NaNoWriMo and Mixed Feelings

NaNoWriMo and Mixed Feelings

This time last year saw a spike in writing effort on my part – I learned about NaNoWriMo too late to jump in myself, but contented myself with trying to write something everyday. Something short, definitely below the advised 1500 daily word-count, but something nonetheless. The results were mixed, but some acceptable stuff did come from it. More than anything, it was good to force myself to write. If not everyday, then often.

I’ve come at things slightly better prepared this year (a very slight difference, believe me). That being said, I’ll still not be taking part – it seemed both ill-considered to jump into a fresh work while I’ve projects, important at least to me, on the go, and disingenuous to bring partially-developed pieces to something where are others are starting from scratch.

After looking at the way things are set up with NaNo, I’m left with a few reservations. First and foremost, I’m not sure how keen I am on this Stalinist idea of novel production – having a preset word count to achieve each day, it’s like some sort of quantity into quality dialectical process for story creation. Looking at the aggressive output of some of the genre-writers, those who approach this whole affair from the perspective of aggregate mass, it’s difficult to discern much sense in the effort. Their work is, usually, sub-par.

Which is not to malign all authors of sizeable creation. Steven King, his own output prodigious, has commented on this recently. The situation he describes seems more like a compulsion than a mechanical clock-punching affair, however:

‘As a young man, my head was like a crowded movie theater where someone has just yelled “Fire!” and everyone scrambles for the exits at once. I had a thousand ideas but only 10 fingers and one typewriter.’

While I’ll agree with him that the idea that bulk by definition cannot render worth is mere snobbery, there is a lot of dross produced in the name of productivity. David Kindersley put it succinctly:

It's an ironic twist that division of labour, meant to streamline our work, has in fact increased our drudgery...

It’s an ironic twist that division of labour, meant to streamline our work, has in fact increased our drudgery…

Jests aside, I can appreciate working with a schedule – practice develops the skill, and, assuming the inspiration ever does strike, one needs a reserve of stamina to pull from. Also, I get that this whole affair isn’t aimed at producing a polished piece, but rather a first draft you can sink your teeth in to.

Putting aside concerns about magnitude, then, I am also bemused by the “gamification” the scaffolding around NaNo produces – the idea of “unlocking achievements,” either automatically set or provided by yourself, seems to trivialise the effort a bit. I can see that, especially for our generation, groomed to the grind of RPG’s from an early age, the provision of meaningless rewards can help keep one going. It still seems a bit hollow. Surely the reward ought to come from the work itself? Do we really need these artificial tokens of achievement? Maybe I’m over-thinking it.

The support network seems like a nice idea – someone to periodically (digitally) scream encouragement at you, maybe a few people in meatspace to unwind with. It’s not exactly a new idea – writers groups, whether it be under the guise of the CIA-sponsored MFA programs in Iowa, or the earlier, literary coteries either side of the Great War, writers have been mixing it up for a long time. The hackneyed stereotype of the solitary-writer-in-the-garret is just that, a stereotype. It’s nice, and probably healthy, to get to know and interact with others writers.

To bring a rather meandering piece to an end, then, I’ll say this. I intend to try and meet the advised word limit, even if I don’t do so within the structure of the official program. I’ll mainly be focusing on the novel I’ve had sitting around forever now – it is in fact the length of time this has been sitting that stayed my hand in joining properly – as well as some other projects I’ve had on the stove too long. Assuming it goes well, there should be no reason left to not join in next year – the worry about performance will already be dispelled, as I’ll know that I’m able to write that much in a confined amount of time. Best of luck, then, to any and all participating this year. I’ll see you next time ‘round!

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Posted on November 1, 2015, in Maunderings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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