Wednesday, December 3, 2008

NaNoWriMo '08 - The Postmortem

This past month was my first attempt at a NaNoWriMo novel and it was an interesting experience. I learned many things but it doesn't really matter without careful reflection.

For the uninitiated NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writer's Month, an online movement where participants talk like a pirate... sorry that's Talk Like a Pirate Day. The idea of NaNoWriMo is to start from nothing and write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Okay, 50,000 words is about halfway between a long novella and a short novel (these days novels tend to clock in closer to 100,000 words) but the concept is there: nothing to a book in thirty day.

I've known about NaNoWriMo for a while but this was the first year I've participated. Time issues or other projects have made it clear that dedicating a month to such a massive undertaking wouldn't be wise. This year I was struck by what I thought would be an easy idea to use to pump words out: Teddy Roosevelt and Grover Cleveland fighting time traveling one term nineteenth century US presidents in a pulp adventure format. I had the idea on October 28 so I decided to jump into NaNoWriMo.

Now that it is over and I have successfully completed my novel I have also decided that I am never doing that again. It is not that I became disillusioned with the idea that "writing is easy"; while that is a common sentiment I am well aware of the fact that it is not. Instead I found that most of the intended goals of NaNoWriMo event were ineffective for me.

One of the purposes of NaNoWriMo is to encourage people to write regularly by setting a deadline. I have this blog to channel my writing instinct into and it serves those needs very well even when I don't have to worry about narrative structure. So I wound up feeling that I was sinking a lot of time into something I was already pursuing.

A big portion of NaNoWriMo is the community attached and I found myself turned off by it. There's no kind way to say this so I'll just be rude: the majority of those involved were barely literate. We'll get to my own failings in a moment (and they are many) but looking at the forums was more disheartening than helpful.

The emphasis on word count and time limits resulted in extremely poor quality output. I chose a light pulp format for the ease in construction (whenever I got stuck I could move the characters to another historical event and have something crazy happen) but I shift tone, style, and structure so often that I produced fifty thousand words of completely unusable garbage. This is why you won't see a sample of my novel here or anywhere else: it's not just first draft quality, it needs a complete rebuild from the ground up to even reach that point. Consequently while I'm proud to have written a novel I also feel that I have wasted my time producing worthless text.

NaNoWriMo is an interesting writing exercise for amateur and would-be writers but I found it to be of limited worth to myself so I won't be doing it again. I did learn things about establishing structure and format and spent a lot of time thinking about pacing. For that reason giving it a try once was worth it but the lessons have been learned and its time to move on.