Tag Archives: nanowrimo

The Weekly Re-Motivator: Categories Are Crap

I’m not NaNoWriMo-ing, as I’ve said before, but I do have a thick skull full of dubious writing tidbits for those of you out there scrambling to make your 50k. (What are you, at 10k today, pushing for 12? Maybe a bit further along to buy yourself a breathless, red-eyed day off over the weekend? You poor souls.)

Today’s rumination: categories are crap.

Let’s be clear: your work is going to be categorized, and it should be categorized. Eventually. Categories matter: without them, we’re never going to be able to get our works into the hands of as many readers as we’d like to. But (and here’s where my novice chops are going to show, maybe) I don’t think categories matter until it’s almost time to publish. Because categories are for readers and editors and publishers, so they know where to put and where to find and how to push your book.

But for you? The author neck-deep in a 50k slog that needs to be completed in three weeks? (Or in the midst of a 100k slog that you’d like to complete this year, more conservatively.) You can give a big middle finger to categories.

“Oh, I’m writing an urban sci-fi horror YA cyberpunk thriller.”

No, you’re not. You’re writing a story about some kids with computers that spawn monsters who drag their souls into the dark web and sell them for Bitcoins. (Copyrighted!)

“Me? I’m writing an alternate-historical period piece romance / spy novel.”

Negative. You’re writing a love story between secret agents in a made-up setting where you can make up any rules you want.

But what’s the difference? I hear you cry. Why not pick my category now, so I know how to write it the piece as it grows?

In this humble writer’s opinion, putting a category on your work is like putting up a fence in your yard. On the one hand, it makes it real easy to see where your property ends, or where you need to put on shoes lest you step in a pile of dogsharknado. On the other hand, it makes it real easy to see where your property ends, or where you need to put on shoes lest you step in a pile of dogsharknado. Putting a category on your work means that you’re saying, this stuff belongs in my story, and this other stuff does not. It means, these sorts of things can happen in my story. It means, I’m going for this specific feel in my story.

Which, again, is great … for later drafts. Later drafts are the time to think about audience, about marketing, about where your story fits. But to think about this stuff during the first draft, or even the first round of edits, is suicide. To use the fence metaphor, you’re marking out clearly defined areas where your story can and cannot go.

But why would you do that during the first draft?

The first draft is hard enough without arbitrary lines criss-crossing the landscape telling you you can’t go here. The first draft is a brutal hike through overgrown jungle with a machete, it’s a solitary sojourn through unforgiving desert.  Boundaries are a great way to bog down, and if you’re NaNo-ing, you can ill afford to get bogged down. (To be fair, even if you’re not NaNo-ing, getting bogged down in your work sucks — lose your momentum and you lose your motivation to continue.)

The first draft is a baby bird learning to fly — it needs all the clear space it can get to figure itself out. Your story needs the space — you need the space — to breathe, to try new things, to make a hard left and run the story into a ditch, to cut back right and drive it through a building. You make that harder on yourself if you’re locked into categories, into preconceived notions of what your story can and can’t be before you’ve even written it.

Stories are living things that change as they grow. I started my just-finished draft of a novel thinking I wanted to write a YA sci-fi coming-of-age piece, and I ended up writing something a lot more like a survivalist cyber-horror fate-vs.-free-will story, if any of those things are actually things. One way or another, I’m a lot happier with the story I wrote than the story I was trying to write. Further, I noticed that every time I got stuck in the novel, it’s because I was trying to force the story or the characters to do something out of character. I can’t have this happen in a YA novel, I thought, but when I let go of that constraint and just let it happen anyway, the story moved along just fine.

Don’t get me wrong. That first draft is a mess. It needs tons of work, and the time will come when I will refine it down and decide what neat little boxes it fits into. But if I’d gotten hung up on the categories, I don’t know if I could even have finished it.

Your story wants to be something.

You have to accept the fact that maybe you don’t entirely know what that is yet.

But, just like a teenage daughter, if you try to force it to be something it isn’t, it’s going to rebel and bring home a guy with a mohawk.

Don’t let your story bring home a guy with a mohawk.

Let your story be the guy with the mohawk.

This weekly Re-Motivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every Saturday, I use LindaGHill‘s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.

You Don’t Need NaNoWriMo

It’s that time of year again, when the leaves are changing, the temperature’s dropping, and established and would-be writers around the country are hunched over keyboards and stacks of paper, pounding with slowly numbing fingertips on worn keys as they push, strive, claw and crawl to make the 1667 words per day needed to add up to a 50k word novel at the end of 30 days.

It’s NaNoWriMo, and that means if you travel in writerly circles, as I do, your feeds are blown up with this weird unsayable moniker, with the braggings and boastings of those who are shattering their daily word count goals, and the wails and lamentations of those who aren’t. It’s cacophonous and wearying, viewed a certain way, or inspiring and invigorating, viewed another.

Personally, I won’t be partaking. I didn’t last year, I won’t this year, and I don’t see the need in years to come, for that matter. But that owes more to my personal feelings on what motivates us than it does to the little internet carnival that NaNoWriMo has become.

As a motivational tool, I think NaNoWriMo is pretty awesome. Anything that can get people thinking creatively and telling the stories locked away in their dark, squishy little hearts is a good thing by me. And there is certainly something empowering about seeing the hordes of writers taking to the internet, each with a dragon to slay that is unique and personal and wholly their own, but which is at the same time a dragon that the writing community sets out to slay together. Swords made of words, axes of pages, slings and arrows of plots and characters all fly at the beast with the intensity, voracity, and — it must be so — insanity that the task requires.

People working together can accomplish things that, apart, they never could, and one of the really neat things about NaNo is how it transmogrifies writing — almost by definition a solitary, lonely act — into a communal rite.

And that’s pretty cool.

But the task is gigantic. It’s a moonshot with a trebuchet. A marathon without a day of training. A climb up Everest without a pack. And while the challenge surely motivates some, it’s too much by half for others. To make 50k words in 30 days requires 1667 words every day, no weekends off, no mental health days, no excuses. It’s no surprise, then, that the path to the dragon’s lair is littered with the bodies of the fallen, the strewn pages of the slain, the half-formed words of the faint of heart.

And that’s a shame.

But writing takes all stripes. Some are motivated by the challenge while some would break themselves upon it. Personally, I know that attempting a challenge like NaNo and failing would fill me with more writerly self-doubt than already hangs over my head on any given day.

I’m also leery of the gimmickiness of the whole affair. Whether you’re an accomplished or aspiring writer, going balls-out to draft 50k words from scratch smacks of spectacle rather than substance. It reeks of bluster and swagger rather than actual accomplishment (“I’ve written a novel this month, what did you get done?”). There’s a desperation behind it, I think; a frenetic surge of energy that cannot be sustained.

Really, what bothers me about NaNo is the same thing that bothers me about New Year’s Resolutions, birthday gifts to the self, and any other extrinsic sources of motivation that we come up with to push ourselves out of our comfort zones: the fact that they’re arbitrary and manufactured. We choose this day or that month to try something new, to make a change that we have apparently been wanting in our lives, but why that day? Why that month? Does the fact that it’s a new year make it easier to lose weight, start exercising, keep a cleaner house, stay in touch with friends, reconnect with family? Of course not. Does the fact that it’s November make it easier to write fifty thousand words? Naturally not, doubly so if you live in the U.S. and have the Thanksgiving holidays to contend with. We take these steps, we attempt to make these changes, not necessarily because we’ve decided it’s time for ourselves to do these things, but rather because everybody else around us is doing the same thing.

But here’s the thing. If a change is what your life needs, the day to make that change is today, whether today happens to be January 1st or the beginning of NaNoWriMo or the first day of Lent or your birthday or just another day in the middle of an otherwise unremarkable month (I’m looking at you, June.) If you’re ready to start writing a novel, why put it off until November? If you want to start exercising, or gardening, or reading more, or cherishing the lamentations of your enemies or whatever, why put it off until January?

We only get so much time on our little blue speck. You owe it to yourself to do everything you can to make your life better in the time that you have.

If writing a novel will make your life better, then you should be doing it already. Whether it’s NaNoWriMo or not. (Although, again, to reiterate, if NaNoWriMo motivates you within your existing desire and work toward writing, then, hey, go for it.)

And if you’re kicking around the idea of eating healthier, exercising, whatever, and you’re just looking for a good time to start, or you’re waiting until you’re ready, well… we’re never ready.

You just have to go and do it.


Right now.

Go slay the dragons.


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.

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