NaNoWriMo, I don’t think we can be friends.

This may be difficult to explain without coming off as a fun-hating jerkmonster, but I’m determined to try. I’ve been struggling to articulate just what about NaNoWriMo feels ‘off’ to me, and I think I’ve finally reached a point where I can explain it without seeming like too much of a jerk.

My output the past fourteen days has been less than satisfactory by NaNoWriMo standards. Despite this I’m 100% satisfied with my pace and have been enjoying the excuse, however flimsy, to shut myself away for an hour or so a day and demand some peace and quiet. At the same time I see people with output that far exceeds my own (or even the recommended 1,667 words per day) gnashing their teeth over how they’re doomed to fail, how they’ve written all these words that amount to gibberish and they’ll fall behind due to not caring about it anymore. These concerns are inevitably met with a chorus of fellow participants cheering the afflicted writers on toward the 50k goal. “Win win win! Fight fight fight! Who the flip cares if you can’t write? Goooo, Wrimos!” Now… at first, this seemed really sweet and supportive. This writer is burnt out, and the other writers have banded together to cheer them on to the finish line. When I first started doing this, that was as deeply as I examined it. Now that I’ve seen it happen over and over again, and been prodded along myself, I’m starting to wonder if this isn’t the most healthy way to spur people on toward creativity.

Getting that first frustrating rough draft is important. Gaining experience as a writer by, yes, writing many words, is also important. There are other aspects to consider, but the discipline to sit down, get over yourself, and throw down some words ranks high on the list for most people. It can be difficult to hold your anxiety at bay long enough to actually write down what’s in your head. NaNoWriMo doesn’t encourage that though, at least not in effect. What it does encourage is spinning out words as quickly as possible, which is not exactly the same thing.

My biggest problem with NaNoWriMo is that it turns creativity into a win or lose situation and gives indiscriminate output as the win condition. I know that implementing a system by which entries are judged and determined to be something other than rambling diatribes with entire pages taken up by repeated instances of the phrase, “I’m a little Bantha with mashed potatoes in my knickers,” would be utterly unfeasible, but I think that holding a contest with no criteria for victory beyond amount of output is a pretty terrible way to encourage creativity. Despite what some people may tell you there’s a big difference between creativity and producing stuff.

On a personal level I have trouble enjoying NaNoWriMo because I simply don’t want to win. I held off on starting this book until November because some friends of mine were doing the contest and I thought it would be fun to play along and share the experience. I don’t want to win, I want to write my story.

But, you cry, isn’t it good to get the story out fast before it gets away? Stop letting your Inner Editor get you down! Go, go, go! You still have two weeks! There’s time! Damn the typos and sod the dangling plot threads, just write like the coffee-scented wind!

To this I say: You don’t get it. My goal is not a vomit draft I can lock away in a drawer with the comforting knowledge that it meets or exceeds the extruded word matter requirement. I want something that is as close to ‘good,’ as close to my vision for the story, as it can get before I give it the one-twice-and-thrice-over with the red pens. I don’t want to make the initial editing stage any more ludicrously painful for myself by leaving behind a nonsensical word slurry I have to comb through for the three or four decent passages floating in the morass.

Maybe I’m just not the kind of person NaNoWriMo appeals to. Maybe I’m missing something I’ll never quite capture. I can’t speak for anyone else, but the model of encouragement the contest offers doesn’t sit right with me.

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