Despite my love of combining several words into one shorter word, I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo. If you get something out of it, woot, hooray for you, you should NaNo to your heart’s content. For me, the concept that we should spend November furiously writing every thing we can shows an obsession with word count, disregard for quality of prose as well as editing, and excuse not writing for the rest of the year.
When I was seven, I wanted to be JK Rowling. I heard about the crazy, over night success of Harry Potter and how Rowling was then richer than the queen and wanted that for myself. My first grade teacher said I was a really good writer so it seemed like a really reasonable life goal. I started my first novel in a notebook with the goal of “beating JK”. For whatever reason, I contributed the success of Harry Potter to its word count and so obsessively counted every thing I wrote to match or beat Rowling’s count for every chapter. Four years of elementary school effort came up with 87,520 words (to Philosopher’s Stone’s 75,944 (
Eat it, Rowling!)) of awful. To clarify, the book was amazing for an eighth grader and that effort improved my writing (if not my social life) dramatically but the idea that it could ever rival Harry Potter is laughable. More importantly, my preoccupation with word counts has bled into the rest of my writing to the point where it’s difficult for me to actually write short, publishable stories.
Publishers, particularly magazines, do not want your magnum opus, especially if it’s the first thing you turn out. Strunk and White advocate “eliminate unnecessary words” as the gold writing standard and I believe them. If I can’t read it in the half hour before class, and discuss or write an essay about it, it’s not a short story. Whine about the speed of modern life all you want, but I don’t have time for anything that “really picks up once you get into it”. Publishers certainly don’t, and I’ve heard horror stories of December inboxes filled with unedited Nano Novels that go straight to the slush pile.
Writers, you are better than that. Your work is more important than that. Do not type furiously for a month just to drop out of the editing process.
Editing is where I, and so many others, fall short of our own greatness. It’s understandable. I just created an entire universe, and you want me to go back and make sure I punctuated correctly? You want me to scan for repetition, problematic phrases and originality? I CREATED A WORLD! YOU ARE ALL ANTS AND I AM YOUR GOD! (I become kind of a megalomaniac when I write. Sorry)
Yes, go back. Make sure every comma should be a comma and not a semi colon. Make sure ever sentence has a subject and a verb in it. For the sake of all that is good in this world, make sure you wrote in active tense. Make sure your work doesn’t reinforce any stereotypes or biases you don’t want to. If you are writing about people who don’t fit into your personal social role (queer people if you’re straight, trans people if you’re cis, women if you’re a man, people of color if you’re white) for god’s sake, do primary source research and A LOT of IT! Make sure if the protagonist has brown eyes in chapter one, she keeps them until something in the story changes them. Editing makes bad stories better and good stories great. Yes, it’s hard but it’s worth it to create something good.
Finally, NaNoWriMo is often touted as the excuse to actually sit down and write. I don’t like the idea of needing an excuse to do what I do. I don’t like having to fight to carve out time for writing, or looking to be lauded for doing so. If you want to write, do it. Even if it sucks, if it’s in no way publishable, even if you delete everything after an hour’s work, DO IT. Write long after November ends, write for an hour and edit for another, write for any reason you choose but don’t wait for someone to give you permission.