Why You Should Do NaNoWriMo… And Why You Shouldn’t

That title suffers a bit from multiple personalities, doesn’t it?

I know some people are on the fence about whether or not to do NaNoWriMo, and that’s a bad place to be because sitting on a fence is very unhealthy for you. Guaranteed hemorrhoids is all I’m saying. And then you have to go to the doctor and explain that. “Why the hemmorhoids?” the doctor asks, shrugging. “Sitting on a fence again,” you say. And then he chides you for your indecision and then has to shoot your butthole with a laser —

Okay, that’s probably not how they get rid of hemorrhoids but it’d be cool if they did. I mean, c’mon. Lasers should be involved in more things, not less. Except maybe buttholes? Hm.

You know what? I’m driving way off the road here, so let’s get back onto the asphalt.

Here, I will give unto thee reasons to partake in National Novel Writing Month…

…and reasons to avoid it like a hot cup of gonorrhea.

Ready? We begin.

Why You Should Partake

• It will teach you discipline and diligence.

• Writing every day will teach you a lot about writing, good and bad.

• Writing every day will teach you a lot about your own writing habits, good and bad.

• It’s goal-oriented. Writers live by deadlines.

• It’s geared explicitly toward finishing your shit, and finishing your shit is about the only single piece of writing advice you can really, genuinely count on to be true.

• It’s also community-driven — writing is quite explicitly an individual and often lonely endeavor, but this has the spirit of a creative word orgy. You come into the room, put your keys in the basket, lube up the ol’ story-makers, and start writing like a motherfucker. Community in this regard is a good way to feel less alone. It gives you shoulders to cry on, minds to bounce ideas off of, and ink-stained hands to high-five. It’s the closest you’re gonna get to a bunch of writers just humping the sweet hell out of each other, unless you’ve spent any time at Harlan Ellison’s love ranch.

• I don’t know that Harlan Ellison has a love ranch, I’m just making that up. I’m clarifying this because Harlan seems like the kind of guy who would hunt me for my pelt if I angered him.

• But, I am saying that if anybody has a love ranch, I could believe Harlan Ellison has one.

• That or just a room where he sometimes goes to yell at cats. About how they’ve failed him.

• I think I need a love ranch.

• Okay, getting back on track now in 3, 2, 1 —

• Modern writing careers — successful ones, anyway — are increasingly predicated on producing a lot of content quickly, and, well, this is a good way to practice exactly that.

• It will help you take your Internal Editor and drown him in a mud puddle. Writers have to, have to, have to grow comfortable with writing shittily. Shit happens. Shit also washes off. Put differently, it is sometimes necessary to write badly so that you can edit and rewrite and turn bad writing into good story.

• This is a very good way to sprint through and create a zero draft.

• Treating it like a month-long writing exercise instead of The Future Of Your Writing Career lends this a strong mindset that creates bonafide self-instructional value.

• Gamification works wonders for some people in terms of motivating action.

• Being a writer is about writing. Full-stop. Partaking makes you a writer. End of story.

• Time isn’t going to wait for you and you’re going to die someday so, fuck it. Write now. Not later. You might be dead in December. Maybe the world will blow up. But that story inside you? It’s ready now. So, fire up the ol’ wordithopter and fly yourself to the distant land of Bookopolis.

Why You Should Run Far Away

• Actually, maybe that story inside you isn’t ready now. Maybe those brownies aren’t done baking yet and if you try to rush it all you’re gonna get is a goopy pan of chocolate slurry. Which, admittedly, also sounds delicious, so if you’ll excuse me for a moment, I’m going to go slather choco-goop all over my body.

• Back now. I am delicious. Mm. *licks self*

• A month is not a lot of time to write a book and most people take longer than that to write one. Let’s be honest, it’s setting a fairly unrealistic pace to complete a book. I write fast like a squirrel with a Roman candle shoved up its fuzzy nethers, and even I can’t finish most books in 30 days.

• The win/lose condition through gamification can be toxic — to speak frankly, writers often have issues with depression or anxiety, and this really doesn’t help. (I speak from experience on the latter. For some reason, NaNoWriMo amped up my anxiety rather than dampened it. No idea why. I don’t get that way with deadlines, but this made me feel really agitated when I tried it years ago.)

• You have a pace, and maybe this isn’t it. A story takes the time that it takes. Maybe you write it in two weeks. Maybe it takes you two months or two years. There exists no “one schedule fits all.” Acting like that is a good way to feel like a giant fail-flavored crapsicle.

• Further, for some, writing every day is a boon. For others, a bane. Again, trying to conform HOW YOU WRITE to this one pattern can be like trying to headbutt a square peg through a circle hole. All you end up with is a throbbing headache and a feeling of shame and worthlessness.

• Sometimes doing something different from what everyone else is doing is clarifying and valuable. Writers are not particularly good at following orders, I find. In fact, every writer is basically ten ferrets. You can’t control one ferret, much less ten. Ferrets will not be commanded. FERRETS CARE LITTLE FOR YOUR NATIONAL FERRET WRANGLING MONTH (NaFerWraMo).

• Put differently, this month is very much about comparing yourself to other writers, and engaging in uniformity. And comparing yourself to other writers and trying to conform to their habits and their schedules is a very good way to feel very bad.

• November is a dogshit month to accomplish, well, basically anything. At least for me. Forget it, Jake, it’s Holidaytown. The way the holidays are around these parts, the festivity shit-parade kicks up around Halloween and doesn’t stop stomping down the road until January at the earliest. Plus, right at the end there you get Thanksgiving — so, instead of 30 days, you kinda have like, 20-25. And then if you have kids they usually end up with a whole week off, and if you’ve eaten too much turkey and potatoes you probably lose a day on a recliner — bloated and serene.

• Fifty thousand words does not a novel make. I mean, by most expected metrics.

• Sometimes writing crap is good. Sometimes writing crap is sad-making. And this isn’t just writing crap — it’s extruding crap quickly. Speed is the essence. The finish line is king. At the end if what you have is just a handful of wet shit, how will that make you feel?

• NaNoWriMo focuses overmuch on writing, but here’s the dirty truth — writing is a crass, mechanical act. It is a necessary part of the process, but it’s just pure craft — it is fingers going pok pok pok tap tap tap on the keyboard until a giant block of prose is regurgitated. But if fails to focus on story. Story is why we write. Prose is secondary and supportive. Story, character, theme, all that stuff isn’t background. It’s great and it’s glorious and it’s why we come to the page, most times. (Sure, some folks come only for writing, but I think most people come for the narrative and the ideas presented by that narrative.) Story only exists in permanence when we transcribe it, and writing is one crucial method of transcription — but make no mistake, that’s all it is. Transcription. By focusing so much on that, something threatens to be lost.

Reminder: 30 Days In The Word Mines (And The Gonzo Bundle)

Last year I wrote and put out a book called 30 Days In The Word Mines — and the goal of that book is literally to take you through thirty days and, every day, give you a little something to think about. It’s motivational, philosophical, and practical advice all in one, and every day is different. Some folks told me that it fared them well day to day through NaNoWriMo and beyond, so that’s cool. If you wanna check it out, you can find it at Amazon, B&N, or buy it direct from me here.

Alternatively, if you want it as part of a larger bundle of writing-related e-bookery, then the eight book gonzo bundle is $20 — or $15 if you use coupon code NAPLOYONOMO by 10/31.