Thursday, November 10, 2011


 We are well into November, which is National Novel Writing Month-a month where people around the world decide to bang out a novel in 30 days, which apparently means 50k words.

I’m not a huge fan.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t outright dislike it, and I have been tempted to join in the fun in the past. NaNo is a good thing in general, in some respects. For those people who need to overcome the fear of writing a large piece of work, or who think they can’t do it, NaNo serves as a fantastic motivator. And discussion of stories on forums can serve as a fertile breeding ground for ideas.

Personally, I don’t NaNo because I already have a writing system set up. I can’t bang out 50k words in 30 days, but I can write a 70k story in five months, or a 30k story in two. I set my goals in terms of story accomplished, not word count. I don't really feel the need to participate.

But there is a dark side to NaNo, that always bothers me-50k words of a story written in 30 days will almost never be a complete story. Most of the time, it won’t even be any good.

There are many skills a writer needs, but two very important ones are the ability to perceive flaws in writing, and the knowledge to fix them. Writing a story blisteringly fast does nothing to promote those two skills. Instead it forces you to shove them aside as you strive to make your word count and ignore any warning bells in your head that say “maybe this scene is pointless” or “where am I going with this?”
Edit? Bah. Who has time for that? I need more words!

Many experienced writers already know this. They know the rigorous editing that will come after a NaNo story is completed. But the newbie writers who are just learning that they can, indeed, write a real story? They don’t.

I’ve heard dark tales of agents and editors besieged with unedited work after NaNo is over, newbie writers glowing with their accomplishment. But finishing a story is not finishing a story. The mass of bloated words that comes out of a NaNo project is not ready for the experienced public eye. People who receive praise on their blogs for their NaNo stories get falsely puffed up with the expectation that agents and publishers will want it the day after it’s finished.

They don’t. Agents and publishers want to look at something that has been edited to perfection, and they do have the ability to tell when something has been rushed prematurely out the door. And if it’s been posted on a blog? Don’t expect publishers to want to publish something that has already been available for free.  

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