First, let me just say: if you aren't familiar with National Novel Writing Month, you reside in a very different corner of the Internet from me. From November 1 to 30th, tens of thousands of writers participate in a mad dash to write 50,000 words of a new work of fiction. Around 18% of participants cross the finish line each year; the other still have more words written than they did October 31st.
This year was my sixth NaNoWriMo win, or my first, depending on how you categorize "winning" NaNoWriMo. Since 2004, I have reached 50,000 words or more six times, but the end of November never coincided with the end of the plot — until now. This year, I actually picked a story that worked perfectly — I spent a few hours on December 1st finishing the last chapter and the epilogue, but other than that, it all happened in the span of those thirty days. I'm letting it sit for a month, then I'm going to dive in and start editing. At that point I'll start coercing — er, requesting — that my reader and writer friends take a look for me as well.
Each year, but this year in particular, a crop of people appear who can't stand to watch others have fun, whether they're in the publishing industry and resent the influx of hastily-written novels that reach their desks in December, "serious" writers who dislike the dilution of the term "author" when it's applied to people who don't meet their stringent approval guidelines, or bystanders who don't write but somehow find themselves qualified to comment on how others do it. The Internet becomes inundated with blog posts about why NaNoWriMo is a bad idea for readers and for writers; columns about the desecration of the written word; Twitter quips about the best thing a NaNoWriMo writer can do is burn their manuscript on December first.
It's endless. This year gave us a particularly poisonous piece (I refuse to link to it and give them the traffic), so bad that I'm half-convinced it was a publicity stunt to grab readership through outrage. The author denounced not only NaNoWriMo, but writers in general, calling us malignant narcissists who, not content with writing our own terrible prose, actively seek out and force innocent bystanders to read it. The problem with NaNoWriMo, said the author, is that it's an event for writers, and writers don't deserve to be recognized. It went on and on, harping on the same point of egocentrism and the need to celebrate readers, instead, assuming that people who write never read anything that didn't come from their own heads.
The article has several problems, not the least of which is that without writers, we would have nothing for her darling readeres to, well, read. Most irritating of all, to me, is this notion that writers only write for imaginary approbation, to the extent that we will force-feed our manuscripts anyone within a hundred-mile radius. First of all, this is patently false, for while I admit I do enjoy having other people read my work and do hope to publish, I would, honestly, write if no one else read anything. Not one person has read more than a sentence of this year's NaNoWriMo novel, yet the entire experience has been rewarding and challenging for me. But even that aside, the author still begged us to think of the readers, the poor, poor readers, forced to slog through the garbage that NaNoWriMo authors so selfishly shovel at them.
Here's the thing. No one can force you to read. If I pick up a book and I don't like it, I have the freedom to put it down. If I continue to read it despite my dislike, I can hardly blame the writer. No one holds a weapon to my skull or threatens to eat my cats or burn down my house if I put it down. Even editors and agents have the prerogative to toss a manuscript in the trash if the first paragraph doesn't grab them. The author of this article seemed to think that publishing is a magical unicorn fairyland place where someone can write something and instantly have it flooding the shelves of their local bookstore. If that's true where she lives, I'll take a one-way ticket, please.
The other common argument I've seen involves NaNoWriMo's mantra, which is, "write crap". This, of course, offends serious readers and writers, none of whom, I'm sure, have ever had a hard day of writing, when every word they put down feels like garbage, and the inner voice that whispers soothing things like, "give up; everything good has already been written" is on overdrive. Unfortunately for me, I have those days often. But for whatever reason, NaNoWriMo allows me to put that voice aside, like flicking a switch. I don't — I like to believe, anyway — write crap. But I allow myself to keep a paragraph that annoys me for a reason I can't articulate, or move past a section where the character voice isn't strong enough for my liking, because I can't fix it at the time — knowing I'll come back to it later. This is the key. It's a free pass from my neuroses for the first draft, and this allows me to get that first draft finished much faster than I do the rest of the year, when I insist each paragraph, each sentence, be up to my standards before I move on to the next. Yes, the quality of work that I produce during those eleven months is higher right off the bat, but it takes me much longer to get there.
I wouldn't do NaNoWriMo every month of the year; for one, I'd have to take every other year off to edit what I'd done the previous year. But for a one-month vacation from my inner editor, it's fantastic.
For those who are interested in what I did this year, I stayed with my favourite speculative genre: science fiction. My profile on the NaNoWriMo website is here.
Title: Hell in Half a Parsec
Genre: Science Fiction
Best friends Taren and Cris want what all twelve-year-old girls want: to own a spaceship, even if they have to build it themselves. When they find a crashed ship in the woods, they think the dead body inside is the biggest obstacle to having a starship of their own at last. Unfortunately for the girls and their grand schemes, the ship — the grief-stricken Malec, devastated by the loss of his pilot — has other ideas, none of which include obeying the whims of two children who've never met a biological ship before.
For most people, a kidnapping attempt is a traumatic experience. For Rancem, an idealistic world leader suffering from a sudden outbreak of reality, it's the first pebble that paves the way out of his problems. His spontaneous promise to abolish taxes gave him the largest landslide election in history, and his planet no feasible means of building new hospitals, roads, schools, or much of anything. Rancem's brush with the underbelly of the law makes him realize that, sometimes, the ends can lie, cheat, and steal the pants off the means and still have a peaceful night's sleep.
Reluctantly thrown into the middle of conspiracy, accident, intent, bitterness, and betrayal, three humans and one starship must separate the roses from the dung in order to protect what's theirs. Because, of course, the universe isn't going to do it for them.