Back from Philcon, which was (surprise!) a blast. Apart from getting to handle a custom
made Sith-tuned light saber, I got to reunite with old friends, make new ones and spend hours shooting the breeze with Cory Doctorow about making a living from writing and a room full of George R.R. Martin fans about how much we love A Song of Ice and Fire.
This is my JOB folks. We’re talking, tax write off. I must have done something incredible in a past life.
But, anyway, all my blog entries seem to be about how great it is to be in nerd heaven, so let’s shift gears and take a dissenting view.
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is just wrapping up (it’s November of every year, I think). It’s a neat Internet driven meme that challenges folks to write 50,000 words in a single month.
Here’s what I like about it:
- It stresses rigor, discipline and regularity in art. Once you commit to NaNoWriMo, you’re going to be pulling some late nights to get your word count in. 1,700 words a day for most folks is going to mean treating your hobby like a paying job (you don’t go to bed until the work is done).
- It kickstarts folks who have been looking for an excuse to take a step off that ledge and start a novel.
- It has a cool sense of community and brings like-minded folks together.
Here’s what I don’t like about it (and mind you, this comes from the perspective of a traditional/Stackpolean “House Slave” writer. If you’re writing for fun, or plan to self-publish, then this may not be as relevant to you):
- 50,000 words isn’t a novel. While there aren’t hard bottom limits, my general sense has always been that 80,000 words is around the minimum length for novels published by the “Big 6.” I am sure there are exceptions, but I keep thinking it should be called NaHaNoWriMo.
- It encourages people to write quickly. I think this is the single biggest problem that beginning writers face and was the thing that kept me from going pro for the longest time. I *still* struggle to slow myself down and concentrate on perfection over word count. Producing 3,000 meh words pales in comparison to producing 10 good ones. In the end, it is QUALITY rather than quantity and speed, that counts in producing successful writing (I wrote a blog post on this very topic a while ago). All of my favorite writers (George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, Peter V. Brett, Richard K. Morgan) are SLOW. They go ages between books. While I haven’t spoken to all of them personally, I have spoken to some of them, and the common thread I am finding is that they are perfectionists. Deadlines or no, they do not turn in work until they know it is the very, very best they can produce. I firmly believe that attitude is the difference between world-changing writers like GRRM and mid-listers or aspirants who can’t get a book deal. I see blog posts and websites with meters that measure word count all the time. What I rarely see are indicators of the quality of those words.
I can see why NaNoWriMo is popular and I certainly don’t bash it, but its focus on quantity and speed rather than quality of output may be counterproductive. Maybe December should be Edit-The-Crap-Out-Of-The-50K-Words-I-Just-Wrote-Month.