Tuesday, October 25, 2016

"Should I NaNo?"...and a pep talk for those who've already decided to do it.

With November right around the corner (and the end of election season so close we can all taste it), the annual question has begun to pop up in the brains and social media feeds of writers:

Should I do NaNoWriMo?

Well...should you?

Obviously a lot of that depends on what else you have going on in your life, how busy you are with a day job and/or a family, and how long you'll need to hibernate after the election is over. I'm not here to answer that part.

But one of the big debates that always seems to crop up is whether NaNoWriMo is worth it. There is frequent criticism of the program because it allegedly encourages quantity over quality, that it creates unhealthy competitiveness, and discourages people who aren't able to reach the 50,000 word goal.

Here's the thing: NaNo is not for everyone. If competition motivates you, NaNo might be for you. If competition intimidates you, it's probably not. And that's completely okay.

For some people, the biggest obstacle with writing is the discipline and motivation to just get the words down on paper. This is where NaNo comes in handy. With word count goals, competition, and the go go go! mantras coming from all directions, enthusiasm alone can push a writer to get those words written. If that kind of pressure makes you freeze, no sweat -- NaNo isn't mandatory, so don't feel like you should, or you have to, or there's something wrong with you if you don't. You do you.

For many writers, the internal editor is a problem. That voice second guesses every word and every sentence, refusing to let you move forward until it's perfect. And editing as you go is a perfectly valid and reasonable way to write... unless it's keeping you from writing at all. This is where the "permission to write crap" comes in. It's not that anyone is saying "write the worst thing imaginable." It's simply permission to shut off that inner editor, all the while knowing that anything you write can be fixed later.

And there's the key -- it can be fixed later, and it'll be up to you to fix it. At the end of November, you will have a finished manuscript, but not a finished book. Still, that's an enormous leap from having nothing written at all. Whatever's on the page at the end of the month can be fixed, tweaked, and polished up. A blank page? Not so much.

If all of that appeals to you, then I would say GO FOR IT. If it doesn't, no one's going to judge you for not participating. If they do, tell them L.A. Witt said they're a butthead.

And if you have decided to participate, here is my sort-of-annual-when-I-remember-to-post-it-in-time NaNoWriMo pep talk:

You are allowed to get frustrated. You are allowed to be intimidated, overwhelmed, and discouraged. You are allowed to quit. There is no shame in throwing in the towel if it's too much. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, and don't be ashamed or embarrassed if it doesn't work out. I promise, you won't be the first, you won't be the last, and you're no less of a writer because of it.

In the next few paragraphs, when I talk about persevering, that's not meant to shame you if you have to bail. It's meant to encourage those who need a kick in the butt so they can find that second wind and push on. Only you can know and decide if the best thing for you is to quit or to push on, and if you do decide to quit, know that you still have my utmost respect for giving it a go in the first place.

With that being said...

Folks, writing is hard work. Writing 50,000 words in a month is really hard work. When it gets frustrating, overwhelming, intimidating, and discouraging, that doesn't mean you're a bad writer, or your book is fatally flawed, or that you should drop out and take up basket-weaving instead. Writing is fun, but there comes a point when it becomes work. When it's hard. I have literally written over 100 books, and can't think of a single one where I haven't hit the wall at some point. Sooner or later, every book gives me that moment where I'm convinced it's going to fall apart, that I can't make it work, that the whole thing is a disaster. My characters aren't the only ones who get a Black Moment in every book.

In your stories, it's the "I can't go on" moment that defines your character and makes them overcome everything. For you, the writer, it's when you decide to hang it up or press on.

Press on. Even when you think your story sucks, press on. It might suck, and that's okay! That's what editing is for. And hell, let's say the story is fatally flawed and will never see the light of day. That doesn't mean writing it was a waste of time! There is no way you made it from start to finish on that story, not to mention through the editing process where you realized it didn't work, without learning something. If you hadn't learned something, you wouldn't be able to recognize the problems your story has, but you did, and you do, and you'll apply that to your next book.

Writing is a craft. It's okay to suck, because everyone who's good at anything sucked at it for a while. Prodigies and savants are remarkable because they're so rare. The rest of us have to work at it, and that means flubbing Mary Had a Little Lamb a few dozen times before you and Mozart can wow Carnegie Hall.

You've got this. Make a plan. Make some words. Make a mess if you have to. Put your nose to the grindstone and make it happen. At the end of November, even if you haven't created a book that will one day be published or whatever your goal is, you will absolutely have learned something about the craft, and you will also have learned that you can.

My writing career literally began with NaNoWriMo in 2008. It was that NaNo that taught me I could in fact write a novel from start to finish, and that I could do it fast. When it was over, I kept going. And going. And going. Eight years, 100+ books, 100+ publishing contracts, several co-authors, 10 publishers, and a full-time career later...you better believe it was absolutely worth the moments of frustration.

So, good luck. You've got this. It won't be easy, but it'll be worth it.

And if you'd like some pointers on writing faster, I will now take this opportunity to shamelessly encourage you to purchase my book, Writing Faster FTW, which is marked down to $0.99 until November 30th!

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