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#NaNoWriMo: And what if you don’t?

Free to you Nov. 26 – 30, 2012. If you love it, please review it. Thanks!

What happens if you aren’t a “winner” at National Novel Writing Month? The Mayan Apocalypse was set aside for you. The end is near and it’s going to be like that John Cusack movie, 2012, only longer, with burnt popcorn and more uncomfortable seats. 

Well, no, actually. NaNoWriMo isn’t another of those insipid chain letters that will kill you with a falling baby grand piano if you don’t complete it within the specified time. Fifty-thousand words and one month is an arbitrary deadline. It’s a fun and, I think, worthwhile challenge, but just because you didn’t make the quota — and there’s still time left, by the way — doesn’t mean you aren’t a writer. Mom still loves you, though she still prefers your brother Ted. Dad doesn’t think you’re any less unemployable (or more employable) than you were last month at about this time. You dog does not judge you…harshly. You still don’t take him out for enough walks, though. The status quo is preserved.

You’re certainly no farther behind than all those people who did make it to 50,000 words but will never look at their manuscript again. Their art is stillborn. Sadly, plenty of people who enter NaNoWriMo   have something worthy of publishing but will never know. The challenge, to them, was just a challenge, like how long can you go just eating pineapple and refried beans? Years from now they will sit in a dingy bar packed to the rafters with Rue and say, “Yeah, I wrote a novel once.” Before taking another long pull on a long neck, they’ll finish with a whisper, “…sort of.”

So what are you feeling so bad about? If you’re not going to make it to 50,000 words but you’re still reading this post, I bet you’re more serious than Mr. Sort Of. You’ve made it this far, looking for commiseration and a shoulder to cry on and all that. You don’t need a shoulder to cry on (and cleavage is better for that activity.) What you need is more time.

Many people don’t finish NaNoWriMo for great reasons. Stuff happens. Cats sit on your keyboard. Your sister called too many times at midnight to complain about her husband and how his new boyfriend leaves the toilet seat up. People get sick. Maybe you got tied up with work that actually pays. That’s important. Maybe you got sucked into a marathon of Hillybilly Hand Fish— okay, even my cheerleading efforts have limits. Shoot yourself.

I’m a cheerleader for anyone who writes to a daily word count, whether they are in NaNoWriMo or slogging through and constantly sweating a book out. Today I wrote a mere 1,900 words. I usually write close to three thousand a day. What’s galactically unjust is an author friend of mine reported that she just wrote over 4,000 words yesterday. (Pavarti! Dang it! That should have been me!) You see, my NaNoWriMo challenge is 365/24/7. You know books aren’t written in a month and you know this challenge is just a start. If you wrote enough so you have a good start on a novel, good for you. It can still be brilliant. Arbitrary is just so damned arbitrary, don’t you find?

Maybe you’re simply one of those tortured artists who take a little longer to write a masterpiece. If you’re a Canadian author, for instance, the government’s Royal Department of Vaunted Canlit requires that each book must take several years to write, with extra points awarded if you write about hard Arctic winters, houses made of sod and relentless, howling blizzards. To qualify, each revision must be completed in a birch bark canoe. If CBC Television scrapes any conflict out of your book and makes it into a movie (entirely in sepia tones with lots of bonnets or at least Labrador outports), you’re a serious Canlit contender. Congrats, you poor bastard. When Jian Ghomeshi interviews you on CBC Radio, answer in murmured Zen koans and only allow a small, smug smile, like you’re holding in a fart worthy of Margaret Atwood. There’s no money in being part of the Canadian literary establishment, so instead you get a trace of mystique among U of T English majors — wear a big hat and a long coat to readings — and the vague recognition that occasionally accompanies that ghostly, elusive thing that is “Canadian celebrity”.

Even if you aren’t Canadian, there are still great hurdles to overcome before you write your book and earn the respect of the literary establishment. First, you must never mention any connection between your Great American Novel and NaNoWriMo. Next, leather elbow patches are a must and always refer to the story as “the Text”. (Make sure they hear the capital T.) To really rock the foundations of letters and get Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut to step aside for a new, greater entry into The Great Works of Literature Hall of Fame (and Gas Bar), give that manuscript of yours another couple of weeks.

BONUS TIP: If you’re going to take a day off from writing anyway, avoid misery and decide that at the beginning of the day. If it flogs you all day and at bedtime you decide today’s not a day to write, you’ve paid a needless stress debt. There’s enough stress in the world without adding to it.

A quick-moving plot with lots of surprises and a clear-eyed examination of addiction.

~ In addition to writing about publishing in Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your book: Aspire to Inspire, Robert Chazz Chute plots murder constantly, often in relation to fiction. His latest is a delightfully violent and occasionally sexy romp called Higher Than Jesus. He begs that you buy it and read it and review it because he has no shame anymore. Pride is a luxury bought with money. Sure, that last bit sounds like Jane Eyre, but those are his words! (This is also a  good time to admit that I, Chazz, am currently writing these words about myself in the third person. I’ve rarely loathed myself more deeply.) For more on books of suspense and nonsense by Chazz or to hear the free All That Chazz podcast, slum in his grimy little author site just off the Jersey turnpike in back of a dark bar with lipstick on the glasses, AllThatChazz.com. The glasses are all dirty mason jars and the bartender is a study in jailhouse tattoos.

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14 Responses

  1. excellent post. NaNoWriMo is fun for the motivation it inspires but I totally dismiss the need for the 50k word count. To me it’s about the challenge to shut up and write every day. And if you can’t write, edit or read or research. Everyday you need to take a movement forward with your work. Word count isn’t the end all be all. I’ve read some amazing 10k stories and some tragically bad 220k word books. Instead, spend that time perfecting your art and taking the slow slog through the process of being a professional.

    Oh and I bet you a nickel I’ll beat you on word count again today! *rasberries*

    • You are why the interwebs brought me here. I’ve been doing NaNo since 2005. Sometimes I “win” sometimes I don’t. But this would have been 4th year in a row for hitting that word count. However, my life is different now. I write every day. I make art every day. So, I’m doing NaNo all the time. The fact that life got in the way for 10 days this month due to illness and family obligations doesn’t make me a loser. I’m perfecting my art. And taking the slow slog into professional penmonkey status. I’m happy with the 31k I’ve gotten (added to a story that was stripped and reworked — another NaNo no-no). I’ll keep pecking at the keys and that’s good enough for me.

  2. Chazz says:

    Um. Raspberries are uncalled for, but I accept your challenge. Thanks for reading!

  3. Chazz, a great post. I’ve never done Nano, although I can appreciate the jump start it might give a few people. But I think your position is absolutely correct. If a person hopes to be a professional writer he/she must learn to crank out words every day. The best advice I have heard about this came from bestselling author Jodi Thomas at a writers’ conf a few months ago. She said anyone who writes 20 hours per week will become a NYT bestselling author. She went on to say that authors should buy stop watches and time the periods they are actually writing on a book, not sitting at a keyboard, blogging or whatever. I thought that was far-fetched until I bought my stopwatch and soon realized that I didn’t spend nearly so much time novel-writing as I thought.
    Regards, SW

  4. […] ← #NaNoWriMo: And what if you don’t? 11/27/2012 · 8:25 PM ↓ Jump to Comments […]

  5. Sharon says:

    Totally tanked in NaNo. I know why – I’m such a rebel that anyone telling me that I have to do something – even when it’s something I willingly signed up to do – guarantees that I will find every way around it doing it, such as marathon sessions of flinging birds from a slingshot at smirking green pigs and suddenly discovering a bone-deep need to watch every episode of BBC’s Sherlock. Twice. But I’m 18,000 words farther into the book than I was before, which thoroughly justifies a third watching of every episode of Sherlock. And maybe some more bird-flinging. Yeah.

    • Chazz says:

      I liked Sherlock a lot. Are there only three episodes? That’s all that’s on Netflix at the moment.

      • Sharon says:

        There are 6 episodes – only 3 per season. I’m seriously having withdrawals while they’re filming the next season – and I have no clue when it airs.

      • Chazz says:

        British productions are strange that way. I thought Black Books was pretty funny, but not only are the seasons short, even successful shows don’t seem to come back much.

      • Chazz says:

        Just received a note from Netflix that the next season of Sherlock is up! Between Sleeper Cell and Sherlock,I better just move the treadmill back in front of the TV.

      • YEAH, so excited! Going to start watching tonight!

  6. […] #NaNoWriMo: And what if you don’t? (chazzwrites.com) […]

  7. […] #NaNoWriMo: And what if you don’t? (chazzwrites.com) […]

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