October 17, 2011

NaNoWriMo Is Gearing Up, But I'm Not

The National Novel Writing Month site has been in active mode for a week now, and I still haven't looked at it. That feels kind of strange. For so many years, I've spent the beginning of October eagerly refreshing the site to see if it's live yet or if it's recovered from one of the inevitable many crashes. Usually by now I've made dozens of forum posts introducing myself, making plans for local get-togethers, offering advice for NaNoWriMo newbies, and describing my ideas for my novel. In addition to all that time spent on the site, my Octobers are typically devoted to pondering the first draft I'll write during November, to the tune of 50,000 words in 30 days.

This year, I'll be sitting out NaNoWriMo. I'm a bit sad to think of all that exciting activity going on without me, though I expect I'll peek into the forums eventually and perhaps crash some write-ins next month. But mostly I'm relieved that I didn't come up with a new novel idea compelling enough to make me want to set aside my revision of THE EXTENT OF THE DAMAGE for a month or two.

I'd made a deal with myself that I'd only participate in NaNo this year if I thought up an entire story that I wanted to write all the way through. The past three Novembers, I started with a premise and some characters but no actual plot, and I ended up with a pile of rambling, unsalvageable pages that I didn't care about. Great stories can emerge from vaguely formed ideas, and plotless NaNo-wonders always have some nuggets of brilliance hiding in there somewhere, but these positive results are less frequent when the writer has only negative feelings about the story.

In general, the whole NaNoWriMo endeavor becomes rather painful and pointless if you lose all passion for what you're writing. That's why last year I dropped out of NaNoWriMo ten days in. It wasn't an easy choice, since I'd counseled other people against quitting so many times, but I decided that the event had lost some of its significance for me because I'd already proved to myself that I could succeed at it, seven times over.

I still believe strongly in the concept behind NaNoWriMo. For those who dream of writing a novel but have always been too intimidated to get far, it produces self-confidence in the ability to write huge chunks of text. For more experienced writers, NaNoWriMo can be a great way to quickly get out a first draft and move past all that uncertainty over what a story is really about. I still proudly declare that NaNoWriMo changed my life.

This year, I'm celebrating that change by accepting that it's not always a good idea to spend November writing something new. I'm moving right along with my revision, and I need to keep riding that momentum to the end. By next November, maybe I'll have another new story demanding to be told.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Charlie Jane Anders at io9 diagnoses and treats The 10 Types of Writers' Block: "In fact, there's no such thing as 'Writer's Block,' and treating a broad range of creative slowdowns as a single ailment just creates something monolithic and huge. Each type of creative slowdown has a different cause -- and thus, a different solution." (Thanks, Nathan Bransford!)


Rich said...

I am taking this year off also. Last year I had to go back to see my father. It turned out to be a bad month for a challenge like this.

I think I need a little distance from Nanowrimo for now. Maybe I will go back in the future.

I want to see the friends I made during nano. Someone needs to have a Silicon Valley nanowrimo alumni party.

Lisa Eckstein said...

I know quite a few longtime NaNoers who are sitting out this year. Some of them also took off last year. I think it will be interesting to see if we do end up returning to NaNo in a year or two, and how the break changes our experience of the event.

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