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.

Write your book in just a week!

One trend in what I suppose you could call the ‘creative writing industry’ at the moment is encouraging people to write books really quickly.

473px-Usain_Bolt_Olympics_CelebrationI’ve come across writing ‘experts’ who run courses and so on claiming they can teach you to crash out a whole novel in a month or even less. It’s the Usain Bolt approach to novel writing.

For the record – Song of the Sea God took me two years to write, from which I’m sure you can glean that I’m in no great rush to type ‘The End.’ To me that doesn’t seem an extraordinary amount of time. The other two books I have completed have taken a similar period. It takes roughly a year to complete a first draft then another to rewrite and polish it until I believe I have something I wish to inflict on an indifferent world. After I have finished, I submit it to agents and publishers who will often reject it with barely a second glance. My story is not unusual, I suspect it is the story of pretty much any published author.

One ‘writing expert’ I came across on Facebook recently suggested that anyone following her sage advice would be in a position to churn out their magnum opus and stick it up on Kindle to tempt punters in just four short weeks. She strongly suggested I come along to one of her courses where she would teach me how to write more quickly. I suggested that perhaps I could teach her how to write more slowly. She didn’t seem any more impressed by my offer than I had been by hers. We were coming at it from two entirely different perspectives – she simply couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to hammer something out as swiftly as possible and get it on Amazon.

600px-UK_traffic_sign_670V30_svgHere’s where I stand. What’s the point of encouraging people to rush their writing? What’s the value of turning out a novel in a month when you could spend more time on it and make it better? Why not treat yourself to a whole two months of writing – and make it a masterpiece!

I don’t wish to sound too grumpy about this. I’m on the side of the writer. But I’m also on the side of the reader and I don’t know that encouraging people to slam out words onto their laptop as quick as they humanly can, then rush to self-publish them as a download in the hope people will hand over money for them is really serving the reader at all well. In fact I think there is a serious likelihood that the reader will pay for something rushed, shoddily put together, ill-considered and just plain rubbish.

The most famous ‘write a novel quickly’ movement is the very popular NaNoWriMo – the National Novel Writing Month, which encourages entrants to complete the first draft of a novel in a month.  Its website says that so far 226,756 writers have signed up to write a novel in just one month.

The strapline this group uses is ‘The world needs your novel’ which makes me think: does it? Does it really? The world has lots of novels already, many of them took a long time and a lot of hard work to write. Does it need hundreds of thousands more written in just one month?

Look, I don’t want to seem down on the organisation – they are very popular, they are encouraging people to write, which is great. They are also not necessarily encouraging people to rush what they have written to publication – for many writers what they produce during NaNoWriMo can be the start of a book, not the finished product.

My problem is with the notion that quicker is better. What is the value of rushing your work? My fear is that the ‘experts’ who tell you they can help you get your book in front of buyers in just a few weeks are appealing to some of the less savoury aspects of human nature.

The subtext of the ‘write a novel in a month’ message is – it doesn’t have to be difficult. You don’t have to work very hard for a very long time, pore over your manuscript, carry out rewrite after painstaking rewrite. You can get everything you want without putting yourself to very much trouble at all – just like winning the lottery. Four weeks of writing, upload your work to Amazon and you will be a published author – just like Charles Dickens, just like Jane Austen!

For me writing a novel and getting it published was a long hard road and, you know what, I’m glad it was, because it makes the achievement worthwhile.

Novel in a month? Not for me thanks!

What do you think? Tell me in the comments.

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.