Thanks to a Facebook link, I just yesterday became aware of the NaNoWriMo rebuttal site NaNoWriMo No Mo even though the site’s been around for a couple of years. It’s a one-page refutation of NaNoWriMo as a habit. I want to make that clear. The No Mo site isn’t arguing that no one should ever do NaNoWriMo, only that doing it every year is counterproductive, especially if you’re not writing in the interim.
If you want to play piano, you don’t dust off the keyboard just one month in twelve.—NaNoWriMo No Mo
I have many friends who love NaNoWriMo, but I fall very much on the No Mo side. If you’re going to make writing a career instead of a hobby, pulling a marathon once a year isn’t the best way.
The best way to build proficiency in any art is consistent practice. We often call writing a “craft,” and I suppose in some ways it is. Almost anyone can be taught to write well enough to get by in business, for example.
But novel writing is an art.
If you were a dancer, or a pianist, or a sculptor, you would practice every day. Every single day. Every day of the year.
When Malcom Gladwell in Outliers describes the 10,000 hour rule — the idea that to master a thing you must spend 10,000 hours at it — he is presuming that those hours are spread over the years of one’s life, not all clustered in the autumn.
I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. If I spent an hour a day writing (not an unlikely estimate) from the time I was eight (that’s about the time I wrote the oldest short story extant in my juvenilia), then I racked up my 10,000 hours by the time I was 35. Interestingly, that’s a few years before I finished the first version of Alara’s Call that was worth showing anyone. But I’m pretty sure there were plenty of days I spent more than an hour writing.
“Winning” NaNoWriMo (Can you “win” something that thousands of others also “win?” Seems to me it’s more like “achieving” NaNoWriMo) requires writing 50,000 words in the month of November. That works out to 1,666.666… (infinite number of sixes) words per day, or 1,923 if you take Sundays off. For me, that’s about three hours of writing. One of the reasons I don’t participate in NaNoWriMo is that I’m not willing to eliminate what I’d have to (like knitting and hubby time, not to mention nonfiction writing) in order to spend three hours a day every day on novel writing.
As a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, I participate in an accountability group called Novel Track. The minimum goal for Novel Track recognition is 10,000 words per month, or 333.333 (infinite number of threes) per day in a 30-day month, or 384.6 words a day if you take Sundays off. For me that’s about 30 minutes of writing, though it doesn’t include the time I spend on nonfiction writing (like this post). I can do that, and I can do it every day, barring Sundays, all year, every year. (Actually, I even write a little bit on Sundays. I’ve been advised that the Sabbath was made for writers and not writers for the Sabbath.)
As Tim Ward pointed out about this time last year, lots of NaNoWriMo novels never get finished. Sure, you hear about the ones that win book deals, but how many languish? More to the point, how much time did those authors put in December through Octofinisho editing and polishing? That’s where the hard work of authoring is done.
I don’t begrudge those who find the camaraderie and deadline pressure of NaNoWriMo inspiring. I know several writers who work consistently through the year and just use NaNoWriMo to give their productivity a boost. But I fear that too many people get clobbered by that pressure and give up, when a slow and steady approach might have brought them to the level of mastery.
I could go on about goal-setting and consistency, and maybe I will. But for now, I just want to reiterate something I said over at Tim’s post: “For me, every month is novel writing month.”