every day, they train the family to give this person those precious 10 minutes ALONE.

    Soon that 10 minutes becomes 20, turns into an hour, to 1000 words a day.

    NaNoWriMo does that too. You have to make the commitment that you aren’t going to let life and family get in the way of some words every single day. Maybe not 1600 words every single day, but something. Most participants don’t make the 50,000 words in a month, but they do get the gist of the commitment required. And so do the families.

    Most months I’m happy to achieve 20,000. Some months I do hit 35-40,000 words. Whatever, I churn out 2 books a year (each book goes through 4 drafts) and consider that jobs well done.

  4. Consider the honey bee. A bee cannot carry a very large load of pollen, and it takes a stupendous amount of pollen to make honey — I forget the ratio, but it’s something like 100 to 1. Nevertheless, if the bee keeps on at it, bit by bit, it does add up.
    If you write a page a day — and anybody can write a page a day — you have 365 pages at the end of the year, a perfectly nice novel length.

  5. Thank you! As a long-time NaNo participant but still unpublished author, I am so tired of hearing how this enterprise is a waste. I view it as a marathon of a writing practice, and have learned, among other things, to produce a first draft that isn’t just junk. Trying to edit the junk and vowing to do better next time is good incentive. Now I can actually show my NaNo-produced work to my writing group without embarrassment.