Saturday, November 1, 2014

Why I Say "No" to NaNoWriMo

There is a distinct possibility that a team of literary elves will appear and haul me off to their underground prison lair as soon as I post this blog. So if I go missing... ya'll know where to start looking.

But since I'm only a little afraid of elves, I'll just come out and say it: I don't "do" NaNoWriMo

There. It's out. Before I go into why I don't participate, please know it's not my intent to bash the project. I think it's awesome to bring together writers from around the world and encourage them to get... well, writing. There are all kinds of good things that come from National Novel Writing Month. It's just not for me. And here's why: 

1. Debilitating social pressure sends my creativity packing.

Two days ago my Facebook feed was flooded with an army of jack-o'-lantern photos. These weren't your ordinary carved pumpkins with triangle noses and crooked grins. Every single one of these things was an intricate masterpiece, each in its own way worthy of eternal Pinterest hall-of-famedom. And as I scrolled through this digital art gallery, I realized: we didn't even get a pumpkin this year, let alone carve one. My mind raced with panicked thoughts about my numerous parental shortcomings. There was no time for a picturesque hayride through the pumpkin patch, or a carefully-planned etching of a spooky three-dimensional Halloween scene. Best case scenario: I could run to Walmart, and maybe - just maybe, there'd be one misfit pumpkin left in the bin. And even then, I'd end up carving a triangle nose into it's poor, pathetic misshapen little face. I knew in that moment I'd scarred my daughter for life with my lack of mom finesse, and she's only two! Then I realized, wait a minute... she's only two. "Do you want to carve a pumpkin?" I asked her. "No!" she replied, her voice filled with defiance. (Note: This was a trap. She says no to most things, because well... she's two.) I breathed a sigh of relief and banned myself from Facebook for the rest of the day.

I tell you this story because it's the same way I feel about NaNoWriMo. I see all the word count Tweets and I'm instantly reminded of the manuscript I put on the back burner over the summer. Then I feel guilty about putting it on the back burner to begin with, and suddenly there is this enormous pressure to not only dust it off, but to finish it by November 30th at 11:59 p.m. because... NaNoWriMo!

The trouble is, nothing zaps my creativity like social pressure. There is an ounce of rebellious teenager left in me (only an ounce) (okay, maybe two ounces) and this part of me wants to be different just for the sake of being a rebel. So not only do I find myself not writing an entire novel in November, I usually find myself not writing at all in November, in a very emo sort of way.

2. The average woman in the U.S. is a size 14.

What does that have to do with NaNoWriMo? I'm glad you asked.

Take a quick scan at the magazine covers this month and you'll see that we are still setting unrealistic standards of beauty. The real women in the world aren't walking around with photo-shopped faces and sinewy arms. On a good day, I've at least brushed my teeth and/or rubbed yesterday's mascara out from under my eyes. But, like most women, I'm still prone to pursuing this standard of beauty that's all around me and totally impossible to meet, simply because it's programmed into our culture. 

My concern is that NaNoWriMo may affect writers in a similar way. If you're participating just for fun to kick start your creativity - fantastic! But if you're an aspiring writer who gives up because you couldn't get your novel finished in thirty days... then that's another story. 

Writing takes time. And dedication. And time. 

Did I mention time?

Sure, the occasional NaNoWriMo manuscript goes to publication. But that's the exception, not the rule. The vast majority of published authors have spent hours (and hours) (and seriously, I mean hours) plotting, writing, editing, and polishing. I pretend to take a principled stand about not allowing other writers to fall victim to unrealistic standards of productivity, but really it's all a facade to distract from the fact that debilitating social pressure sends my creativity packing.

3. November is a great month to query!

While writers everywhere are busy trying to cram as many words as possible into their microwaved manuscripts, agents and editors are slightly less inundated with queries this month. Focus on querying when the masses are busy writing, and you have a better shot at getting your (polished) manuscript noticed. It's sort of like going to the grocery store during the Super Bowl. Sure, you miss the big game, but the lines are shorter and the seven-layer bean dip is on clearance. (You should know that I have absolutely no data to back this up, it's simply a hunch. A logical hunch, for what it's worth.)

So there we have it - why I say "no" to NaNoWriMo. If you're participating in NaNoWriMo this year, good luck! Just remember, if you truly want to be a writer, there are 335 other days in the year. Promise me you won't give up when time runs out.






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