The whole project is supposed to be this uplifting, self-challenging exercise that not only tests your capabilities and willpower, but motivates you to create something you wouldn’t otherwise have had the gumption to complete. Plus, since there’s a whole bunch of other people doing it at the same time, you’ve got this expansive community of writers to hold hands and sing Kumbayah with (or beat your heads on your desks in unison, whatever the case may be.)
As the clock has wound down to NaNoWriMo’s commencement today, lately I’ve heard numerous excited friends hailing its perks and trying to convince me to participate. I thought about it, honestly I did give it a good once-over, but I’ve come to the conclusion that no, I ain’t doin’ it.
Now immediately I know some of you are gasping or scoffing or making some sort of choking noise, I can tell (because yeah, I’m in your computer screen, deal with it.) But before you deal out a swift judgment about my literary merit, allow me to explain.
I’m not doing NaNoWriMo because I don’t need to. If the point is to push/torture yourself into tackling a huge project or to stretch the limits of what you think you’re capable of, I’m already doing that, trust me. My 365 Poetry Project marches ever on, in which I somehow squeeze in enough time to write and publish one poem a day for a full year, the only rule being that I have to be proud of whatever I end up releasing to the public. Believe me, it ain’t easy. I write through my lunch breaks, or in the car, or at restaurant tables surrounded by quasi-offended friends who haven’t yet decided whether it’s mostly amusing or mostly annoying. I wake up in the morning thinking about poetry, scan billboards and boring paperwork for inspiration, cancel dates if I’m not finished yet, and go to sleep thinking about tomorrow’s poem. In short, writing already runs my life. You’ll have to excuse me if the idea of pushing myself any further makes me laugh and want to jump out the window.
Besides that whole little “my life would fall apart if I attempted to participate” issue, I just don’t want to write a novel. I’m a nit-picker of words by nature, which is why I’m so drawn to poetry. That little three-stanza poem I published the other day? Yeah, that took two and a half hours to get it right. But for some reason there seems to be this stigma among writers that quantity of words is somehow related to quality. You see a big-ass book and immediately assume some genius wrote it. Obviously that’s not the case (this is where I cough and call out some over-hyped author of gargantuan works of garbage, but I trust that you can supply your own favorite example.) I’m not suggesting that a good poem is somehow worth more than a novel; what I am saying is that consistently completing small pieces of worthy work is just as commendable as cranking out a metric crap-ton of rough draft material.
And hey, let’s talk about what happens with those 50,000 words after they’re puked out in a steaming mess onto the paper (or keyboard.) The point, after all, of NaNoWriMo is not to worry so much about quality. Rather, we’re to let the words come however they choose so we can meet our deadline without wasting time with whether they’re any good or not. I don’t need to participate to determine whether I can meet the challenge because I already know- no, I cannot write a novel under those conditions. My end product would be nowhere near anything I would ever be proud of, and I wonder how many people who’ve completed the challenge actually have gone on to do anything with the mass of raw material they’ve created. I’m not saying it’s impossible that some authors really do need the push, but I just think that if you’re going to write a novel, you will, regardless of whatever ego-stroking challenge is going around among writers that month. As a writer, I’d rather take my time and trust my own sense of self-discipline to kick myself in the behind to get it finished this century. And as a reader, I’d much rather delve into something created from a love of the craft and a careful, dedicated approach from the start, as opposed to something sculpted from a month’s worth of word-vomit.
If you’re the type that needs a challenge to get anything done, you extrinsically-motivated types who need a deadline and a prize at the end of the rainbow, NaNoWriMo is for you. You’ll probably make tons of friends in the forums, commiserating about your characters that just won’t do what you want them to do, because writing is so fun and so hard and so cool. But if you actually give a shit about writing for its own sake, you don’t need to bother.