I enjoy one of the Twitter users I follow, @FakeEditor, self-described as “A publishing industry insider who tells you the best way to be a successful writer! No, really!”, who co-posts with #FE2 about how their work, lives and endless Twilight-inspired submissions continue to make them reach for the tequila. My favourite time to read their tweets is November, specifically towards the end, when the submissions for National Novel Writing Month start to flood in.
I am in two minds about NaNoWriMo, as a writer who has never attempted it. On the one hand, I struggle with boundaries (in terms of plot and word count, that is) and timeframes, so giving oneself a very definite word count and deadline can be a great encouragement, in a world where nothing around you ever stops, to just sit down and write. It teaches young, amateur writers to manage their time, to set daily targets, to support one another in their craft and, on top of all that, it has the potential to be very rewarding at the end, something which can be rare in the thankless world of trying to find a publisher.
However, it’s at that finding-a-publisher stage that I think NaNoWriMo falls down, as very aptly described last year by @FakeEditor with tweets such as “…if you’re already behind, just give up. We’ll have enough shitty novels to reject even without your masterpiece”, a whole month of ‘Fake NaNo tips’,’ and gratuitous use of the hashtag #thisiswhyIdrink. Timeframes are all very well, but the writing of anything, let alone a novel, requires several things: planning, writing, rewriting and editing, proofreading at least a hundred times, and preferably proofreading by a friend whose linguistic skills you trust. The deadlines surrounding NaNoWriMo, however, seem to end up as simply dividing the overall word count by the number of days in November. What one ends up with, at the end of the day, is a hurriedly-written, unedited, rush-planned and un-proofread 50,000 words: in short, an inaccurate picture of the life and craft of a writer.
Now, NaNoWriMo itself describes the project on its website as “Thirty days and nights of literary abandon”, and maybe that’s how the whole thing should be viewed – pure abandon, writing for the sake of writing, learning the art of pumping out words until there are no more words at the bottom of the proverbial word well, grasping at least the primary aspect of being a writer, rather than the entire ordeal. Maybe it is helpful for aspiring writers to work this way, at least once a year, and apply what is learned to their actual career. It’s likely that many participants go back to the rewriting/editing/proofreading stages in mid-October. But if I have learned anything from @FakeEditor, it’s that there is a significant amount of participants who full-stop the final sentence, hit ‘save’ and immediately hit ‘send’ on the submission email. To me, the phrase “write a novel in a month” is less of an exciting, productive step on the way to literary success, and more like something paraphrased from a casual afternoon with Annie Wilkes.