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NaNoWriMo and Why I Won’t Do It

November 1st, 2011 by Troy Goodfellow · 6 Comments · Me

I wasn’t really a fan of National Novel Writing Month (i.e., November Hackapalooza) until I came to terms with the basic fact that it’s not about quality, it’s about discipline and that’s a value I can get behind. Encourage people to commit to just putting the damn thing on paper and you are slowly building some important writing skills. Also it’s a nice community thing that lets friends check on each other and support each other even if nothing ever gets published. It’s a world wide writing workshop, dominated by amateurs and hobbyists, and that’s OK. It seems to be full of the kind of good will that the internet needs much more of.

But it’s not for me.

Writing is easy if you are a genius or don’t really care about what you put down. But for most of us, writing is a very hard thing if you want to be taken seriously. If you always stick with your first draft, you are not doing it right. Just as Scrabble ability is more related to math and pattern recognition skills than vocabulary size, writing well requires more than love of language; it demands a serious respect for the audience, the editor and yourself.

Writing is really hard when life insists on kicking you in the face with things you would like to write about but can’t. I blogged more, for example, when I had lots of different games to play and no burdens on what I could say about them. Now I have a day job that eats creative energy, and I can’t write on this blog about the Crusader Kings 2 beta, or the status of Sword of the Stars 2, or the tensions between being a former journalist and a gun for hire or why it sometimes takes so long to answer email. If I write about the job, it will be on the corporate blog and that’s a space where I represent Evolve even more than I do in my normal life (this is a small business; I always represent Evolve unless you aren’t in it or you are a very close friend). And this will never be the sort of blog where I spend a week complaining about my personal life or write about Bars And Pubs I Have Known.

So the idea of sitting and writing a novel which demands creativity and outlining and character arcs scares the hell out of me. Because I cannot do fiction. I think I have a skill with writing dialog, but mapping out a plot that strings those dialogs together and doesn’t reveal itself from the beginning is a skill I envy. I like to think that maybe I could have been a playwright or screenwriter, but that’s a lie, too. Sitting at my desk and typing a couple of thousand words every night to try to fit a story together is kind of terrifying. I’ve read some great short stories and those demand the kind of precision I love in writing, but still. Plot.

Nope, it’s non-fiction for me, and I will start my e-book before the end of the year once I’ve done the research, made sure I can pay for awesome cover art and looked at what a decent price point will be. Plus, I really want to learn video this month and it’s been much harder than I thought it would be to make time for Flash of Steel TV.

If I end up starting with a Christmas Special, shoot me.

If any commenters are participating, or have in the past, let me know. Keep me updated. I’d love to read your work.


6 Comments so far ↓

  • Nicholas

    I made an extremely abortive stab at it with some friends a few years ago. To borrow a distinction from a crafty friend of mine, there are project knitters and process knitters—those who aim for a polished realization of something complete, and those who have no compunction about taking all the threads apart over and over again to work on the procedure of putting something together. NaNoWriMo is definitively not for project-driven people, and to that end I think it’s a poor fit for those who already write in a professional capacity, even if they don’t work on fiction. Writers who already produce for an audience other than themselves live and die by project thinking.

    It’s a hobbyist challenge I respect, particularly due to how it offers a demoralizing, solitary activity a framework of camaraderie. It’s an admirable exercise in self-development. But it doesn’t produce anything—not for an audience—and the participants who believe otherwise are setting themselves up to make slush-pile readers pull out their hair and/or fill up the unread Kindle dollar market.

    On a totally incidental point, regarding Scrabble: after you hit an intermediate-level plateau in tournament play, skill in the game really does scale (however slowly) with rote study of vocabulary. Understanding positional strategy and long-term planning can get you very far, but after a point it becomes impossible to apply skills like making good probabilistic guesses about the unseen tiles unless you know the space of possible plays, both your opponent’s and your own. It’s kind of like how opening preparation is indispensable even for the chess players with prodigal reasoning skills for middlegame/endgame patterns, only the memorization bottleneck is at the highest levels of mastery rather than somewhere in the middle. You can master the metagame, but you can’t apply the theory without the concrete moves.

  • Alan Au

    I am of course once again “involuntarily” doing NaNoWriMo. Personally, it’s about finding the motivation to meet my technical writing obligations when I would much rather engage in creative writing instead. Speaking of which, I’d love to put together another guest piece for TMA at some point, once my current writing obligations are satisfied.

  • Troy Goodfellow

    You mean for FoS, Alan? Sure. Always happy to host your writing.

  • ShadowTiger

    I am interested in trying it out this month. I have a terrible problem where I cannot enjoy any books because I am so judgmental. (Things like contrived situations, moronic protagonists, and poorly constructed settings bother me immensely)

    Going through the process myself would either be a proof of concept of what I want or a harrowing journey during which I reluctantly gain an understanding the treacherous pitfalls that lurk in the shadowy abyss that is fantasy novel authorship.

    I will try to post up some content at my website sometime soon.

  • Cynicide

    Sure, I’ll bite. I’m doing NanoWriMo this year, the only background I have is crafting old pen and paper campaigns. I tried Nano last year and tapped out around 38k words when I caught the flu. For me it’s all about getting the motivation up to write what feels like an unreachable amount of words.

    I agree with Troy that crafting a coherent plotline is quite difficult and I’d not begrudge anyone for leaning on tropes or cliches in their early writing attempts. I certainly do.

    The technique I use is to generate plot is start with a seed question like “What would happen if the hero died at the start of the story?”. Then I attempt to answer the question in different ways; perhaps his mortal enemy might have a change of heart seeing his nemesis die and change sides. From here I expand out along the Who, What, Where and Why of the story until I’ve got something I like.

    I have no illusions about submitting my draft to any publishers, no one other than a few my close friends will probably ever read it. But with a first draft down I can go back and tinker with things that I’ve done badly and hopefully improve as a writer.

  • zipdrive

    Troy, why don’t you write a 50K book of non-fiction for NaNoWriMo?
    Same supporting structure, none of the plot issues…