NaNoWriMo: You are not doing it wrong!

First, I have to admit, this is a reactionary post. In order for it to make sense, reading the post that inspired it may be helpful.

I’ve recently made the commitment to stop writing reactionary posts. The commitment was made more with spiritual topics in mind, but the commitment was made, and I’m breaking it in writing this response, and I think it’s important enough that breaking said commitment isn’t something I’m much bothered by. I’m likely bringing baggage from other parts of my life with me, but I’ve seen far too much “You are doing it wrong because you’re not doing it my way/aren’t bringing with you the same understanding I’ve gleaned/haven’t reached the same conclusions I have,” to let this go uncontested.

If we were talking about writing in general — the discipline and commitment of writing, I’d be more inclined to agree with the above post. Really, 1600 words a day, on average, is not that much. One can arrange that to fit into their lives as they need to. I’ve talked about how, during August and September, I discovered that writing most of my weekly words on one or two days worked better for me than working at it every day. Writing every day, on top of working full time, and taking care of chores around the house, leaves me with little time to rest and relax, to knit, to read for fun, to study, to practice yoga, to do the various other things that nourish me. Part of the ideal of writing for a living is the flexibility of the schedule, right? It’s the idea of getting out of the five days a week work schedule mentality. So, be flexible, and find what works for you.

Word counts are somewhat arbitrary. A lot of words do not mean that the words are keepers — but, you have a lot more to work with, for refining, if you have 10 words, rather than if you have two really great words. Word counts are tools to use, goals to aim for. If your idea is to write a book, and you know the rough word count range for books, than you have an idea of what your end goal needs to be — and you can break that down to see what pace works for you, and how you might go about reaching that goal.

There is more to writing than just word count, and I agree that writing 50k words does not make you a good writer. But you know what? It does make you a more committed writer than the person who doesn’t strive to write the words down. There’s a lot more to do, of course — it isn’t ALL about the word count, and it’s so easy to have it be about the word count. I stopped tracking my count, last year, because it had become the end goal, and that’s not useful. I don’t have time to waste by focusing on the wrong things. There are too many things I need to get written while I’m on this earth to waste that time.

Nevertheless, I see the value in focusing on the word count for this month. I’ve been writing all along. This year, before NaNo, I’d written 69k worth of quality stuff — some published already, even — and I’m still using NaNo as a sort of race-against-others, or really a race-with-others, because it’s not a matter of one winner against all the others who don’t win, to get material out that I might otherwise not get out. The first week, I thought: I don’t like this pace, I don’t like writing and writing and not editing as I go. The second week I realized: the work I’ve decided to focus on for NaNo, I would not write otherwise. I realized, too: at the pace, I could edit as I go and still make progress. I’m not going back to fix what came before, but I am disengaging a tad from the gogoGO mentality, because I already know that 1600 a day (well, for me it’s 1924) isn’t that much, when one has already been writing regularly.

All that said: maybe 1600 IS a lot for you. Maybe the gogogoGO mentality is what is helping you push through at this pace. Maybe you’ve never committed to writing any longer work before; maybe this is your first time, maybe this isn’t your first time but you need that extra oomp that tapping into the collective momentum grants you. Maybe focusing on the numbers gets you through a painful story that you need to write, that you want to write, but that focusing on it too much would whither you a bit. Maybe you are in an environment where your writing isn’t appreciated or understood, where you have to fight to be yourself, and maybe you are doing the best best best you can do.

NaNoWriMo is not just for professional writers who already know themselves as writers, who already churn out prolific amounts of material. NaNoWriMo is for those interested in self-discovery through the lens of writing, for anyone in any stage of their writing lives. Do not let people tell you you are doing this wrong. If you are writing and getting your stories out, you are not doing it wrong. ‘Right’ and ‘wrong’ has no place in your writing practice, beyond what you decide what works for you and what does not. Learn your craft, know your tools, understand the language you are writing in, the hallmarks of your preferred genre, the trends that are popular, the subject matter, the preferences of the markets you plan to submit to, if you plan to submit, and keep these things in mind while writing if that works for you — or shove it all from your mind during the writing process entirely, and make it wait until it’s time to edit, if that works for you.

It is imperative as a writer to know yourself. Every piece of advice from others (including this!) needs to be measured against that. You have to know yourself in order to know if you are doing something in a way that aids you or in a way that stifles you. You get to know yourself by the doing — in this case, by writing. Who you are as a writer can only be discovered during the process; the process can only happen if you do it; use whatever tools keep you going, even if other writers will tell you that your tool isn’t actually a tool. If it works for you, use it.

And brag about it, damn it. Brag about your accomplishments. Brag about your achievements. Other people do not get to say that your achievement isn’t one; only you get to say that you’ve accomplished something that you are proud of. They don’t get to define for you that is. Fucking crow it from the rooftops and revel in it. You fucking rock.


2 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo: You are not doing it wrong!

  1. Beth

    Reblogged this on Wytch of the North and commented:
    Yay Jo for writing this so I don’t have to!! The original post irritated me a little too; in fact, almost everything written from a “You are doing it wrong!” perspective tends to stick in my craw. I have mentioned here that I’m doing NaNo this year (for the first time ever) in order to get a certain project written that I probably wouldn’t be finding/making the time to write otherwise. This is NOT the first time I’ve undertaken (or even completed) a book length project, but once this book is done I don’t plan to continue writing at this pace from here on out as a matter of course simply because there are so many non-writing projects in my life. (It has been enormously freeing for me, these past few years, to embrace the fact that I am not, strictly speaking, a writer; I am a Maker, and that includes writing in addition to other crafts.) However, I may well continue to write at this pace whenever I AM working on a book, because I’m finding it very useful for building momentum, for moving forward, and the only way to write a book is to just keep on going. (I do have a tendency to go back and try to make everything perfect before continuing, which should not be an issue when trying to get the first draft of a book out; it’s the difference between marathon writing and sprinting.) All of that said, yes, I realize that 1,667 per day is peanuts for a professional writer who is paid to just write, and I realize that word count is not the primary consideration when writing professionally. BUT it seems to me that NaNo is more about momentum, about getting a project out for people who, like me, might not take the time to do it otherwise. And it’s about having fun! I don’t have time for the forums, and I’m not competing with anyone other than myself by sharing my word count, but it has been amazing for me to see how quickly I can build this project (even if I then have to go back and rewrite large portions of it), and damn it I’m not going to let anyone take that feeling of accomplishment away from me.

  2. Pingback: NaNoWriMo: You’re Doing It Right! | The Raven Scribe

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