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Illustrations by Max Mose

At around 1,666 words a day, NaNoWriMo could be your excuse for being more reclusive than usual this month. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to hush the inner critic, and write 50,000 words. However, the path to 50k will probably be laden with ill-advised aphorisms brought to you by your greatest muse, you. Last year, I forwent sleep and leisure, and managed, by the end of NaNo, to write a total of 30k words. I lost, but what I got out of the experience was still pretty cool: half of a—now trunked— poorly-written dystopian YA novel, an appreciation for the labor that goes into bad writing, and the tacit understanding that I can never attempt NaNo again.

For starters, creative hypomania and NaNo are like water and oil. If you’re the kind of neurotic prone to mild Magical Thinking—under the guise of creativity!—NaNoWriMo may inspire you, yes, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. I found that I would get so involved with my own writing that I would lose some self-awareness. I’d get progressively more into my own drivel, and think what I’m writing is actually good. I mean, why would you keep writing if you didn’t think it was good, right? Riiiiiiiiiight. My logic may be muddled here, but generally, writing—NaNo writing especially—is a very solitary endeavor; solitary endeavors can foster obsessiveness; obsessiveness can lead to narcissism; narcissism can lead to the delusion that your NaNo effort is anything but subpar.

It’s been my experience that the discipline required to get substantial writing accomplished entails self-motivation. Motivation is tricky because action—whether or not you’re actually motivated—facilitates the a posteriori motivation to do. Personally, I think afflatus is Magical Thinking, and should only be a fleeting sensation. Whenever I’ve felt inspired for more than two minutes, my writing has suffered. The haze of inspiration, when it becomes an integral part of your creative process at least, is a filter. You don’t see the world like a normal person; you see the world rather narrowly, and hold that perspective in higher esteem than reality.    

Furthermore, if you’re highly self-critical, and an anal-retentive by nature like I am, your NaNo effort will be time-consuming. Depending on how fast you type—or whether or not you opt to pre-brainstorm— consciously trying to write well will slow you down. Disregarding proper grammar and syntax for more fluid stream of consciousness writing is your best bet. Not everyone is used to eschewing perfectionism— I certainly am not—but it’s a good idea to keep in mind that NaNo should not consume your life.  

To sum it up, NaNo is not for every writer, and should probably come with a medical warning. In retrospect, it was really just a more socially acceptable reason to hibernate in-between life’s obligations without the guilt of mental idleness (passive internet surfing, TV viewing, you know).  I got a considerable amount of writing accomplished (albeit bad writing), and learned more than I needed to know about how my own mind works creatively. With that said, I write at a turtle’s pace, and appreciate the clarity laggard writing nurtures, hence NaNo is out of the question for the foreseeable future.


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Reader Comments (13)

I'm doing NaNoWriMo for the first time this year and the lesson I'm learning is shut up and write. I full intend to grind out my 50 kilowords. The result may be barely worth the pixels it's displayed with but:

=> I'll have a first draft of something; almost surely not a novel but something.
=> I'll discover if I have really the discipline to write and keep writing, knowing that all I'm doing is giving myself something to draft and redraft or simply delete.

A famous technologist, recently deceased, once had to deal with a product development team who refused to release to manufacturing; it seemed the product in question just wasn't perfect enough. He gathered them together and told them, "Real artists ship." The less-than-perfect product then went to manufacturing. Yes, this little story is about Steve Jobs, the archetypal perfectionist but he didn't let that get in the way of being a "real artist." He also didn't always get it right. The Lisa and the Newton, among other Apple products, were miserable failures but we know that only because they shipped.

And yes, I know that while all artists ship, not all who ship are artists. That's not my point. My point is that, if you think you are, or even might be, a writer then write. NaNoWriMo is as good an excuse as any for writing, so why not use it. If, like SAFY you discover thirty days of bashing the keyboard is not the right way for you to write, good on you. It was thirty days well spent.

But if you avoid writing in November because you don't want to be tarred with the NaNoWriMo brush, I humbly submit you might be doing yourself a disservice.

November 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDon R-C

Between this and Mushvember, it's going to be a very full month! But I'm super excited to finally start my novel. It's going to be a lot like the Rush Hour movies, but longer, and this time both characters will be Asian. They're tracking down a stolen "crown" which turns out to be a beautiful young woman who, unbeknownst to her, is the last descendent of the Emperor. And she's black!

I guess that part is a little like Jewel of the Nile. Anyway, it's really exciting, and there's something in it for everybody.

November 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDan

I did make attempts to join the NaNoWriMo about 2 years ago but I didn' get to finishing the entire novel due to a lot of emergencies arising on occasion but it sure did end up being a good short story!

November 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDenis Paxton

Do you know anyone who passed the Nano test and completed the 50k words? That's close to impossible! I like the drawings by the way. They speak a lot about the article.

November 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHugh @Catalog Design Ideas

Chapter 10 done! Quan is trapped in a safe, which is the back of a truck, which is being driven by his partner, Jeff ... who is trapped in a different safe! Will they free themselves before the truck goes off the end of that Hong Kong dock?

Yes! (Spoiler alert!!)

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDan

Chapter 11 in the can! Quan punched the safe in just the right spot, springing the lock, and he was able to climb out and kick Jeff's safe from the truck! Crisis averted! But Jeff didn't sign up for this kind of thing. He came to Hong Kong to visit his sister, not to get involved in a Triad conspiracy and get trapped in a safe and stuff. He's done with this! If Quan needs to find he crown so badly, he can do it on his own ...

November 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDan

Oh my god! I've been so productive!! I don't even know what chapter I'm on, because the whole thing has gone stream of consciousness. So much is happening. Jeff decides he can't abandon Quan, Quan is going though some kind of emotional breakdown/breakthrough, Jeff realizes that his adopted sister (who is black!) and the Crown are one and the same person, Quan gets a fungal infection on his back, the Crown is brainwashed into thinking that she's a "celestial dragon," and Jeff loses some fingers—two by torture, and one just by accident! Also, Quan invents a weapon he calls his "faceball bat."

I don't know how long this thing is eventually going to be, but so far I think I've got the 40 most exciting pages ever written.

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDan

I've hit a wall.

November 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDan

Maybe this shouldn't even take place in China. What's a popular race these days? Are the Inuit still big?

November 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDan

I don't even want to be a writer anymore.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDan

Ok, so, Chapter 23. The Dragon (not a real dragon!!) has the Crown, and is holding her prisoner in his skyscraper-mounted pagoda. He wants to be emperor, naturally, but the Crown is the rightful heir, so he's planning on doing some sort of ancient Chinese ceremony to become the heir himself. He will probably eat her heart, if that's not racist.

Meanwhile, Jeff and Quan are climbing the side of the skyscraper. Of course Quan is temporarily differently-abled, after he rescued Jeff from that dog fighting pit and got his shit bitten up pretty bad in the process, so he's strapped to Jeff's back. Doesn't that make climbing harder? You'd think so, but by this point Jeff and Quan are such a good team that even strapped to each others' backs they compliment each others' skills. So while Jeff struggles with suction cups, Quan pulls them up the grappling hook's rope. Wisecracks all around.

They pull themselves over the rim of the skyscraper ... and they are surrounded by the Dragon's terra cotta-armored goons. Oh brother!

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDan

They're dead. They're all dead.

November 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDan

So far no interest expressed from publishers, but it could be that they're playing hard ball to get a better deal.

December 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDan

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