National Novel Writing Month is proof positive that if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will eventually work your way out of whatever task you’ve got before you. I believe that’s the actual point: to give writers confidence that they can, in fact, move forward with whatever they set their minds to.
This hasn’t been how I’ve NaNo’ed. Personally, I have no trouble setting down words – between my various writing clients, I’m sure I near 50,000 words a month at the best of times. If anything, my main struggle has been to focus on one single piece for thirty days. This November, I didn’t even try. Between growing this blog (hello hi how are you,) writing for Book Riot, and ghosting for persons redacted, I barely got my cathartic political battle royale off the ground. I did write the particular scene that I wanted, which made me cackle with glee at my own cleverness before I consigned it forever to the fire.
Beyond my unattractive tendency to be amused by my own work, I need to burn at least some of what I create in order to stay happy as a writer. There are times when writing is like riding a bicycle in the sense that it’s an empowering exercise. Then there are times when I’ve been pedaling so long that I begin to flag and worry primarily about where I’m going instead of taking joy in the action. I love a chance to enjoy the process of writing without having to worry about producing something good, or useful, or even saleable.
November, increasingly, has been my opportunity to write drivel. And I look forward to it with tremendous relish.
I don’t research and I don’t edit. I don’t worry that nobody will buy my work or that an editor would hate it. Nobody will ever see my NaNo writing. It won’t impact the rest of my career in a negative manner and my mother will not be ashamed of me. It’s true freedom, and it’s the delete key that caps it off. I don’t think I’ve ever kept one of my NaNoWriMo novels, even during those years when I’ve been able to focus hard enough to generate something coherent.
As a result, I tend toward bizarro fiction for NaNoWriMo. It gets weird. Gory, too, usually. I’ve had characters trapped in an enchanted Target with bloodthirsty love gods. I’ve had the Judeo-Christian deity Yahweh transformed into a rubber ducky and smiting people for their bathing behavior. I’ve had politicians cannibalizing each other. My hard drive is a bloody, disgusting mess in November, and then December wipes it clean. I’ve always admired those writers of extreme sci-fi, exemplified by Carlton Mellick III of Satan Burger fame, who fly their freak flags from the highest pinnacle. That’s commitment. It’s never been what I wanted, but it sure is fun to moonlight.
For my own part, I’m coming to realize that writing isn’t a monolith. Pieces that I write for fun and never publish are valid as personal entertainment, as writing that I do just to blow off steam and because I enjoy the craft. Listicles that I labor over, articles that I research, and book reviews that I blitz through don’t need to be as precious to me as the time I spend making something that I like just because. I could send a billion ghostwritten biographies out into the universe without once thinking of them as my precious babies, without ever considering them again at all except as points on my portfolio and solid pieces of work. But when I junk a NaNo novel, that’s the apex of my year. I never forget the joy of writing something redonkulously dumb, scrapping it without concern, and moving on with my life.
I have never felt the need to polish or publish my NaNos, not from this year or any other. I technically won the word count and I did have fun writing about someone whose name rhymes with Ditch McDonnell barbequing and heartily enjoying the roasted rump of someone whose name rhymes with Ronald Dump, but I’m equally comfortable not continuing the story. It was never meant to be completed or shared. That’s not what NaNo is about – for me.
In fact, there are a lot of successful novels that have come out of National Novel Writing Month. I did a whole bit about them over at Book Riot. I think that’s wonderful. At the same time, I’m not sorry I’ll never be one of them. I’m a rebel, baby. Someday I’ll write a serious novel, but it sure as hell won’t happen in November! The point of my journey is just to get some invigorating exercise.