Wednesday, October 31, 2012

To NaNo, or not to NaNo: That is the question

I'm pretty sure that Shakespeare was thinking about NaNoWriMo when he wrote this soliloquy. How do I know that? I know, because I feel the absolute anguish that Hamlet is going through in this scene. I totally identify with Hamlet.

You see, today is October 31. For most of the world - or at least the parts of the world that celebrate pagan-turned Christian-turned secular holidays - today is Halloween, which means I will be spending the evening sitting outside, freezing my butt off and handing out candy to adorable children and surly teenagers.

But to a smaller portion of the world, this dates signifies a countdown to midnight, when the date rolls over to November 1 and National Novel Writing Month (that's NaNoWriMo to those in the know) begins. In case there is anyone reading this blog that doesn't know what NaNoWriMo, here's the quick and dirty:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.

And why does this stir up such an intense reaction in my gut? Because I've done NaNo pretty much every year since 2004, and I've done Camp NaNo (NaNoWriMo in the summer) in both 2011 and 2012. Well, I should say "attempted" rather than "done," because I've only successfully completed NaNo once, in 2009. Since then, I've felt a discordant combination of emotion: on one hand, I'm thinking, "I did it once and I will do it again!" with all sorts of bravada and optimism; on the other hand, I'm thinking, "I've done it once, so why bother proving that I can do it again?"

So, I want to do NaNoWriMo this year, but I feel the weight of many unsuccessful years that have already passed. (The one year that I did win, I practically gave myself carpal tunnel by writing something like 24k words over the last three days of the month, finishing only minutes before midnight.) At the same time, I feel like I HAVE to do it, because I'm a writer, and writers are supposed to write; I've been extraordinarily fallow since I finished my thesis last spring, and part of me thinks this might help get me out of my funk. At the same time, if I DON'T do NaNo, what will I do during the month of November? I do this EVERY YEAR.

So, to NaNo, or not to NaNo? I have no idea, no kernel, no plot or characters in mind, so what will I write? I've been investing all my mental energy into this historical novel idea, but I'm not ready to write that novel yet. And should I be investing my creative energies into another project right now? To be perfectly honest, I haven't been doing much work on the historical novel, so maybe working on a different creative venture will help get the juices flowing again.

What have I gotten myself into here?
Ok, so maybe my problems aren't as big as Hamlet's. He has Danish prince problems (like his uncle trying to kill him), I have first-world writer problems (like my printer won't connect to my wireless network). But really, if you think about it, Hamlet has a really hard time keeping things in perspective. At least I don't have that problem.


  1. Hey! Why not commit to write a blog post everyday instead? Or every couple of days, or whatever. That way, you get the discipline, the oiling of the creative machine, but without the pointless pablum that usually results from NaNo. That's my vote. Don't write crap, there are other people who can do that, and will. No offense meant to the many who are attempting NaNo. You, my friend, can do better. I heard it in Florence : -)

    1. Thanks, Melanie - that's very kind of you to say :) But what you heard in Florence was something that had been revised while I was there - it was, initially, a somewhat shitty first draft. (Thank you, Anne Lamott.)

      I get what you're saying, but I've gotten some decent stuff out of my NaNo time, event if it wasn't complete work. And whether I write during NaNo or if I write outside that time frame, the more important thing is making myself sit down and write, and having a deadline is usually what helps me.

      I have no doubt that what I write during NaNo will be a shitty first draft, but what I write outside NaNo will be a shitty first draft as well -- but at least with NaNo I have the deadline imploring me to keep going. And with good time management, I should be able to be thoughtful about what I'm writing, while at the same time keeping pace.

      And to be honest, blogging is great. It's fun, and I like posting interesting things that I find, or my thoughts on something. And it may help build my platform. But if I'm not actively WRITING writing, what's the point of blogging and trying to build a platform? I would rather focus on WRITING now, getting that back into my blood, and occasionally blogging when I feel like it. I think that if I'm WRITING more regularly, I will start to blog more frequently as a matter of course.

      (And perhaps, begin posting to my blog more of what I'm now posting to Facebook. There's a goldmine of material there.)

    2. And ... I can also blog about my NaNo progress.

      I just need an idea. I can't find my writer's journal, and it's making me crazy, because I had so much stuff in there. I finally had to bite the bullet and start a new one. There's not much in it yet.

  2. I've done what many many wannabe writers have done... said "I'm going to write someday".
    Then I read a quote from an author (Stephen King, maybe? Not sure) something along the lines of "Writers write. There's no want to be a writer. To BE a writer one must simply write." (or something, using some poetic license there).
    I think a lot of writers (or those that want to) delay and delay because you can't fail if you don't try, and I think writing is probably the biggest place people do that.
    I just might do NaNoWriMo this year -- just force myself to really do it. I have too many short stories bouncing around in my head -- I need to think of expanding one of them and then just. do. it.

    1. Ultimately, I decided NOT to do NaNo in 2012. I vacillated up until the very last minute, when I realized that my 'desire' to do it was more a feeling of obligation than anything else. My true desire to write still exists, and I'm always thinking about it when I'm not doing it, but there's no need to force myself to adhere to NaNo's parameters this year, not when I had other things that I needed to focus on.

      Even though I decided not to do it this year, I definitely recommend it for people that need that deadline/time frame. And it IS a lot of fun, and a good opportunity to be productive.

      And yes, it was Stephen Kind who said something along those lines. I might have to go back and read his memoir, "On Writing." It's an excellent book on writing.

    2. And that, should, of course, read Stephen KING.