Monday, November 24, 2008

Too Much of A Bad Thing

Someone shook their head at my last post and rumbled "You might as well do the NaNoWriMo..or whatever it's called, where a bunch of folks commit to write a novel in a month." Hmmm.

I have actually given that consideration. Except that the NANO thing always struck me as counterintuitive. Don't get me wrong, I believe in writing each day, having a schedule, forcing productivity. But an entire novel in a month??? I know some people will comment that they've done it, that others have written and published from NaNoWriMo that it's been a push that made them write.


But I think the best plan is to be a careful and deliberate writer. I believe in researching a market, looking for what sells and how it sells, and then crafting something that meets what an editor is looking for. A market plan.

And besides, once someone has written that novel in a month, what do they do with it? Do they edit? Do they rewrite? Do they go back and rework it? I know there's some other group writing event where they next go and edit the damn thing in a month...but come on. I mean..come on.

If you pound out a novel or a group of novels and you aren't selling them or at least finding some interest (maybe in breaking them up and rewriting them as short stories) then I think a person needs to stop and look at the process.

There's a term we use for productivity without quality.

It's called Crap.


Angie said...

NaNo isn't primarily about the product, though. Yes, a few people have published their NaNo novels, but the real point of the thing is the process -- getting together with however many tens or hundreds of thousands (I forget right now and am too lazy to go check the site) of other people who are all doing the same thing you're doing for a month, turning it into a party, a competition, a pep rally -- just doing it with boatloads of support and encouragement.

NaNo probably wouldn't be an optimal MO for a professional writer (although plenty of those participate) but it's awesome for people who've always wanted to write a novel but never got around to it, or never thought they really could, or never had anyone around to encourage them. It's something people do for fun, and because it makes them feel good to do it, and as such it's its own raison d'etre.

I ended up bailing on it this year, because my previous WIP was too firmly lodged in my head to be able to set it aside and do something different for a month. But my usual philosophy is that NaNo is a shot in the arm, a month of rah-rah to get my butt kicked and my nose to the grindstone and my fingers on the keyboard. I've never intended or expected to write a whole novel in November (50K doesn't strike me as much of a novel, unless you're writing YA) but producing a big chunk of something -- even if it's only twenty-five or thirty thousand words -- is a heck of a kick-start on a new project.

And I disagree with the idea that anything which isn't saleable is therefore worthless and crap. It might be, sure. But a lot of the stuff that sells is crap too, and a lot of the stuff that's posted for free around the internet is pretty incredible. I think the "crap" label should be assigned case-by-case, rather than to entire categories.


spyscribbler said...

Strictly from an educational standpoint, I believe there is, at certain stages, more to be learned from quantity than quality. With a novel, no matter how much you study or polish or do quality writing, you will not understand the form the way you will when you've written ten or twenty novels.

Quantity first, for a big picture, will let you write nuances, and recognize nuances when you see them.

But there's a time in each person's writing journey for each: quantity, quality, and varying proportions of each. The more skilled you are, the more you'll be able to put out quantity with quality.

And there's a time for practicing sentences, a time for practicing plot, and a time for practicing the larger form of the novel.

All that said, NaNo is only 50,000 words in a month. I'm not convinced that's an overwhelming quantity for a month. That's easily done in two hours a day. I've written, edited, polished, and sold novellas of 52,000 words in a month, many times.

Personally, I write better when I can "live in" my story world, uninterrupted. So two weeks of 52,000 words generally gives me a better product (especially with flow and pacing) than one that's drawn out for months on end.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Angie, I don't fault people who participate. I think you were referring to the sentence I wrote that focused on people who write novel after novel and nothing happens. They don't stop to examine what they've done, they don't look at their evolution as writers, they don't see what they need to do to get published, if that's their goal.

As for NaNo, you raise a great point about writing as part of a movement,the sense of camaraderie (not sure that's spelled right). Sometimes writing is a lonely and fruitless affair.

I think it's great to dedicate time and effort. And you're right, 50,000 is a good start. But, as I said, people need to be willing and ready to go back and edit and rewrite. You know, it's funny, I think it was Mickey Spillane who wrote that he never rewrote his work, except for correcting obvious glitches. He said once he got it down, it was pretty much what it was. That was Mickey though.

Some novelists can crank em out. Some only have one novel in them such as "Gone with the Wind" and "To Kill A Mockingbird". Look at other authors and their lack of immediate productivity. How many novels has Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man) written? Joseph Heller, author of Catch 22 wrote seven books all in all, but how many of those are remembered. know..I think a posting on the productivity of certain authors would make fascinating reading.

Sidney said...

I was going to say I get a strong sense that there's a real community in NANOWRIMO participation, but I think Angie and Spy covered that. I don't participate, but I know some folks who swear by it, so I applaud their efforts and maybe one of these years I'll play.

SQT said...

I suppose there is value in NaNo, at least as far getting something on paper. But I don't hear much about people getting published from their NaNo efforts. I may have heard about one author...

Rick said...

Stewart, I'm on your side on this. Don't let that worry you.

marsha said...

I could never do the Nano writing thing. I write really slowly, not to mention I always have to fix grammar mistakes. If I tried to spit out an entire novel in a month it would most likely be a writing disaster.

sheoflittlebrain said...

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Zoe Winters said...

hehehe agreed. But, to me the point of nano was, you had a month to get the crap draft written (which is what the rough draft is for anyone who writes straight through and doesn't edit as they go), and then you have the rest of the year to polish the little sucker up.

I wrote the rough draft of SAVE MY SOUL for nano two years ago: 98,000 words in 28 days. :D

But it's gone through a few drafts since then and has another rewrite to go before I release it.

L.A. Mitchell said...

NaNo is why so many editors and agents dread December. I can't imagine participants would send out their compost right away, but apparently some do.

I'm with you on this one, too. I don't understand the impatience. I'd rather have it right than out the door.

Angie said...

They don't stop to examine what they've done, they don't look at their evolution as writers, they don't see what they need to do to get published, if that's their goal.

Oh, absolutely, that can be a problem. [nod] I know a number of writers who just keep cranking out the same thing over and over and over and it's incredibly frustrating. If you can see that they have the talent, and that if they'd just slow down and pay attention and actually learn and fix a few of the very learnable craftsmanship issues they have, they could be incredible. But some people are satisfied with where they are and the small audience they've got. And others are convinced they're god's gift to literature and they don't need to change anything. Frustrating either way. :/


Stewart Sternberg said...

Angie, is there anything more frustrating than spending time and energy giving feedback and knowing that the author is question is pretty much just going to discard everything you do, so that the next time you read the work...IT IS EXACTLY THE SAME!!! There are a couple of writers who visit this blog who are like this, but I am too much of a gentleman to mention his name. Or even his initial.

marsha, each person has his or her own style and way to write. Some people obviously love the community thing.

LA, I never thought about agents and publishers dreading December. That statement cracked me up.

Rick is on my side. This means I will have to abandon my side and join the enemy. Damn you.

sheoflittlebrain, let's hope this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship..or something like that.

SQT, my thing is that life is too short. If someone wants to pound out a manuscript in a month, then god bless them.