Saturday, 4 December 2010

Bookish Bits & Bobs: NaNoWriMo

During the weekend before the end of this year's National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, a highly discouraging article was published in The Times on the subject. The article's main message to all of the WriMos (or National Novel Writing Month participants) out there was this: don't bother - I'm an author and it's not that great, and besides, the world already has too many novels and novelists. The article seemed to come from Julia Stephenson's general feelings of bitterness and lack of fulfilment and success, with her grudgingly acknowledging that her novels now only sell for 1p on Amazon and that she even admits to posting glowingly positive reviews on the site under a host of aliases.

As a first time WriMo (or 'nanoteur' - the French word for a NaNoWriMo participant, which I much prefer), I was momentarily discouraged, but then remembered that a) Julia Stephenson is only against projects like NaNoWriMo, or just anyone aspiring to be a novelist in general, because she clearly cannot bear the idea that anyone might be more successful and happier than she has been in achieving their dream; and that b) nanoteurs receive plenty of support in the form of pep talks from established successful authors such as Dave Eggers and Lemony Snicket. If they can find it in themselves to endorse such a project, then why can't she?

NaNoWriMo (or indeed just writing as a whole) is not easy, and while a good dose of realism along the way is helpful, there's a fine line between being realistic and just rubbishing the ambitions of others. As a participant this year, I have had to approach my writing with more intensity than I ever have before, and it has involved putting several other aspects of my life on hold, including chiefly reading and blogging, which would explain why I appeared to have gone completely AWOL for the past few weeks. It also goes against a writer's basic instincts to prize quantity over quality and to push on through regardless with the sole aim of creating a credible first draft of 50,000 words (if you have achieved this, in NaNo terms you have 'won'). There were other associated pitfalls with being a NaNo participant: I was also discouraged by those participants who claimed after only halfway through the month, or less, to have 'won', and it makes me wonder if these people have families, or lives, or jobs, and if I was the only one taking this even semi-seriously in the sense of having something afterwards that I could actually keep and work with, rather than just being left with several megabytes of useless wordvomit about talking monkeys and purple dishwashers and whatever else these people happened to be writing about. I also failed to take advantage of NaNo as a social event, with me having only attended one write-in and opting for the comfort of my own home (rather than overpriced Parisian caf├ęs) the rest of the time.

But in spite of that catalogue of negatives, NaNoWriMo has proved overall to be a positive experience for me. There is something incredibly empowering and liberating about creating so much from nothing in so short a space of time, and while there is certainly plenty of editing to do, it shows you as a person what you can achieve if you really set your mind to it. And, as I mentioned before, it has the potential as well to be a great group activity, which I plan to take much fuller advantage of during next year's NaNoWriMo. In addition, should I have the fortune/misfortune to still be in teaching, I can also see a great opportunity to implement NaNoWriMo, possibly in conjunction with Movember, as an excellent group/bonding activity for students in a school that frankly doesn't have a great deal of school spirit.

And even if, as the embittered author mentioned in the first paragraph states so starkly, the hundreds of thousands of NaNo participants never have their books published or make it as successful writers, it is important to remember that we all only have our own little tiny lives, and if we can make an impact on the world around us, it's nice, but ultimately, if we can make those own tiny lives just a little bit happier and more fulfilled, then that's nice as well. That, to me, does not seem to be something that Julia Stephenson has achieved for her own life.

So in short, I have enjoyed being a nanoteur for the month, but in a lot of respects that's all I've been - and now that November is over, I'm very grateful to have the rest of my life back.

for further information, see www.nanowrimo.org

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