Writing a novel? For NaNoWriMo? Here’s how to bring yours alive – just in time!

How To Write Fiction Without The FussRemember how much we enjoyed Lucy McCarraher’s amazing series of tutorials called “How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss,” here on HTWB earlier this year?

Here’s some even better news… [Read more…]

NaNoWriMo and other writing races: here’s a very stupid question

November is a month when thousands of wannabee novelists gather under the banner of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and race to produce a 50,000 word novel in a month. This was the brainchild of a certain Chris Baty, now operating within the organization running it, called The Office of Letters and Light.

From diddly squat back in 1999, NaNoWriMo now attracts approaching a quarter of a million participants all scratching away at their laptops racing to churn out their 50K quota of words by November 30th.

“All told, when NaNoWriMo wrapped at November’s end (2010), 200,530 participants had written 2,872,682,109 words, with 37,479 winners blowing through the 50,000-word goal,” it says on the website’s history page which is almost as long as a novel in itself.

This year at the time of writing (November 16th) the total collective word count for the 2011 session so far is just over 1.2 million and burgeoning.

Literary merit?

“The event itself was simple,” wrote Kara Platoni for the East Bay Express back in December 2001. “There would be no judges, prizes, or entrance fees; writing would be its own reward. Baty wouldn’t publish or even read the finished manuscripts; he’d simply run a word count and make sure each totaled 50,000 words. Anyone who made it to the magic number “won,” regardless of whether or not their novel was witty, coherent, or largely ripped off from the Nancy Drew books. Serious wordsmiths need not apply.”

And it seems not much has changed, in those terms, since then other than the exponential growth in numbers of participants.

No bad thing

Don’t get me wrong – I have absolutely no objection to people organizing the Grand National of the fiction writing world. I gather it started as a bit of a competitive lark to see if a small group of would-be novelists could egg each other on to complete a manuscript, regardless of merit, in the time and the encouragement the initiative now provides for both participants and young wannabee writers is very valuable indeed.

It encourages, in particular, writing fluency and removes the fear of the blank screen or piece of paper. There’s no time for “writer’s block” in 30 days.

And elsewhere?

This trend of favoring quantity over quality is seeping out into all sorts of other areas, notably the remits of some writing coaches, fiction writing courses, and autonomous writers’ groups.

“Hey, everyone, I did 1,000 words today!” shouts one budding Aldous Huxley.

“Am disappointed with myself as I only managed to get 2,500 words done on the weekend,” complains another.

“My writing coach told me I had to write 1,200 words by Friday,” says a third. “Doesn’t matter what about, just 1,200 words.”

And all this, in the name of developing fluency in writing technique. Yeah, right.

So what’s the stupid question?

The stupid question is very simple…

What on earth does it matter how many words you write if most of them are b*llsh*t?

I’m sorry, I know that’s harsh, but surely quality has a balancing role to play in relation to quantity? I’ve spent the last three decades working as a professional non-fiction writer and have had quite a few short fictional stories (mostly about the paranormal) published.

And at no time would I ever have dreamed of writing X,000 words about any old cr*p just to get my creative “juices” flowing. Life’s too short. Although it might be fun for a bunch of young folks to sit around getting wired on Red Bull writing novels about drivel at the rate of just over 1,500 words a day, my time – and that of the writing clients I coach – is too valuable. And before you say “ah yes, but what about when you’re just starting out…” my time, and that of my clients, was too valuable then, as well.

There are other ways in which to overcome a lack of fluency or writer’s block in fiction as well as nonfiction writing and my favorite is called “planning.” My second favorite is called “devise strong characters, a good plot with accompanying sub-plots” and my third favorite is called “structure: use a mind map or other similar technique to work out exactly who your characters are, what they do, what happens to them, and what happens overall.”

That’s what many successful writers do, and trust me – there’s nothing like a good, solid structure to encourage fluency a lot faster than writing 1,000 words about hot air will.

I’ll write more on this another time, soon.

Good luck, NaNoWriMo – I appreciate what you contribute, but when it’s writing for a living we’re talking about, we’re on different planets.

What do you think? Please share your views and experiences.

Win your (nonfiction) writing race:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand