Friday, October 12, 2007
I'm stealing the term Published Author Fantasy Role Playing Game (and the concept) from "Uncle Jim," James Macdonald. He's posted about the Published Author Fantasy Role Playing Game more than once at Absolute Write, and I've been thinking about the concept a lot lately, for various reasons. He's usually referring to the people who are able and willing to pay vanity publishers to publish their books just so they can have the "experience" of being a published author. I think the sort of person who indulges in the Published Author Fantasy Role Playing Game isn't just limited to vanity publishers and scams like Publish America.
This is where I come clean with some unpopular opinions.
I hate NaNoWriMo. I don't even think the concept is sound. Yes, the most important of writing that book you've always wanted to write is to sit down and write it...but...well...I think it's a load of rubbish. I'll number my reasons for the benefit of people who want to tear my argument apart.
Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.
Writing a novel is nothing but time and effort. I'm not even sure what the point of writing 50,000 words of crap is. Just so you can say you've done it? If you're scared of the time and effort devoted to writing a novel, find a new hobby.
If you want to be an actual author, you will find time to sit down and write. Yeah, life is hard and hectic and full of distractions. But people always find time for what's important to them. Take me, for example. I'm currently working on MA in British and American Literature. This requires about 30 hours a week, in terms of reading, writing, and seminar time. I also teach one writing class with 25 students. We meet 3 times per week, and I've got to have lectures planned, assignments written, and of course, I have grading to do. This is about 10-15 hours of my week. I also write content for websites. This work is tedious and never-ending. I devote about 30 hours a week to it. I also am married and I enjoy spending time with my husband. I'm the only person with a car in my family, so it's up to me to run errands like going to the bank, the grocery store, the post office, etc. And I still write, at a minimum 4 hours a day. Every day. Period. Because it's important to me.
2) 50,000 words is not a novel. It's about 2/3 or 3/4 of a novel. And if it's 50,000 crap words, it's not even much of an accomplishment.
3) It encourages the myth that anybody can be an author.
In 2006, we had over 79,000 participants. Nearly 13,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.
I have a feeling they're dead serious. I can't even really wrap my mind around this belief. If I spend a month practicing first aid on my accident prone sister, does that mean I can call myself a doctor after thirty days?
Sorry, but that's not true. If you don't believe me, volunteer to read somebody's slush pile. Being an effective author is about more than just writing words on paper. You've got to have a handle on genre, voice, tone, characterization, plot, pacing, balance, literature, history, and language. You've got to be an expert in all sorts of ridiculous things ranging from the human body to ancient Greek weapons. You've got to be willing to research--you've got to know how to research. You have to have the fortitude to chuck it all and start over again when something isn't working. You need the patience of a saint.
Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.
Well, at least they acknowledge it. NaNoWriMo produces a whole bunch of first drafts. I hope it's a whole bunch of first drafts that eventually become 2nd, 3rd, and 4th drafts. But when I read people explain why they signed up, it's always "I hope this motivates me to finish this year!" Dude, if you need a special month and contest dedicated to finishing a short novel just for motivation, I seriously wonder how editing will go. Because editing is hard. Editing will make you want to cry. It's brutal, if it's done right. Why isn't December "National Editing Novels Month"?
5) Maybe I should lighten up. It's just for fun, right? Who cares if people spend November writing 2000 words a day and feeling pleased with themselves? Shouldn't I, as a writing teacher, be happy and encourage this sort of thing? Why am I such a fucking Scrooge?
Because every month for me is National Novel Writing Month. Any month I don't complete at least 50,000 words is a month I've failed. Writing is Serious Business for me. And I feel vaguely offended by the notion that "anybody" can write a novel, and the only thing stopping them is not having the time. I've been working full time, treating writing like a career, for about four years now. I have some success by some measures, and no success by others. But I am constantly working to improve myself. I am constantly moving my life around to make time to write. And I strongly, strongly suspect that other professional, successful authors do the same.
Being an author is about making sacrifices and making hard choices. Sure, it's fun. If it wasn't the most fun I've ever had with clothes on, I wouldn't do it. But that doesn't mean I think writing novels should be treated like a game.
NaNoWriMo is just another element of the popular Pubished Author Fantasy Role Playing Game. "It's easy to write a book. It just takes a month of writing 2K a day! How could anything be more simple?"
If you want to write, don't rely on a gimmick to get yourself motivated. You deserve better than that, and so does your novel.