NaNoWriMo – the backlash

I don’t really consider myself a controversialist as a blogger. I would much rather say in a careful, measured way what I think than court controversy for it’s own sake. Still, I certainly managed to upset a few people with my recent blog on speed writing – which brought in the whole NaNoWriMo movement.

800px-Angry_tigerIt was the biggest fuss since the last big fuss and led to people unfollowing me on Twitter, sending me cross messages etc. To illustrate just how cross these people were I have included a picture of an angry cat. I know – that cross!

Oh well, I have lots of lovely followers now @ChilledCH  (north of 15,000 at the last count) so I expect I shall survive. Funnily enough the majority of the people who commented on the actual blog string did so in a way which was both thoughtful and constructive. I guess it was because these people had all read what I actually said, rather than imagining what that I might have said before firing off a 140 character retort.

The speed writing blog Write your book in just a week! is here and, as you can see, my issues are with writing fast for its own sake and particularly with the practice among some writers of self-publishing their rushed first drafts and expecting us, the readers, to pay good money for them.

If you aren’t one of the people  who is doing that then I don’t think there’s really any need to get upset is there? Surely we can all agree that quality is what really counts with writing, as with other forms of art. And, though some writers write quickly and others write slowly that is no more important than that some write using a fountain pen and others do so on a laptop. Those things are just the medium, not the message.

In the end – all that matters is writing well.

I think that perhaps what upset some people was the idea that I (or anyone) was criticising something they had invested in emotionally, as well as with their time and effort. In fact I accept there are good reasons to be involved in the write a novel in a month thing. It can encourage people to get on with it who feel they need a boot up the backside, it can foster a sense of community around what can be the lonely business of writing etc.

800px-QWERTZ_swissBut I don’t, and won’t, accept that writing a novel quickly is ‘better’ than writing one slowly. And I do worry that encouraging inexperienced writers to work quickly could devalue the craft of writing for them and make them believe it is quick and easy. Fast art like fast food.

Of course people rewrite their first drafts and of course this is a vital part of the process. But why the hurry with the first draft? Why the need to do it to someone else’s deadline? Surely a writer should write at their own pace.

The idea seems to be taking hold that the first draft of your book really doesn’t matter – that however bad it is you can sort it out in the rewrites. I’m a huge believer in rewriting but I still say the first draft is important too – it’s the foundation of your novel – and we all know what can happen to even the most beautiful house with poor foundations.

And, here’s a thing. Taking longer over your first draft can often make the whole process of producing the book shorter overall. Because a strong first draft makes the rewrites easier. So if people really want to produce a book as quickly as possible perhaps they should be taking longer over the first draft? On the other hand, if the aim is to crash something out fast and sell it as a self-published download – then I suppose it doesn’t really matter since quality is not an issue.

I suppose my message would be – no part of writing your book is less important than any other part. The care and time and effort you put in will be there at the end for readers to see.

Raymond_CarverHere’s something Raymond Carver said:

“I have friends who’ve told me they had to hurry a book because they needed the money, their editor or their wife was leaning on them or leaving them – something, some apology for the writing not being very good. “It would have been better if I’d taken the time.” I was dumbfounded when I heard a novelist friend say this. I still am, if I think about it, which I don’t. It’s none of my business. But if the writing can’t be made as good as it is within us to make it, then why do it? In the end, the satisfaction of having done our best, and the proof of that labor, is the one thing we can take into the grave. I wanted to say to my friend, for heaven’s sake go do something else. There have to be easier and maybe more honest ways to try and earn a living.”

If you are a first time writer then nobody is waiting for your book. And when it comes out, the chances are that very few people will care. All you have is that book and really, at that stage, the only person who truly cares about it is you. That’s what’s important – the book, not how quickly you manage to produce it.

So why not make it the very best it can be – however long that takes?

Song of the Sea God visualDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

20 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo – the backlash”

  1. Some people do, of course, over react. But we all have the passion to write, be it in a month or over a year. I know I feel very good about myself for completing NaNoWriMo early but I also know, there’s a long way to go for it. I can’t help but try and get some followers on twitter though, it’s not going very well. I think it might be a slow process.

  2. I’m sorry to hear so many people were cross with you, Chris! If the cat is anything to go by, they must have been fuming 🙂 I must say I do follow the first off principle of just getting it down (you know, the don’t get it right get it written idea), as I don’t think I’d write anything at all if I didn’t do that. But that’s very much the first scribblings and I can spend months, if not years, on that as well. I probably wouldn’t even call my first draft a first draft, if you see what I mean. So in fact, I actually agree with you completely!

    1. Yes – we all do a first draft don’t we – though for me, like lots of people, there’s a fair bit of planning, research, writing scraps and head scratching goes on before I even reach that point – so I would use up my month and some other people’s before I even started writing!

  3. I’m a Wrimo. I love NaNoWriMo because it taught me how to write without editing. That was important because I never got past the first 15,000 words of any writing project before I found NaNoWriMo. 1,667 words a day is about the right pace for me. My writing doesn’t degrade at that pace and it’s possible fo me to plan well while doing 1,667 words a day.

    At a faster pace I wouldn’t have time to plan and my writing probably would degrade. I’m writing a 200K novel this time and using NaNoWriMo to write the first 50K. I plan to have the first draft finished by midnight on February 28th next year.

    Having said that if any Wrimo in my region told me they were going to self publish their first draft right after November I’d smack them upside the head. Unless you’ve got the genius of Shakespeare chances are the first draft will be pretty bad.

    I intend to edit very thoroughly after I finish this draft and then get my novel beta-read before I try and publish it. Only when my beta readers say it’s ready will I start querying agents.

    It’s all about doing it at a pace that’s right for your writing. NaNoWriMo’s pace is right for mine. It isn’t for everyone.

  4. Great piece! I started the NaNoWriMo this year with the intention of using that very kick up the backside you mentioned 😀 I really need it! I used the whole community buzz of it to ‘be involved’ and I was hoping to drag a few people along for the ride to help and encourage me to keep writing this story that I literally started expressly for the challenge, although that didn’t really happen as I would have liked. I wanted to really challenge myself and see if I could do it. I thought, well others seem to be able to do it, why not me? I soon discovered there was a reason it took me 10 years to write the first book – it’s hard writing a book! Of course it is otherwise everyone would do it! Anyway needless to say I haven’t completed the challenge but I’m not upset about that. I want the story that I have started to be a good one – not rushed, not half arsed but something I can be proud of. I’m glad I got involved with the process though – it was fun! This is mine so far – I have written a bit more but that’s all I’m posting for now. And remember it’s raw!

    1. Well, if it got you started that can’t be a bad thing can it? Good luck with the rest of it. Ten years is a long old spell on your first book isn’t it? But by no means unheard of – I suppose that’s the elephant in the room when people talk about famous writers knocking books out in a few weeks – there are plenty of examples of people taking years to write a book. In fact some have done both – Norman Mailer once knocked off a book in a few months while in the process of taking ten years to write another one.

      1. I’m hoping to get quicker. I have several novels on the go at once, that’s my biggest problem and I tend to dip in and out of whichever I have the urge to write for at the time LOL – I’m determined to get 2 of them finished in the next 12 months 🙂

  5. Oh -and another thing! lots of people name famous writers who have written, or do write, books super quickly. Picasso was once asked how he could justify charging the price of a house for a painting it had taken him only two hours to complete. He said: “Because it didn’t take me two hours to paint, it took me 65 years.” We learn as we go – and we can’t all expect to do at the start what masters of many years experience manage.

  6. This year was my first year of NaNoWriMo, I didn’t win, but I totally understand why it’s not for everyone. For me I don’t do word count deadlines, I don’t say ‘I have to write 2,000 words today’, I just allocate myself time slots so I can focus on the quality and not on the quantity. NaNoWriMo is good for those who just want to have a first draft in front of them, but for me, personally, I felt like I was rushing I can totally see why it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

    1. Thanks Sophie – I’m guessing at least it gave you something to work on and a start so in that sense I guess it was worthwhile. For me it’s just about dogged determination and keep on going once you have made a start – so good luck!

  7. I missed the earlier drama…probably because I was busy getting in my word count for NaNo. I had one purpose for doing it this year, to establish the habit of writing everyday and proving to myself how easy it is to do. So I wrote through my kids driving me crazy, one of them having the stomach flu, then me having the stomach flu. I kept at it when my heart wasn’t in it and I won more than 50k words in a month.

    “…no part of writing your book is less important than any other part. The care and time and effort you put in will be there at the end for readers to see.” This is the walkaway message for me. Great post.

    1. Thanks Robyn – it’s a good habit to have writing every day isn’t it? And it’s given you something to work with which is great – I wish you luck with the rest of your book!

  8. First, I got that your previous post was satirical.
    I decided to try NaNoWriMo this year, and I still find myself on the fence. Perhaps if I had been more involved with a local group, it would have been more… exciting. At the beginning, I found it helpful. Toward the end, I found myself just paying attention to word count and knowing in the back of my head that the ending is not working. I might still do it next year, but I didn’t find it to inspire me as it inspires others – mostly because I have a long commute via public transportation, and so I already use that time to write almost every day. For people without that set aside time, I can see it being helpful.

    1. Thanks L. I still don’t get why people don’t spread out their writing over the year and just do it that way rather than trying to cram it into a month. If you set yourself a much lower word count for each week then you would get there in the end surely? That’s what works for me!

  9. While working on my first novel, I kept hearing about NaNoWriMo and finally checked it out. The first entry I started to read was a massive one million word monstrosity that was nearly utter gibberish. Long incomprehensible sentences, no caps, no periods, misspellings. Horrified, I stopped reading and hightailed it in the opposite direction, and have stayed cleared of the NaNoWriMo website since then. I wasn’t expecting polished prose, but I did expect some degree of cohesion with ideas.

    On my first novel, I spent a little less than a year on a first draft for a story, only to spend the next three years revising it. Having gone through the process once, I see much merit and taking more time with the first draft. Revisions shouldn’t be about rewriting the first draft entirely. Glad to hear other writers aren’t caving into the “writing faster is better” mindset. Thanks for the article Chris.

    1. Thanks Kit – interesting to hear your experience. I don’t think you will regret taking all the time you needed with your book. In the end the book is what’s important not how quickly or slowly you produce it.

  10. Great article, we all work different ways though many years ago I started to teach my student the writing process which is something people seem to have forgotten, we need to wear different hats at different stages. I like to get my firts draft done then I build up by researching what I need then try and polish the writing till it shines, that’s what works for me after trying lots of different ways.

    1. I think it is, and should be, quite a complex process to go through – wish is why I think people would be better to take their time over it rather than be driven by an urge to finish as quickly as they can.

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