In January, everyone should try and choreograph a ballet. In March we should all write an opera, and in June everyone should paint a fresco. Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? And yet the idea that everyone could write a novel in November gets a good deal more acceptance. Why do we assume that, while these other forms would require skills, knowledge and practice beyond most people’s experience, anyone can write a book? It drives me round the bend.
Getting people to explore their creativity is something I’ve always considered important, but I think that should begin with a respect for whatever form you are working in. To start by assuming the form is easy, requires no study, research or insight, is to set yourself up to fail. I don’t think that benefits anyone. So, here are a few counterarguments.
Fifty thousand words is not really a book; that’s rather short. Seventy five thousand plus is a better bet, and that’s half as much again. Fifty thousand words written in a month are also not a finished book. At best what you have is a first draft. Most authors working professionally expect to go through a few drafts. The only one I know of who doesn’t is Mark Lawrence.
The most prolific professional authors who are also able to get into book shops – the Terry Pratchetts of this world (and there aren’t many) typically do not put out more than a book a year. There are reasons for this. Before a book goes out, it will go through extensive edits. Before the editing stage, the author will most likely have been through a number of drafts and re-writes. Before that, and perhaps during it, there will be research, planning and consideration. Even authors who do not start with a plot plan have to do research. I see online that many NaNoWriMo folk actually do start this process ahead of time, because you can’t do it all in a month.
National Write a first draft for a very short novel Month would not be so catchy a title, but it would be a good deal more honest. That in turn would give participants more realistic expectations. Because of course if you don’t manage it, you haven’t failed. Fifty thousand words in a month may be possible, but that doesn’t make it necessary or desirable. I probably write that in blog posts alone, between this one, Patheos, Sage Woman, Ruscombe Green and Moon Books. A novel is more than a big pile of words. It is character and story, themes and style, it has structure and continuity. If you care at all about the beauty of your language and want just the right turn of phrase, of course you can’t reliably bang out fifty thousand words in a month. Then there are the rest of life issues. If you have a job or a family, and especially if you have both, the time involved isn’t viable.
If you need NaNoWriMo to give you permission to try and write a book, please ask why that is so. If this is something you want to do, then do it because you want to do it. If you need the driving force of a big national campaign to get you writing, maybe you aren’t as driven by the desire to write a book as you think you are. Perhaps the buzz of putting your word count onto facebook each day is a motivator? As though number of word written actually means something. As with all creative forms, a lot of people are more drawn by the scope for fame, fortune and attention than by love of the craft. Write a book because you have a lot of ideas. Write a book because there is something you want to share with the world. Do it to give voice to something never before spoken, for the originality of your story, the brilliance of your word craft, the need to share something. Not because someone decided to make November into novel writing month.
If this sounds like sour grapes, well, yes, maybe it is. Not an envy of the people who can write fifty thousand words in a month, though, because I can and do. Some years ago I was commissioned to write a novel in six weeks. The money was good. Seventy five thousand words, including redrafts. Mercifully I’d already done some research and gathered a few ideas when the job came in. I pulled it off, but it made me very ill, and it took a long time to recover my creativity afterwards. I don’t want to see authors treated as just another commodity to exploit, expected to churn out work at this rate no matter the personal cost, or the impact on quality. Stuff that! So no, I won’t be doing NaNoWriMo and I won’t be encouraging anyone else to, either. If you want to write a book, do it, but do it as best you are able and for the right reasons, please.