National Novel Writing Month is now, November that is. If you haven’t heard about NaNoWriMo I suggest you read on and get excited. In essence it is a writing marathon conducted each year where the only prize is self congratulations and an inner glow. To win, you have to write a 50,000 word novel by the 30th of November. The only judge is yourself. The idea is to promote writing and to encourage people to challenge their writing ability. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
Lots of people get involved. Writing groups around the world (I know, it’s called National Novel Writing Month, but it is international) get together, toss aside their critics and editors and just write. For someone who has never written a novel it is a free pass to express themselves without fear that their work will stink, because it probably will, but so will everyone elses. I’ve never done it, though I have written 50,000 words in one month, just not November. Let’s face it, one of the reasons we don’t tell anyone we are writing a novel or that we want to, is fear of failure. If you say “I’ve written a novel” one of the first things anyone asks is “Can I read it?” or “When is it published?” Either of these questions can send shivers down you spine. But I know people who have taken NaNoWriMo as an excuse to get going. They can tell everyone about NaNo and then tell them they are writing a novel and there is no fear of being judged poorly. That’s because it is well understood that to write 50,000 words in 30 days you have to leave your inner editor behind and let the words fly.
It can get in the way of “real” writing. Ha! That’s a poor way of saying it, but you see it is quite tough writing a novel you hope to get published. Tough, not because of the word count, but because of the quality required. Any schmuck can write a novel. I could write one in French, but seeing as how my French vocabulary extends to possibly fifty words, it would be a pretty bad one. No, the challenge is expressing yourself in a way that people want to read. There would be a temptation to go from struggling over your manuscript to NaNo and drop your “real” novel never to be recovered because you are so rapped up in speed writing. There are people in all industries and interest areas that do what I call “meta-activity” like meta-writing. They do everything to do with writing without actually writing. They join groups, organise readings, manage events, discuss writing in the blogs and join associations and what not without doing any writing. I see it in other areas too. There are the computer nerds who start user’s groups, join committees for standards, give lectures on methodology and debate the various merits of dynamic vs statically typed languages but never write program. It is a real trap because while you are so engaged in all things meta, you feel as if you are “living the life” but in reality you are watching the life. Some great authors were members of associations and started various groups and so on, but many others were not and did not. I posit that there is no correllation between being an involved member of the writing community and being a good writer. Entering and completing every NaNoWiMo for ten years doesn’t make you a successful or good author. Being a successful author makes you a successful author.
This brings up the point of who many novels per year can and should you write? Also known as novel velocity. From my observations I would suggest you need to be able to produce at least one novel every year, or close to it. Maybe one per 15 months. Some authors write much less, like George R.R. Martin who seems to write one novel every four to six years on average. Others write way more, like three or four novels a year. Assuming you could keep up the NaNo pace you’d be on six 100,000 word novels a year. I think I could manage three. It has taken me a long time to get The West Queen to the state it is in now, but I’ve since found my pace has picked up from the experience.
So, how many can you do?