November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. NaNo for shorter.
For those not familiar with NaNo, the goal is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. If you meet the target then you “win.” There’s even a website for writers to register and receive online support, guidance and information (www.nanowrimo.org).
It gives me an uneasy feeling, this focus on word count. It mocks the creative process and undermines writing as a profession. Writing is a skill that takes years to develop. It is like any other career in that regard. People don’t become lawyers or accountants in a month. They study, apprentice and spend years building up a practice and developing a rapport with clients. Being an author is no different.
Short, focused bursts of writing can be beneficial. Some highly successful authors, like Stephen King for example, find it best to purge their first drafts in just such a fashion. Yet, inherent in gimmicks like NaNo is a promise of fame and fortune after only 30 days of moderate labour. Yes, moderate. Inexperienced writers come out of it thinking they have something worthy of being published. They clog agents’ in-boxes and flood publishers with unpolished manuscripts making it even harder to discover the great novels that are being written.
These “nano-books” are bad for business. Many of them end up being self-published, overwhelming the ebook market. They create static and white noise for readers, forcing them to either sift through reams of titles or not buy a book at all.
The acronym “NaNo” reeks with irony. Only amateur writers would associate a word that means small to the herculean task of completing a novel. Only lazy writers would have the audacity to think that such an accomplishment could be achieved in 30 days.
This whole industry is about giving people stories they want to read. Yes, agents and publishers have an important role to play – they, among other things, act as filters screening out the nano-books. But it all starts with the writers. Our job is to (1) learn the tools of the craft and (2) use those tools to create the most compelling story we can. This takes a lot more than 30 days.
To do less is to disrespect the profession and the reader.