Update: I edited the grammatical errors that you’ve made clear a “real writer” wouldn’t make and clarified a point. Yikes, but a lot of WriMo’s are crazily over-sensitive. How about leaving comments instead of sending email? More fun for everyone, don’t you think?

I think NaNoWriMo is a fine and wonderful thing and I’ve participated and won a whole bunch of times.

A few years ago, I “won” twice. I had a lot of time on my hands that November.

I won’t ever say that my participation has ever been a waste of time. I’ve never used anything I’ve written for it any productive way, most of it is junk and never has the quality of anything I keep working on.

This year, however, is another story. This year – like last – NaNoWriMo is a distraction from the writing I want to get done, and that defeats the purpose of the whole enterprise.

I was thinking these vaguely heretical thoughts when I came across Laura Miller’s “Better yet, DON’T write that novel: Why National Novel Writing Month is a waste of time and energy” at Salon.

NaNoWriMo was started back in 1999 as a motivational stunt for a small group of writer friends. It’s since become a nonprofit organization with staff, sponsors, a fundraising gala and, last year, nearly 120,000 contestants. Participants agree to start and complete a novel of 50,000 words or more during the month of November. To “win,” all you have do is meet that goal, however wretched the result. Last year’s NaNoWriMo had 21,683 such winners.

The purpose of NaNoWriMo seems laudable enough. Above all, it fosters the habit of writing every single day, the closest thing to a universally prescribed strategy for eventually producing a book. NaNoWriMo spurs aspiring authors to conquer their inner critics and blow past blocks. Only by producing really, really bad first drafts can many writers move on to the practice that results in decent work: revision.

I think there are lots of reasons to do NaNoWriMo that extend far beyond just the act of writing and I think it’s a useful creative exercise for non-fiction writing Capital-C Creatives to spend time on “creative cross-training” activities like this.

I think NaNoWriMo has been very useful to myself and other writers for getting us out of old ruts, giving projects under revision a chance to rest, and even getting us out of the house on occasion. I don’t in any way believe that “real” writers don’t do NaNoWriMo anymore than I believe that “real” artists shouldn’t participate in Artomatic or “real” actors didn’t guest-star on the Love Boat.

Wait. What? Let’s skip over that last one and get back on-point.

Miller didn’t inspire me to quit, but her argument certainly informed my decision. Plus, her post gave me something to link to so I could lucidly blog about why I was quitting. I didn’t want my writing buddies to feel abandoned or to think I’m dismissive of their efforts, because I’m not. I’ll happily join them for a write-ins, but I’m not going to be focused on a NaNoWriMo project while I do.

And that’s okay.

Right? That’s okay, right?

It feels a bit wrong to quit. Not as wrong as when the writers of the Love Boat decided that the new cruise director character should be Julie McCoy’s sister instead of just creating a new character with a new backstory when Lauren Tewes went to rehab.

I don’t know if that was technically wrong, maybe it was just fucking stupid.


I spend a lot of time researching and writing. NaNoWriMo is eating up my knitting and reading time, and a writer who doesn’t read is some kinda blood-sucking freak, in my opinion. If I didn’t write the other 11 months out of the year I might think this is a small price to pay, but I do and it’s not.

Miller’s piece first came to my attention because frantic WriMo’s were taking it as an inditement of NaNoWriMo – an accusation that it’s having a deleterious effect on the amount of novel-reading the general population does. I don’t agree with that part, but I do agree that writers are going to write anyway and maybe this event isn’t for them every time.

So I’m not worried about all the books that won’t get written if a hundred thousand people with a nagging but unfulfilled ambition to Be a Writer lack the necessary motivation to get the job done. I see no reason to cheer them on. Writers are, in fact, hellishly persistent; they will go on writing despite overwhelming evidence of public indifference and (in many cases) of their own lack of ability or anything especially interesting to say. Writers have a reputation for being tormented by their lot, probably because they’re always moaning so loudly about how hard it is, but it’s the readers who are fragile, a truly endangered species. They don’t make a big stink about how underappreciated they are; like Tinkerbell or any other disbelieved-in fairy, they just fade away.

Rather than squandering our applause on writers — who, let’s face it, will keep on pounding the keyboards whether we support them or not — why not direct more attention, more pep talks, more nonprofit booster groups, more benefit galas and more huzzahs to readers? Why not celebrate them more heartily? They are the bedrock on which any literary culture must be built. After all, there’s not much glory in finally writing that novel if it turns out there’s no one left to read it.

I actually poked around the NaNoWriMo site to see if I could delete my participant information for 2010, but the site is bogged down right now and it wasn’t readily apparent to me. Plus, I do have that stubborn “never say never” thing, so I might decide on November 25th to finish my abandoned project after all. I’m 10% done, after all. Wouldn’t want to waste those words!

To my writing buddies I say this: keep writing. I applaud your efforts and I think you have as many reasons to participate as there are “Captain Stubing bald jokes” in your typical episode of the Love Boat.

For me, there’s a primary reason not to do NaNoWriMo this year: I’ve got shit to do.

I have loads of genuinely important things to do. I also have some severe tendon pain right now and no desire to do anything but sit and stare at my year of mixtapes like it’s the most profound thing I’ve ever read. Then, I read a book, which involves minimal use of my hands. The side effects drugs to fix one thing harm another, namely tendons. Poor tendons, they were so happy before. Life is hilarious.

Then I did some whining to Dr. Birdcage about how slowly my NaNoWriMo novel, tentatively titled The Art Show, is coming along. It’s coming along slowly, partially because I haven’t been writing. Mostly because I haven’t been writing. Fine. Entirely because I haven’t been writing. I wrote 1200 words on day 1 and wandered off. When I picked up my laptop this afternoon I typed a couple of sentences because I realized my main character had just summoned demons to eat the other characters, or the annoying ones anyway, so I strongly believe things are looking up. Still, things will not look up entirely until someone, someone who resembles me, starts typing.

Are you one of the many people I told that I’d given up on my National Novel Writing Month novel? I was mistaken.

NaNoWriMo winner 2008

NaNoWriMo winner 2008

So impressed with my brilliance you don’t know what to do with yourself?* Hop on over to the NaNoWriMo site and make a donation or buy swag to support their amazing literacy programs. Don’t you want to be able to self-righteously explain at those interminable holiday cocktail parties that you’re supporting this amazing Young Writer’s program? Plus, tax deductible.

At any rate, time for peppermint tea and pumpkin spice cake. If I can get into the kitchen – we’ve been watching the 1st season of Pushing Daisies on DVD and the Iron Chef was overcome with the need to bake pies. It’s pretty scary in there. Be glad you missed the obsessing over where I’d put his pastry cloth. Seriously.

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As you may have noticed, weird things happen to me all the time. All the time. Hell, something weird is probably happening right now and I’m not even noticing. Nevertheless, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) seems to be a time of heightened weirdness. I won’t go through all of the weird coincidences that have happened over the years, you can get the gist by reading about how I once burned down Gatorland – with my mind.

When I walked into the kitchen the other day and said to Husband, “You know how it’s National Novel Writing Month?” his automatic response was, “What did you do this time?”

I didn’t do anything. But one of my ninety-something year old characters has been keeping the ghosts of three of her siblings trapped in her home. I’m not sure how or why, so for right now she’s just got their bodies stashed in the attic. For this reason the headline, “Police: 90-year-old living with 3 siblings’ bodies” caught my eye.

Yes, I’m aware that there’s not any sort of human action you can dream up to write about that someone, somewhere hasn’t done. But she’s had them for years, and it hits the news now? I think that’s weird.

As for the novel itself? It’s not going well at all. I generally end up writing 75,000 – 100,000 words in November. This year, for the first time ever in my life, the words are just not pouring forth as easily as usual. Having to sleep more than 12 hours a day isn’t helping things. Friday was a pretty good day, one of my characters from last year showed up and killed one of this year’s characters. I’m not certain why yet, but I’ll let you know when I find out.

Do you know anyone else who could accidentally end up at an election-watching/victory party for McCain-Palin?

I didn’t think so.

In my own defense: not all of our neighbors wear their yardsigns on their sleeves. Before you tell me “every Virginian is a redneck republican” crap, I’ll remind you that Alexandria went to Obama by 72% and the only surprise has been that it wasn’t higher. This is Communist Northern Virginia I’m in, not Real America Virginia.

My brain was off in NaNoWriMo World when they invited me and it took me a few minutes to realize that I was in the belly of the beast. You’d think the lifesize cardboard cutouts of McCain and Palin would have tipped me off, but I thought they were being ironic. I believe, much to my horror, that I actually pronounced them cool. My memory may be playing games on me, but when reality dawned on me it seemed like the moment in a horror movie when one realizes that one is at a party of aliens. Or satanists.

I’m not referring to Republicans as satanists. Only Sarah Palin supporters.

Only kidding.

No I’m not.

Maybe I am.

At any rate, I had to make small-talk for a while and the 1st rule of cocktail party chatter: no politics, was moot. Ditto the second rule: no religion. I did the only thing I could think of: I talked a lot about the sex-toy give-away. I felt like a lizard discarding it’s tail to create a distraction so I could escape a predator, but whatever. I didn’t want to burn any bridges – not even the bridge to nowhere.

That, kids, is why you don’t take candy, or martinis, from strangers. Or neighbors who you don’t know as much about as you think you do.

Abandoned my writing buddy when my eyeballs threatened to fall out of my head and roll across the floor and, more importantly, the superstrength ibuprofen wore off and my hands started to ache like they’d been hit with a hammer. Starting wordccount 13k. Final wordcount at the end of the day: 17,436

(posted on request for a reader who can’t access twitter)

When in trouble, kill a character. Kill 2, they’re small. Live on the wild side, kill a major character. a funeral is worth a thousand words
about 4 hours ago from web

16k words.many of ’em about travails of writing at coffeeshop. see also:people who let their spawn bang on the piano like liberace on crack
about 4 hours ago from web

received txt msg from WriMo who turned out to be sitting right behind me here at the coffee shop. wackiness.
about 4 hours ago from web

15,000 words. some of them coherent. most of them real.
about 4 hours ago from web

maybe I should quit writing and devote my life to roller derby
about 5 hours ago from web

NaNoWriMo update: 14,000 and counting.
about 6 hours ago from web

As you may have noticed, I’m rarely at a loss for words. That doesn’t mean I don’t get writer’s block, but it never manifests in the “all work and no play make jack a dull boy” vein. I may not have the oomph to work on what I should be working on, but I can almost always be counted on to churn out words of some sort.

To whit, since NaNoWriMo began, I’ve written manifesto-length blog posts, tweeted incessantly, IMed endlessly, produced proliferous emails (though not enough to even approach being caught up, unfortunately). I’ve put pen to paper and written letters, to-do lists, greeting cards, postcards, and notecards. But I have not put in anything approaching adequate effort on my November novel, which needs to reach 50,000 words by November 30th.

Today is the 14th. I should be at around 23,338 words today. I’m at just above 13,000. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but last year at this time I was approaching 70,000. That was then and this is now, and there’s still plenty of time.

Thus, today, it’s time to pull out all the stops. Detailed expositions of trips to the grocery store and the hardware store and the coffeeshop. Shopping lists. Emails between characters. Dream sequences. Fake academic articles. A novel within the novel (good place to shove the debris that no longer serves the story but I can’t bear to dump because down would go the wordcount). Perhaps even some blog posts.

Hell, I may resort to song lyrics, but things will have to get a bit more desperate for that to happen. No offense to anyone using the song lyrics trick, if it’s in the service of the story I say go for it.

Now, if you’ll pardon me, I think one of my characters is about to dare another one to recite all of the U.S. State capitals.

Don’t you hate it when you start out writing a nice story about squirrels spreading some sort of viral zombie disease among a bunch of artists and you end up writing about terrorists wrecking a wedding? Eh, there could still be zombies. And, as Husband has suggested, maybe the only way to kill the genetically modified terrorist-controlled zombies is by raising the dead and sending traditional voodoo-inspired zombies to destroy them.

Husband has been practicing turning off his brain so we can resume our Galactica 1980 marathon, so I may not want to listen to him. Galactica 1980 is the perfect Writer’s Guild Strike viewing choice, because no writers were involved in the making of this show.

For the last few years all of my writing has been set in Florida, but almost of my actual writing has been getting done in Virginia. This time, my [tag]NaNoWriMo[/tag] Novel (which would be a NaNoWriMoNo) is set in Virginia. And I’m going to be writing most of it in la Florida. Perhaps like last year I should overachieve and write two, setting the Virginia one aside while I’m there to write one set in Florida. Since I haven’t written a word since the 1st day, I’m not sure I see that happening. The odds are better that I’ll see the [tag]Virgin Mary on my toast[/tag]. In fact, you can take those odds to the bank.