Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Different paths up the same mountain

I’m amazed at the vitriol a Google+ query has provoked over the harmless, well-intentioned writing exercise called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, or just NaNo). One commenter went so far as to label NaNoWriMo participants – of which I am one – “morons and the ignorant,” “fools,” and “an embarrassment to writers,” possessed of “delusions,” with an extra stab at those who write romance novels (I do not), and then claim his comments were not hateful. I can’t imagine what he hoped to accomplish, or to gain, with such animosity, but I referred the thread to Nathan Bransford’s post Don’t Be A Jerk.

The commenter felts his remarks were “misconstrued and responded to based on those misconceptions,” and ended his several statements by wishing NaNo participants well. To be fair, he was not alone in his negativity. Others took NaNo to task for its supposed “tourist” aspect of writing by daring to allow hobbyists to call themselves writers for a month. There were thoughtful comments as well about the necessary work which comes after NaNo, work which founder Chris Baty stresses in his companion book, but my issue is with those who chose to tag NaNo itself with derision because it doesn’t take writing “seriously.” That aspect is up to each individual writer and shouldn’t be blamed on a light-hearted vehicle to help get folks writing. There are many paths up the mountain, and not all who embark on the journey are through-hikers. Barely twenty percent of those who begin NaNo cross the fifty-thousand word goalpost; those who do are entitled to a bit of celebration before they begin the trek of edits and rewrites, if that is their chosen path.

A more reasoned approach comes from Chuck Wendig’s always entertaining blog where he provides his customary list of advice for would-be NaNo participants, at least one of which the aforementioned abusive commenter would do well to heed: “We’re not all robots who follow the same pre-described program.” Lighten up, do what you to do in order to get the words down on the page. It’s not easy; NaNo is not easy – but it’s a trial run of what to expect in the writing life, and for many, the only time they will allow themselves to write. What their lives and egos do with the output after the game ends is their call. I hope they move on from what Wendig calls a “zero draft” produced in that thirty-day sprint, but the marathon of a dedicated writer’s life is not for everyone.

My 2005 NaNo effort became the basis for my creative writing thesis; my 2006 draft, after many rewrites, edits and revisions is with an agent for consideration. In the meantime, I’ve published several short stories, an anthologized personal essay, and a non-fiction history book. NaNo was not the end for me, only the beginning. It gave me the confidence to push forward with my writing, knowing I really could finish a novel-length manuscript. To deride such an accomplishment by anyone who makes the effort is cruel and unnecessary, whether they take the remaining difficult steps to publication or not.

A recent post by Jami Gold offered related advice to those who are bombarded with conflicting “expert” opinion on the publishing end of writing, wisely reminding would-be writers, “Every one of us has a different path to success because we each have our own definition of success…” If the path of NaNoWriMo works for you as it did for me, take it.

We’ll meet up again on the other side and celebrate our respective journeys.

1 comment:

  1. We all have to do what is right for us. I think NaNoWriMo is a great tool for many people. And I do not think that person's negative comments should be given more than a wink! Just because NaNo doesn't work for me, doesn't stop me from posting helpful blogs and sites for NaNo participants! And good luck this November.

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