End of NaNoWriMo Thoughts – What’s the Point?

Four days ago, National Novel Writing Month came to an end.  Those who were dedicated enough, or had enough time on their hands, or chugged a pot of coffee and went crazy on the keyboard, reached the milestone of 50 thousand words.  For many people, it doesn’t always happen for one reason or another.  For some, it never does.  And that’s okay.

The NaNo forums are full of congratulations for those who crossed the finish line, and encouragement for those who haven’t reached it yet.  But you’ll also find links to some odd journalist’s article criticizing the event, always for the same reasons.  They parrot misconceptions about NaNoWriMo that are seen everywhere, especially among people who don’t write as a hobby.

A close friend of mine, after I posted a Facebook status celebrating a day of exceptional wordcount progress, felt the need to point out that the quality of the words is more important than quantity.  The implication?  Maybe I should slow down and work on getting it right the first time.

For some people, this approach may be fine.  I’m not going to pretend that NaNoWriMo is for everyone.  But for many people, myself included, the “getting it right the first time” is a pipe dream.

There are two reasons why those who assume NaNo is all about writing a masterpiece in a month, or that taking the slower approach is better, are downright wrong:

1.  I don’t care how much time you devote to your novel draft, it will not be of professional quality once you finish draft one.  You’ll still have to put it through rounds of edits.  Writers are human, and mistakes will be made.  You’ll make typos and embarrassing grammatical errors.  You’ll probably find a giant plothole halfway through your manuscript.  A character or three will change their personality as you’re writing, and their new thoughts will contradict what you gave them in chapter one.  Regardless of the fact that you own your story, it is in many ways like a living creature: it will change and follow its own path whether you want it to or not, and how you handle these changes will both affect the quality of your story and what direction you go while editing.  But that’s for another topic.

2.  Look at the wordcount for most novels.  You’ll find it is much higher than the standard NaNo goal of 50,000.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has a count of over 77 thousand words, to give one example.  Most writers who reach their 50K goal in NaNo find that their story isn’t even close to being finished.  What’s more, a lot of the words written down don’t survive later rounds of edits (though keep in mind that nothing written is ever truly wasted.)

Make no mistake, most people who participate have no illusions about having the next Song of Ice and Fire on their desk on December 1st.  But if they work hard enough, they just might have the beginnings of their own great story.  And that’s the whole point.

The Office of Letters and Light (NaNo’s parent organization) freely admits that a lot of what people will write in November will turn out to be in need of edits.  (In their own words, “you will write a lot of crap.”)  Their goal is to use that tight timeframe to encourage you to get off your butt and start writing, instead of putting off that novel idea that you’ve been kicking around for years.

The “NaNo is a waste of time” mentality is the misconception of the year.  NaNoWriMo isn’t about churning out a masterpiece of literature in a month.  It’s about getting those words down, because otherwise you never will.

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