National Novel Writing Month may not know who I am, but I’m declaring war on it. That’s right, with big ol’ gnarly swords and axes ‘n shit. A splash of gooey crimson, a length of pinkish-white entrails, smelling of iron and heat and death, and we’ll have a nice little battle. Who cares if it’s one-sided?
Disclaimer: My brand-new chair just dumped me on my ass, so I’m a little pissed.
Why NaNoWriMo is the Devil’s gift to writers:
Look at writing as a ladder. At the very top—way up on the last possible step, where it’s terrifying to let go lest writer meet dirt in violent fashion—is where each writer could potentially climb. Climb a little farther, grasp another wooden dowel, then another, and they’ll eventually reach it. Hopefully. The problem is that most writers never get off the first rung.
Because they don’t learn the fundamentals. They never learn how to structure a sentence, when to properly use an adverb, the dangers of infinite verb-phrases, the boring depths of passive voice, the terrors of SOB verbs, or countless other bottomless pits.
Writing a good story isn’t half of the ladder. Nope, not even half. Yes, self-editing plays a part in there somewhere, but look at it this way—even with self-editing, our example writer only climbs ten rungs, or fifteen. However, if they are at rung number fifteen when they start, then they’ll reach twenty or twenty-five at the end of their self-edits. Add in an editor, and they may even reach to the thirtieth.
And this, folks, is where my problem with NaNoWriMo comes in. The program doesn’t encourage writers to write well, it simply encourages them to write. It reinforces bad writing habits that end up taking months or years to erase. In many cases, those bad habits are never fully eradicated. Let me be perfectly clear here, no editor, no matter how good, can clean up a manuscript that’s sloppy to begin with. The better the base material, the better the end product. That also goes for self-editing.
Yes, there are exceptions. Some writers start off with NaNoWriMo and go on to be published. In fact, we’ve even got one or two at Evolved Publishing, and they’ve proven themselves as gifted and dedicated writers. However, those are exceptions. I don’t want to make up a bogus figure off the top of my head, but how many writers start with NaNoWriMo and then go on to be published? Judging by the hordes of submissions we’ve received, I’d guess not many.
Learn the fundamentals first. I mean seriously, a racecar diver doesn’t compete in the Daytona 500 without first learning how their car works. Go slow. A mechanic doesn’t attempt to swap an engine until he learns his tools, completes a brake job or two, and works his way up that ladder.
A new bloody writer shouldn’t try to write a novel in a month.
Yes, quality is more important than quantity, because it cuts down on those aforementioned bad habits. I swear to the ever-living god, those things breed faster than a horde of zombie bunnies. Kill them. Kill them all!
Buy books like Strunk & White’s Elements of Style or Renni & Brown’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and study the crap out of them. Go take a grammar class at a community college, or buy Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale. It’s possible to teach yourself through experience, but only if you actually teach yourself. Writing at break-neck speed isn’t learning. Take this month to do that, instead of writing whatever pops into your skull.
And, if you do indeed decide to embark on NaNoWriMo, throw their goal out the window. Writing as fast as possible isn’t a goal, it’s a death sentence, and these writers are only hurting themselves.