Wednesday, November 09, 2005


No, I'm not participating in NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month. It's an interesting idea, and possibly a way to spur some people to write more -- deadlines are the enemy of procrastination, obviously -- but I think this may be a case of a path to Hell paved with good intentions.

The basic idea is that you write a 50,000-word novel in exactly one month, starting November 1st and ending November 30th. Thousands of people are participating, although I'd only expect about ten percent of the participants to actually finish 50,000 words.

So what's the problem? The NaNoWriMo page itself even says that they don't expect people to create great works of art out of this -- rather,
Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.
I think they're underestimating by saying that people will be writing a lot of crap. I think that virtually everything written for NaNoWriMo will be crap. A higher percentage than comes from "regular" writing, even. Novels are a lot more tolerant of this writing style than screenplays are, because you can take as long as you want to work around whatever plot problems arise (although your readers may not tolerate reading that much drivel), but even novels will still suffer from random, errant, aimless writing.

Do we want to encourage that kind of writing discipline in people? 50,000 words in 30 days isn't a lot, if you already have your story planned out, but NaNoWriMo is all about writing off-the-cuff. Writing a 50,000 word novel in addition to designing the underlying story is not something people can plausibly do in 30 days, unless they do it full-time, like a job. And I assume that most people participating in NaNoWriMo are not professional writers, but are instead writing in their free time.

Does NaNoWriMo bring anything positive to the table? Since the whole intent is for people to have fun creating, without worrying about the quality of what they're creating, and with no expectations that the results will be of any use (that is, sellable -- nobody buys 50,000-word novel manuscripts, which is around 125 pages), then... yeah. From the average participant's point of view, it's a way to establish a motivation to get the writing done in a certain timeframe. Deadlines are an excellent motivator.

But even with all the caveats about the project's intent, I worry that people will still come away thinking that this kind of writing is a good way to do things. Do you?