On NaNoWriMo, why did it in 2004, and why I haven’t done it since.

Should you do NaNoWriMo?  The shortest answer is: I dunno.  The short answer is: not if you also want to review all the IF Comp entries by November 15, not that anyone is wincing at the size of their stomach contrasted with the size of their eyes right now.  This is the long answer:

I’m actually pretty young!  I guess I should note because all the timeline cues in my bio seem to indicate I’m somewhere in my late twenties or early thirties, just like all the cultural cues I give off indicate I’m whiter than driven snow (actually I’m half-, so whiter than snow at 10:30 AM after rush hour traffic has driven over it, I guess; there’s snow in there, but it’s hardly unadulterated).  I’m 22.  22 is a better age for having your opinions taken seriously than 18 is, though not quite as useful as 27 or 35.  This is pretty understandable, as people do not tend to be wiser when they’re 22 than when they’re 27 or 35.  (Also from a cynic’s perspective, urban American gay culture prizes 22 much higher than 27 or 35, wisdom be damned, so it’s hard to wallow in too much weltschmerz about it.)

The point being, I was 13 years old when I first took a serious stab in 2003 at National Novel Writing Month.  The key thing here to consider is that I wasn’t at all unusual.  When you take up arms for your campaign at 50,000 words in 30 days — and for that matter, when you snark all the stupid on the NaNo boards (not that, uh, not that I’m entirely innocent of this myself) — you have to keep in mind you’re doing it alongside a lot of teenagers.  It’s the kind of thing that appeals to teenagers.  It’s quick.  It’s shiny.  It’s on the internet.  It’s got an associated community, and there’s lots of encouragement.  No one is going to tell you your 50K novel-length Naruto epic is a bad idea, except maybe in 2012 they will because Naruto‘s not really a thing any more.  Okay, no one’s going to tell you that your 50K Homestuck epic is a bad idea.  The thing is, I think this is intrinsically a good thing the way I think fandom’s intrinsically a good thing; there need to exist spaces where you can be 16 and find people to cheer on your stupid ideas, though hopefully you have the wisdom not to link them to your real name.  The danger, I think, is when you’re 27 or 35 and still value a space to cheer on your stupid ideas more than anything else: but that’s not necessarily a problem with the space any more than adults who refuse to read anything other than YA are a problem with the existence of YA.  And even then, who’s to tell you otherwise?

So, me and NaNo.  I signed up for a NaNo account for the first time in 2003 and gave it a shot, but having the self-discipline of the average 13-year-old, I gave up after a week or so.  Then in 2004, apparently having slightly more self-discipline than the average 14-year-old, I finished: I don’t recall if I finished exactly in time, or if I finished a complete narrative of any kind, either or both, but I finished.  And then I never did it again.

Why I did NaNoWriMo in 2004: Because it looked fun.  Because I was stubborn.  Because I was 14.  Because I wanted to say that I’d done it.  Because I enjoyed the sense of community with other people my age and a few people older, and one of the few spaces on the internet that wanted (even in a transient sense) to hear about my original (it’s a word with many definitions) fic ideas and not fandom or RP.  Because for a young teenager with ambitions to writing fiction, there’s not a lot of readily available mentoring or structured advice that’s easy for everyone to access, but NaNo is findable with a Google search.  Because it looked hard.  Because there was a shiny counter and a messageboard.  Because my friends were doing it.  Because it looked fun.

Why I’ve never done it again: Because even at 14 I could tell what I turned out was shit.  Because one solid, prolonged effort was enough for me to realize that writing fiction was easy, if time-consuming, but writing decent fiction was very, very hard.  Because everyone else doing it was stupid.  Because once you do something to have done it, and you’ve done it, there’s little satisfaction in doing it again.  Because 50K is a really awkward narrative length for anything but a Harlequin Category Romance.  Because it wasn’t fun any more.  Because I was more interested in writing stories than just writing, after that.  Because I set my cap for other things.  Because it wasn’t entirely as fun as I expected.  Because it wasn’t for me.

Should you do it?  It’s a cop-out to say that’s a really subjective question, but: it’s a really subjective question with a really subjective answer.  I don’t know.  I don’t actually want to join the ranks of the sneering NaNo naysayers, despite my general willingness to be a sneering naysayer without taking the King’s shilling for Wellington and you, because I don’t think it was deleterious to my development as a writer when I was 14.  It was fun and I’m glad I wrote that piece of dreck, just as I’m glad I haven’t looked at it in about 7 years so I can continue to be glad about it.  But I also imagine there are 14-year-olds who’d derive no value from the entire crazy venture, and 25-year-olds who would, too, or from doing it every year; hell, Jonathan L. Howard seems to be doing it and unless marriage laws differ considerably in the UK he’s probably not 14.  I’d say Water for Elephants and The Night Circus got published that way, but I don’t want to depress you.

So, not having any useful objective input to give on the subject of NaNo — I don’t think anyone does — there you have a few scraps of my subjective experience with it.  I think they are and were all valid reasons.  Frankly, I have trouble seeing the appeal any more, but I know I did and I know people who do.  So should you do NaNo?  Sure.  Good luck, too.  Please don’t ask me to read it.


About Gabriel Murray

I am agog, I am aghast!
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