November Post-Mortem and Some New Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

It's December 1st and I have lived to tell the tale of November, which was, on the professional front, the busiest one I've had all year and probably will have for a long time. You can get a sense of all that from the blog I wrote for my publisher Hobbes End. Check it out if you like.

The biggest note underlying all the craziness of November was of course National Novel Writing Month, the yearly shindig where writers of all stripes sit down to churn out 50,000 words in 30 days. I've struggled a lot over the years regarding my feelings for this time of year, but amid all the internal conflict, I invariably find myself participating. I don't exactly know why. I mean, I write every day as a matter of course. It's my job. What's the point of novel writing month when you're working on a novel EVERY month? I've theorized that I enjoy the camaraderie, but I think there is something more internal motivating me I haven't quite figured out yet. The truth is I usually end up hating the whole process by the end. If anything, this month tends to accelerate my creative burnout rather than fostering anything positive, and I wind up ending it with a great need to take about three months off of writing entirely. Not a particularly good thing given the fact that my completion rate on books started during NaNo is less than 1%. So I burn myself out for nothing. After a lot of ruminating and pontificating, I have come to the following conclusion about this particular event:

Most of what gets written at such a frenetic pace is crap, particularly if you're pounding out an average of 5000 words or more a day all so you can be done by mid-month and strut yourself in front of your jealous writer friends who are still slogging away. And while that's not true of ALL participants, I would say it's true of a great lot of them. And the crap in these drafts isn't even the good kind of first draft crap that one can go back to easily enough and edit into something readable. Instead, most of what people churn out during NaNo is just plain unfixable word puke that doesn't belong anywhere else but on the writer's hard drive. If nothing else, I find this whole event to be one giant brain purge that cleans out our creative systems and makes it so we can head into the new year with our minds clean to produce quality work again.

It doesn't always have to be this way, though. I think the key to making this month work for more than just being a creative barf fest is to not rush it. Work at a steady and natural pace. Don't burn yourself out. Write only what you love and what you believe in. Always produce your best work. And if you find yourself slipping behind a little bit, don't sweat it, because if you burn even more energy rushing to catch up, you're only going to be writing more crap that has to be cut out later. It's very easy for the month of November to be one of self-sabotage for those who fancy themselves writers. Don't become one of those casualties by cocking it up with quantity over quality bullshit.

I managed to cross the 50K line with about three hours to spare. It was the closest I've ever cut it, but the good thing is I woke up this morning with the desire to keep going right where I left off, and that's the first time I've ever felt that way after NaNoWriMo. Maybe it helps because the project I'm working on is a "career" book. It's the follow-up to my novel Strings and I have a lot riding on getting this done right. But it also helps that I threw away the whole notion of a "race" and just wrote for the love of it. And in that, it was like any other month of the year.

Maybe for those of us who see little value in killing ourselves to meet some arbitrary word goal (even if we do it every stinkin year), November would be best used to reflect more closely on why we do what we do and embrace the awesome power of creating these awesome, multi-dimensional, life-affirming, soul crushing things we call books. And whether or not you make the 50K or some other goal you've set, pat yourself on the back if you managed to get up every day and write something. A few pages, a few paragraphs, a few sentences, whatever. Because this job isn't easy and it shouldn't be taken lightly. It only looks easy to some because the author spent plenty of time bleeding on the other side. Just make sure if you're writing in November to bleed for the right reasons. Getting 50,000 words in 30 days should not be one of them.