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My NaNoWriMo Anti Pep-Talk

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Today is gonna be a rant.

This time last year-ish, I wrote a Dear John letter to NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. Every year, thousands of aspiring writers sign up for the challenge, which is to write an entire 50,000 word novel during the month of November. The goal is to get a complete novel that you can then revise at your leisure, to prove to yourself that you can reach "The End."

It sounds like my sort of thing, doesn’t it? I mean, it hits all those big Maggie points. Setting goals, concrete results, sitting your butt in the chair and just doing it.

I really dislike it.

As my Dear John letter points out, it really doesn’t work for me because of my writing style. But more than that, I think it encourages crappy writing and superficial novel-ing. I think it makes you a slave to wordcount instead of focusing on pretty prose, and that that is not something that can be fixed in revising without totally throwing out what you’ve already written. Now, now, I know what you all are going to say, because many people have already said it. When I rant about NaNoWriMo, I inevitably get three rebuttals:

1. But Maggie, I need to know that I can get to the end.
2. But Maggie, I need a deadline.
3. But Maggie, Jennifer Lynn Barnes writes her novels in 19 days.

Okay, here’s my rebuttal to those rebuttals.

1. You can get to the end. Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t need a gimmick to prove it to yourself. You need to stop making excuses and just write the damn book. Everyone can finish a novel, just like everyone can finish a term paper. Just like everyone can finish a sandwich. You pick up the sandwich and you eat it. For me, I had 30 unfinished novels during my teen years, until I discovered that I had to have the very last scene in my head before I started. For you, it might require an outline. Or a synopsis. Or some other method to eating the sandwich. But trust me, you can definitely do it, whether you pick the crusts off or not. So there, I’ve solved problem one. You wanted to know if you can get to the end? You can. There ya go. Now you know.

2. I get this, I really do. Because if I don’t have a deadline, I wander around and make cookie dough and lay on the floor and listen to music and play my piano and run up and down my stairs instead of writing. But a month is a patently ridiculous deadline. Why make something difficult — writing a novel — more difficult? That’s like saying "I’m determined to learn how to speak Spanish. So I’m going to read this Spanish textbook . . . BACKWARDS." Why? It doesn’t make it any better. You’re never going to have to speak Spanish backwards. Why not make it National Novel Writing Quarter? A three month deadline is utterly doable and gives you much more time for craft and to learn your process. Give yourself a deadline, sure, but how about one that is not Sheer Insanity Farewell My Home Life and Bathroom Breaks? Set it with your friends so that you’re accountable and voila. Voici. Go to it.

3. Yes, I know she does. But (and I’ve told her this) Jennifer Lynn Barnes is an alien. The fact that she writes her novels in 19 days is shocking because 99% of the authorial world does not. The statistics are against NaNoWriMo being your natural habitat. That means that you’re basically trying to write your novel with your dominant hand tied behind your back.

And the most important thing that people seem to forget during NaNoWriMo? Writing a novel is supposed to be enjoyable. It’s not a term paper. Writing a novel is supposed to be about reflection and entertainment and introspection. What about NaNoWriMo encourages that? By forcing yourself to do it at gunpoint, it seems to me that you take away the reason to write in the first place.

That is my anti-pep-talk for NaNoWriMo.

Maggie Stiefvater
Hi, I'm Maggie Stiefvater

Professional novelist by day and artist by night. I live an eccentric life in the middle of nowhere, Virginia with my charmingly straight-laced husband, two kids, and neurotic dogs. I’m the author of the Books of Faerie (LAMENT and BALLAD); the bestselling SHIVER trilogy (SHIVER, LINGER, FOREVER), and THE SCORPIO RACES.

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