NaNoWriMo Sucks


That's right. I said it. NaNoWriMo sucks and I mean it. So what has NaNoWriMo done to draw my ire you ask? Well, what hasn't it done? It sucks up the time of talented writers, I don't see how it accomplishes the sponsor organization's goal, and it's acronym is incredibly difficult to type.

After spending a paragraph bashing the thing, let me slow down and explain what NaNoWriMo is. For those who don't know, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It is an imaginary competition where all the entrants try to write a 50,000 word novel in 1 month. If you do that, you win the imaginary prize. If you think it sounds silly, I swear I'm not making it up.

The way to win NaNoWriMo is by writing 50,000 words by midnight on November 30. Every year, there are many, many winners. There are no "Best Novel" or "Quickest-Written Novel" awards given out. All winners will get an official "Winner" web badge and a PDF Winner's Certificate.
The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to get people to write. Just write something.
NaNoWriMo is all about the magical power of deadlines. Give someone a goal and a goal-minded community and miracles are bound to happen. Pies will be eaten at amazing rates. Alfalfa will be harvested like never before. And novels will be written in a month.

Part of the reason we organize NaNoWriMo is just to get a book written. We love the fringe benefits accrued to novelists. For one month out of the year, we can stew and storm, and make a huge mess of our apartments and drink lots of coffee at odd hours. And we can do all of these things loudly, in front of people. As satisfying as it is to reach deep within yourself and pull out an unexpectedly passable work of art, it is equally (if not more) satisfying to be able to dramatize the process at social gatherings.

So getting back to my issues with the competition. The most annoying thing is the distraction it becomes for my favorite writers. Every year this dreaded contest draws the attention of my favorite bloggers to NaNoWriMo and away from their blogs. I enjoy their blogs, and I don't enjoy 50,000 word novels that are hastily thrown together in less than 5 weeks. On top of taking away my favorite high quality reading lists, I don't think NaNoWriMo helps those writers much either. The purpose of NanoWriMo is to get people to write, but bloggers already write on a regular basis. So why are bloggers shutting down one writing operation to open up another writing operation. Each about as useful as the other in terms of improving writing skills. I just don't get it.

If someone were to defend NaNoWriMo, I suppose they would say that it encourages writers to write and finish their novels. This is where I start questioning the whole premise of the competition. Really? A writer needs to be encouraged to write his or her story? Anyone who needs an imaginary competition to start writing may want to consider another line of business. Most writer's I know have a story inside of them just aching to be told. They have to write it. They can't not write it. You'd have to pull the pen from their cold dead fingers before they'd stop.

That kind of tenacity to write is needed because writing the novel is just the first step. You now have the hours of self editing and rewriting to go through. Then the professional editing comes. Then the marketing of your book. You have all those inquiry letters to write and rejection notices to read. So, if a writer has to be encouraged to do the first step - The fun one - what are the chances they'll ever get around to the rest of the steps?

Finally, I want to reiterate what I said before. NaNoWriMo is a pain in the butt to type. I'm serious. Try and type it 3 times in a row. It's hard. Map it out. Here's the button combination to properly write NaNoWriMo on a qwerty keyboard.
  1. Hold left Shift
  2. (N) Right Index,
  3. Let go of left shit
  4. (a) left pinky
  5. Hold Left Shift
  6. (N) Right Index
  7. let go of left shift
  8. (o)Right Ring
  9. Hold Right shift
  10. (W)Left Ring
  11. let go of shift
  12. (r) right index
  13. (i) left middle
  14. Hold Left Shift
  15. (M) right index
  16. let go of shift
  17. (o) right ring
Wow! 17 steps just to write their *abbreviation*. You also are alternating shift buttons between hands. That is incredibly awkward. I know it seems like a petty thing to complain about, but they should've known better. When you're a online writing competition, you would think you'd make it easy for online writers to talk about you.

Oh yeah, and one more thing about their name. It's not even accurate. The National Novel Writing Month is actually an international event. So it should be InNoWriMo. Which actually is slightly easier to type since your left pinky doesn't have to leave the shift key between typing the 'I' and the 'N'.

Now, not everything about NaNoWriMo is bad. Some authors enjoy the intensity of trying to write a first draft in a month. Other's also like the interaction with other author's in middle of writing a novel. So why not make those tools available all year round? Let author's register the day they start and then give them 30 days to finish. They then can intereact with other author's who are writing all year long. Nobody has to wait for November anymore.

Here's way to improve it. I do not believe that the problem with the modern publishing industry has anything to do with the lack of crappy novels being pushed out. If anything, it's the lack of people reading good novels. Competing with movies, video games, and comic books is hard. However, if you can get a person to read that one book that they really like, you can turn that person into a life long bookworm. I say we need a competition that increases and encourages readers, not writers. Put in crass economic terms, we need to increase demand, not supply.

Here's my idea for a new yearly competition. Instead of challenging people to write 50,000 crappy words, challenge them to read 500 pages of any novel or novels they so choose. Add in some rules. For instance, if you're reading a paperback you have to read 2 pages to count as 1 hard cover page. This competition virtually guarantees that all participants who "win" would have to read at least 1 novel and maybe part of another. Now how sweet would that be? Readers can share what books they read. Part of the requirements for "winning" could be that you have to write a 250+ word review of what you read. You know, to prove to your fellow readers that you actually did it.

Finally, the last thing I would change about NaNoWriMo if I had the power to do so would be the name. I would rename National Novel Writing Month to be International Novel Month - abbreviated INM and pronounced "In Me". This has a number of improvements. First of all, the abbreviation is easier to type. You can use just hold the left shift down the entire time, type with the other hand(Middle-Index-Middle), and then let go of the shift key. 5 steps only instead of 17. Also, Saying it requires fewer syllables, 2 instead of 4. The name also lends flexibility. Whether the competition is a writer's or reader's competition, the name still makes sense. Finally, it reflects the fact that it's international not just national.

Anyways, if this post convinces just one person to skip participating in NaNoWriMo and instead work on their blog or plotting out a good novel, then my goal will have been accomplished. I know I'm probably on the other side of popular opinion so, please, feel free to flame away in the comments.


Chris Poirier said...

"Most writer's I know have a story inside of them just aching to be told. They have to write it. They can't not write it. You'd have to pull the pen from their cold dead fingers before they'd stop."

You must know very different writers than I do. ;-) Because I know far more who struggle to write than ones who don't. Even the few I know who write lots still hit dry spells. And it has nothing to do with a story demanding to be told, either -- it has to do with self-confidence, motivation, perfectionism -- the whole range of human reasons for being dissatisfied with one's art. Or just the demands of family, work, etc.

I have no great personal love of NaNo. It certainly didn't get me writing the way having an audience has, and I most certainly won't be going back to it for that reason. But I know other people who did find something deeply compelling about NaNo, people who got past their blocks because of it, because of the social support network the event provides. The local admins arrange nearly daily writing events, where you can get together with other struggling writers at a cafe or library and be stuck in a room with a whole bunch of people who are willing you to write *forward*. Every day, you can upload your new text, and the website will maintain a publicly-visible word count for your month. It provides social pressure to write -- in the hopes that it will overcome all of the reasons you have not to. And by doing it all at once, in one month, together, it gets people past their mundane excuses -- by making *writing* the special event that gets priority in their lives.

NaNo is not about producing great writing. It's about getting people to get past their mental blocks about *finishing* things -- about accepting imperfection and *moving on*. And, whether you believe it or not, those are very common problems writers face. At least, it is for the ones I know.

As for why your favourite writers seem to want to do it instead of writing more for you to read, well, I'm sure they have their reasons. Could be as simple as they have warm memories about the event, or they like the social stuff of meeting lots of other writers. In any event, unless you are paying them to write for you, well, that's their prerogative . ;-)

wanderingwidget said...

According to my copy of 'No Plot, No Problem!' (I have an end of October b-day and everyone knows I do NaNo, so shuddup) the whole NaNoWriMo idea started as a dare to convince a bunch of Non-Writers to write a novel in thirty days. As such its foundations were structured in such a way as to prove to your regular non-story-writing Joe that it is possible to write a novel in thirty days, and have fun doing it.

The fact that people who want to be writing as their full time job choose to lean upon NaNo in order to 'force' themselves to write is sad (and I'm guilty of it) but really I think it's indicative of another problem: the fact that it's hard to maintain a community of that many interested writers over the course of a whole year.

NaNo, for one month, gives participants, whether they're just average Plumbers and Baristas or aspiring Novelists, a large and involved and funny and dramatic and supportive and fundamentally positive community. I've yet to find anything else on the web that even comes close to matching that.

(If you have suggestions feel free to share them though, my google!f00 is by no means comprehensive).

My point, there was a point wasn't there, is that NaNo is serving purposes for which it was not designed. Also that you're entitled to your opinion and I'll be trying to mash out a novel this November anyways.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I'm not doing NaNo this year. I won it the first time I did it but not the second time, which was fine. Except I'm not thrilled with what I produced. That's the bottom line: I'm not thrilled with what I got out of it.

That said, though, some of my friends have published their NaNo books.

I guess it's what works for you.

Fluffy said...

You seem to be placing a lot of emphasis on the fact that the resulting novel is rubbish. While it's true many people publish their NaNo novel as soon as it's finished, for many writers, the result of the 30 days writing is only the completion of the first draft. I can't say I would enjoy having people read something I threw together in that short time.

I'll be doing NaNo again this year, for some reason I write better to deadlines, especially ones that I haven't created myself (they're too easy to extend).

On a different note entirely, I've pulled the plug on The Professional Pet, hopefully I'll be able to pick it up again in the future.

Angel said...

I am doing it for the first time this year. I'm on a writing forum, and most of the writers are doing it.

I have been writing short stories and flash fiction lately. I do have one "novel" idea that's just been laying around. That's what I'm going to work on next month.

I just think it will be fun. I'm sure I won't get 50,000 done, but at least I can interact with the others.

I have no problem writing. I LOVE writing my short stories. And, I really love the idea for my novel. It's just that I haven't taken time with it in the last few months because I've been doing so much other stuff..stuff that pays the bills.

I guess it's just a matter of opinion.

Hopefully you won't lose too many writers.

Catherine @ Sharp Words said...

You've got some interesting and valid comments (mostly the ones about the name), but you seem to be missing the point a lot.

The idea isn't to produce a whole load of novels; it's to get people writing who never have before, it's to enable people to be proud of a completed challenge, it's to encourage those of us who might otherwise be sluggish to complete at least a first draft which can then be used later on (I know more than a few published writers who do this).

And for those of us who like being sociable in our writing (which isn't everyone, and it's not to criticise those who aren't, either), it's an awful lot of fun to get together with people doing exactly the same thing.

Charlotte said...

I love NaNo (maybe it's overkill to abbreviate an abbreviation, but it is easier to type). I agree that it doesn't produce high quality stuff, but I do think it encourages people to write, which I think is wonderful.

I agree that creating more readers would be even better, but I think people feel a lot more accomplished after writing a "novel" than reading one. Too many people read books to make it an accomplishment. I read over 500 pages every week, sometimes in a day. I'm sure plenty of other college students do the same. And it's not like reading a book is something people have never done before. It's not as crazy, as exciting.

I'm not doing it this year bc I'm travelling through about half of November, and Charlotte takes a lot of time, but I look forward to doing it next year. :)

Rene' Morris said...

I joined NaNoWriMo for the first time in November of 2006 and the result was a novel that I'm still working on. I didn't finish that year, but if I hadn't just sat down to "write something," I wouldn't have what I have. So I'm definitely doing NaNoWriMo this year! I'll be writing book four of my series, The Sonshine Girls.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you like to complain.

DustinM said...

Thank you, Anonymous, for your input. First, let me just say that we here at appreciate all feedback. In your case, I can assure that your input will be given the exact amount of thought and attention it deserves.

Ketutar said...

As it is the best and most concise comment, I suppose it deserved to be the only one to be responded to :-D

Mary said...

As for the name, I dispense with the caps, except for the first N, which makes typing Nanowrimo much simpler.

If even Hemingway can say "the first draft of anything is sh*t," why do the crappy first drafts that emerge from Nanowrimo bother so many people?

Major league writers support this event - Neil Gaiman, Piers Anthony, Sue Grafton and Meg Cabot, to name a few who have done pep talks. And the non-profit behind Nanowrimo supports creative writing and literacy throughout the world. How, please tell me, is this a bad thing?

Of course, there are always critics, detractors and haters. People who can't see the forest for the trees.

But, as sorry as I feel for those who don't get it, I am quite happy to be working on my eighth year of Nanowrimo, and hopefully my fourth win.

Friedebarth said...

I agree with you in part; specifically, the all year round thing. Putting it in November is just completely random. I don't give a shit about the fucking weather. Even if it had any significance whatsoever, they'd be discriminating on people from the Southern Hemisphere. And November is the month where I have the least time to do anything. No holidays, loads of learning, loads of exam prep. Allowing people 30 days of writing whenever they want makes much more sense.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for saving me from wasting a month of my life. =) I'll stick to blogging.

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