In the past six years, I’ve participated in (and “won”) NaNoWriMo four times.1 It has been frustrating, stressful, inspirational, enlightening, and fun each time. There is something special about these month-long events. If you do it “right”, and completely let go of your inhibitions–if you abandon the false presumption that your writing will be any good–if you set your sights on 50,000 words and dismiss the notion that you’ll have something publishable at the end…
Well, it’s amazing how well the novel turns out.
A lot of what you write turns out to be complete garbage–the literary equivalent of that leaf of kale under your salmon filet of your 50,000 words–but then you discover some real gems: a throw-away character steals the show; settings come to life all on their own; the meandering non-plot you start with takes a twist that you never would have imagined with all your careful planning and outlining.
This is why I’m disappointed to see tweet after tweet, and post after Facebook post, and all the other mid-October community announcements (from NaNoWriMo organizers, no less) talking about “prep”.2 This is a phenomenon I’ve never noticed before this year. It would be naïve to say that no one has done any prep at all in previous years. I myself am guilty of this.3 But the difference was that it was… Tacit. Furtive. Underground. Black market outlines and back room character sketches. Everyone did it, but it no one really admitted it.
Now, you might read the above and think: “Whatever, old man. Enough of your get-off-my-lawn bullshit! You said yourself that you started with outlines plenty of times.” But you’d be missing the point. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with starting with an idea. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with “sneaking in” a little bit of prep. But organizing around that prep–but publicly committing to your story among your peer group… Now you’re locking yourself in to something. Now you’re robbing yourself of the opportunity to watch your bizzaro horror story turn into an epic romance.
Please. Please don’t do that to yourself.
I’d already made up my mind to not “do NaNoWriMo” this year,5 and though I’ll be writing anyway, and though I’ll be tracking my progress, I won’t be signing my posts with #nanowrimo.
And if you are participating this year, I’ll leave you with these parting words:
Take your notes and throw them away. Shred your outlines. Murder your characters and burn down your settings. Do it now. Celebrate the destruction and watch something marvelous rise from the ashes. And then watch that marvelous beast contort into something hideously beautiful by the time Thanksgiving rolls around.
- Consider me an alumnus of the 2006, 2009, 2010, and 2011. [↩]
- The Twitter gods offered these examples with one search for “NaNoWriMo”: 1, 2, 3, and 4. [↩]
- I dubbed my 2011 effort as “NaNoReviseMo” for crying out loud! [↩]
- Sub-titled: “A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days”. [↩]
- At least not “formally”; at least not as a “participant”. [↩]