You can’t swing a cat the last couple of days without hearing about NaNoWriMo. Well, I guess that’s only true if you travel in writerly circles. Outside literary circles the talk, I’m sure, is just more football, more Ebola, more elections, and if you’re really unlucky, the start of the Christmas season. Down here with the writers and the would-be’s, though, it’s all NaNoWriMo all the time.
I think NaNoWriMo is awesome. I’ve never done it, but I’ve had friends who tried. Anything that motivates an otherwise stuck writer to unstick himself and put pen to paper, keys to screen, voice to dictaphone, is a thing that’s fighting on the side of good.
That said, I can’t personally get excited about it.
I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my innate anti-herd mentality, my inherent distrust of groupthink. If a lot of people are doing a thing because it’s trendy, most of the time, that alone is enough for me to not want to do that thing. And NaNoWriMo is definitely trendy. The website claims that over 300,000 people completed the challenge last year, to say nothing of the untold scores that fell off the wagon. And I have a feeling that, faced with the mammoth task of slaying a 50,000 word novel, there were more than a few that fell off the wagon.
NaNoWriMo should appeal to me on every level. It invites anybody who feels they have a story to tell to get off their donk and tell that story. That’s a message I believe in; just look at what I’ve done with this place since I suddenly decided I had stories worth telling, oh, seven or eight months ago. It encourages you to pour your heart and soul into a thing and work doggedly at it against all odds to get it done. Yeah, I feel that. It tells us that anybody — anybody — can do this writing thing, no matter what job you work at or don’t work at, no matter what demands your family makes on your time, no matter what else you have going on in your day. All this is relevant to my interests.
But I won’t be doing it this year. And I probably won’t be doing it for many years to come.
I think my problem with it… no, that’s not right. Problem is too strong a word, and I’m not here to take a bold stand against NaNoWriMo. I think it’s awesome, as I stated above. So, not a problem, as such. More a misgiving, a lurking doubt. My lurking doubt about NaNoWriMo is that it’s a gimmick. And before I wander out onto this very tenuous, very no-actual-leg-to-stand-on branch, let me make it clear that this is just what I think for me.
When I thought about whether or not I would try for NaNoWriMo this year (and I did ponder it, briefly), I realized that it struck me as a gimmick. A potentially useful gimmick, perhaps. A gimmick which would push me toward my goal of becoming a better and hopefully published writer, probably. But a gimmick. It’s imposing a ludicrous daily writing goal. An insane deadline. A Herculean writing task. And if I were to fail at it, to come up short, I’d tear myself up over it. That’s my MO, that’s what I do. A missed deadline, a failure to produce, is crippling to me. Insecurity about whether I’ll be able to produce is why I’m starting to stress out NOW, at the beginning of November, about whether I will in fact finish my first editing pass by the year’s end as I arbitrarily set out to do.
No, working on this edit and pushing out another short story every week and unspooling my brain on the blarg here are quite enough writing goals for November and the near future, for that matter.
I don’t need NaNoWriMo to feel like a writer. Neither, for that mater, does anybody taking part. But if it helps you, more power to you. If it motivates you, then let it motivate you, and embrace the headache and the stress and the adrenaline and the frenzy of it. I’ll just be over here, plugging away at my novel already in progress, occasionally tossing off posts about how amusing it is watching the NaNoWriMo’ers flailing around.
At any rate, if you’re NaNoWriMo’ing, go get it. But just remember that you don’t need it. If you’re a writer, you’re a writer without NaNoWriMo.