01 November 2011

The Art of the Deadline

Huh, look at that. It’s November again.

What’s the big deal about November? National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is the big deal. I offer a chocolate, coffee, and Red Bull™ to all those attempting the mad writing dash this month. I’ve attempted it in the past, but am taking the year off to just cheer on those that I know taking part in the monumental task.

Ah, I see we have some disbelievers in the reading audience.

I was told, early in my writing career, that a “true” writer doesn’t do NaNoWriMo. I believed those that told me such things because I was SO new to the game and they were “experienced” writers. I hadn’t discovered then what I know now.

There are benefits to NaNoWriMo, some of which I will express here. Feel free to offer rebuttals to my opinions in the comments.

One big thing that the event teaches is Writerly Habits. Before 2005, when I attempted it for the first time, I wrote when I felt like it. Sometimes, I’d go months between writing sessions. “The Muse hadn’t moved me recently,” I’d say with some aplomb.

It was an easy excuse to use, when I was younger and naïve.

NaNoWriMo taught me to put my butt in the chair and write, whether the muse spoke to me or not. If I wanted to write, I had to make the effort. It wouldn’t make the effort for me. As the years pressed on, I learned that an every day approach wasn’t required, as long as I made the final numbers.

It also teaches that Revision is Writing. The objective of NaNoWriMo is to create a first draft, not a masterpiece ready for publication.

Tips to reach the end usually include:
Kill off a character.
Write a sex scene.
Skip to the next most interesting scene.
Add a character.

A lot of those sound familiar, don’t they?

You’re not supposed to revise as you write during November. However, if it requires adding a paragraph with a character in a completed section, go back and do it! If you add a silly scene with five pages of description, it can be edited for better flow later. All words are sacred during the event.

Consider, also, that NaNoWriMo offers a solid, fixed deadline. Complete manuscript A by November 30. No leeway, no wiggle room to weasel an extra day from your agent. It offers a great training ground for people who want to write, because it gives you a short period of time and a set number of words to complete.

As a plus for many writers attempting the challenge, they can experiment with something outside of their comfort zone. Normally, I write science fiction, fantasy, or general fiction. In 2005, I tried mystery. I attempted a book with a large cast and an epic disaster for 2009. I’m not proud of the fact that 2007 was my “adult fantasy” year. For 2006 and 2008, I stuck to genres I knew, but I played with other aspects of the challenge. Could I reach 60,000 words in 30 days? I know one professional writer who says, thanks to NaNoWriMo, she won’t ever write westerns. It’s about the experiment, not the final product.

Another advantage of the event is the development of community. I knew that writing was a solitary adventure. That gave me mixed emotions. Then I tried NaNoWriMo and found this huge community of writers, more than 100,000 strong, who were attempting this feat together. People gathered to discuss their plot, their successes and failures, and their distractions. Friendships developed. Suddenly, I wasn’t alone in my writing. I had people I could turn to and ask for help with my plot or character problem. Writing groups have grown from this event. I’ve heard of two marriages from people who met through NaNoWriMo.

Of the 100,000 plus that attempt it every year, not everyone reaches said deadline. Some just give up, which one can’t do with a contract. Some struggle all month, but they can’t get out of their plot’s way. And some sign up, but never get started. Those who are in it for the love of the written word and the community that NaNoWriMo creates thrive.

I’d encourage every writer to attempt National Novel Writing Month once. Win, lose or draw, I suggest making the attempt. Don’t talk bad of the event that you’ve never tried. It may not offer the type of writing environment that you’ll thrive in, but that’s okay. It’s a learning environment for everyone.

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