Why you shouldn’t participate in National Novel Writing Month.


I advise against participating in National Novel Writing Month, which is often known as NaNoWriMo, or just NaNo, because I’m lazy, which doesn’t bode well for me since the whole point of NaNo is to write and I’m too lazy to write five more letters.

So, I advise against it because of five more letters, and also because it turns your month of November into a freakish flurry of writing constipation as you rush to finish 50,000 words arranged as a novel in 30 days time.

You will regret participating. I did it once, and I finished, but not before depicting the entire experience as a depressed watercolor. You may need to print that image out if you’re having second thoughts about not doing it.

It was the year 2006.

That’s when five people in my writing group back in Devils Lake completed the NaNo challenge. That’s impressive. We were only a group of about seven or eight, and those are extremely high finish rates when you consider the number who start but don’t finish NaNo.

I didn’t (and still don’t) know a thing about writing a novel, and so I just started to write my NaNo book the same way as I would read one: at the beginning. Most writers write out of order, in pieces — pretty much anything but start to finish I learned, but I didn’t know any better. I just started writing.

My book was, confusingly, a book written as if by a fictional character in a small book I wrote, which was a story about that fictional character who wanted to be a writer. It was one of the Blogathon Bob books, the first one actually, entitled Of Rats and Men, in which Bob, the lead character, wants to be a writer and his wife thinks otherwise (many hi-jinx ensue). The resulting “novel” written by me as if it were the book Bob was writing about a character named Dan who was searching for creative fulfillment was entitled The Last Man and was hideously bad, completely offensive, and read by no one but me. It was, however, just over 50,000 words.

I’m perfectly confused at the description I just gave you, so I don’t blame you if you are, too. Imagine trying to write that mess.

You may have missed these quality lines.

My book was filled with some great turns of the phrase, such as this one from day one:

So Dan sat at his table, waiting, tiny slips of paper like dandruff from an epileptic advertising god covered with email addresses and phone numbers printed on them, spread out around him on the table top. Most advertised give-away kittens and low-priced Monte Carlo cars with rust problems.

Perhaps he should have worn the ascot after all.

This came up on the second day. And I use the phrase “came up” with foreshadowing which, like the content I was writing at the time, would foreshadow my own NaNo experience in about a week:

“As a writer, I use everything to inspire me and a candy bar puts up a kind of challenge. A challenge to use such luscious adjectives and description in my own work,” he said. For some time now he’d realized his true gift wasn’t one of serious thought and writing, but of a grand fibber, a person with the ability to attribute any sort of nonsense to any thought stream and convince those people who wanted to be convinced that he was great. Some people were so ripe and desperate for inspiration that they’d follow a dog to his vomit if the dog promised that there’d be a plot device.

And then there’s this beauty, from a chapter enticingly entitled “Cheryl’s Fax.” It was a very short chapter; there wasn’t much to say about fax machines:

Some days at work were a joy, such as when he called in sick. The rest of the time, as the office manager at Amalgamated Furniture (known fondly by the bitter employees as Emasculated Furniture), Dan found himself reverting to various methods of avoiding manslaughter.

Somewhere in the middle of week two, when I was desperate, I sent my main character to the zoo. It was ugly:

This was not a large zoo. In fact, up until last year the aquarium’s “killer whale” display hadn’t been more than a mural and a hand puppet manned by local senior citizen volunteers.

Sad that the literary world will never see the rest. (The non-literary world can read excerpts on Tumblr, though.)

It started out as a delightful creative breeze.

3,000 words a day, I figured, accounting for holidays and so forth. Easy enough.

And then day five hit and I didn’t have any ideas left. It was an ugly month, and ended, on November 30th at 11:50 p.m., with my mom and dad pacing back and forth in the dining room while I frantically pulled words out of the air and pounded them into the laptop, hoping that the internet wifi would hold and allow me to upload my novel for the official word count.

This may explain my mother’s reaction on my post on Facebook today, and why maybe I should skip again this year.

That, and the fact that it’s November 1st — THE START OF THE EVENT! — and I hadn’t really decided yes or no. In fact, I hadn’t considered it really until a few days ago. Most people practically watch the clock and start writing the first minute into November, having planned their participation and novel.

So no. You shouldn’t participate in NaNoWriMo. It’s hard work. It takes time. Somewhere around Thanksgiving you’ll find great excuses to stop. And, after having said all of that, here’s why you should: if you finish, you feel incredibly good about yourself on December 1st.

Which is why I think I might give it another go, six years later. If I decide to do it, what might I write about? Well…


8 responses

  1. “like dandruff from an epileptic advertising god” may very well be the greatest simile ever committed to paper, er um, electrons.

    But I just want to know what the insane logic was to have this in the (effectively) shortest month of the year.

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