Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pros and NaNos

Professional writers fall into a number of camps regarding NaNoWriMo.

The ones that irritate me (Yes, let's get them out of the way first!) are the ones who sneer and say, "Well, 50,000 isn't really a novel, so these people are just fooling themselves." Why, yes, let's just tell Bruce Coville and Jane Yolen that their books don't count as real because they're too short, shall we? Or the many other fine authors of chapter books and middle-grade books.

"Oh, well, I meant novels for adults!" Right. Like the Silhouette Desire imprint (target word count: 50,000-55,000) or Harlequin Blaze (target word count: 55,000-60,000)? Or the many fine novels of yesteryear in their reprint variety, still available because modern readers actually do enjoy short reads sometimes?

But even when these writers qualify their words by saying something like, "In modern science fiction novels, you need a novel of about 100,000 words if you want to be published," they're overlooking the obvious: There is no rule that says a Wrimo has to stop exactly at 50,000 words. Nor will Chris Baty's flying guilt monkeys come steal a Wrimo's keyboard if said writer durst continue writing the same story once December 1 rolls around.

In 2005, Michael Stackpole, in his Secrets podcast (review coming after I've listened to more of them, I promise), talked about NaNoWriMo, and he did make a comment about how 50,000 words wasn't enough for the genres he writes in, but how for someone learning to plot and write, it could be a good exercise. Then he goes on to give specifics on how to plot for that length (including a rule of thumb that I'd never heard -- you need 30,000 words to give a character a complete arc; not sure yet whether I agree with him), seemingly without considering the possibility that his listeners who were interested in NaNoWriMo might either write more than 50,000 words during November or that they might keep going once December rolled around, continuing to write until they had a first draft of a publishable length.

Then there are the pros who basically don't care. They feel it has nothing to do with them, wish those who want to participate the best of luck, and go on about their professional lives as they normally would. This is a classy response.

There are pros who participate every year because it gives them a month they can schedule just to write, all thoughts of editing and other deadlines shoved aside for the nonce -- wild, frenetic writing, thousands upon thousands of words, one or more complete first drafts thrown into the computer in a passionate rush, to be edited to brilliance the following year. Lazette Gifford is one such participant.

Then there is the final category, the one I want to be in -- the pro who is a pro because of NaNoWriMo. These are the people who pour their hearts into their first drafts, edit, polish, submit -- and get published. This year's Wrimo Radio podcast (week one) featured an interview with Lani Diane Rich, whose first NaNovel was also her first published book. She now has eight books in print, three of which began their life for NaNoWriMo.

No, not every novel written during November will achieve this dream. But then, neither will every novel written during the rest of the year, even those written by pro writers who decide to do something outside their comfort zone on spec. Writing takes hard work and editing and more editing and lots more hard work, and the goal of publication isn't always achieved. But people like this give me, and others like me, hope that if we keep working at it -- during November or throughout the year -- we might get there too.


Bonnie said...

You could cite the very popular and very good Ian McEwan as an example of a current writer who writes short. On Chesil Beach probably isn't long enough to qualify as a complete NaNoNovel -- I'd guess it's around 40K.

I noticed this year that the pros who commented, except for the ones who go on doing their thing, almost unanimously forgot that not everyone is interested in becoming a published professional. It was sad how many of them seemed to have lost track that writing is supposed to be fun.

E. Hartshorn said...

Not recently enough to remember where, but I've seen many discussions by writers on why writing is perceived this way. If people want to knit or quilt or paint or throw pots, no one dismisses them because they don't want to make money at it. But with writing, people get caught up in thinking about the money and prestige.

Although it's sad if pros are getting caught up in this mindset as well, I cannot call myself innocent. With my sights focused on publication, I sometimes forget that not everybody shares my goals.

Some of Calvalino's pretty short too, isn't it?