Why I Dislike NaNoWriMo

Why I Dislike NaNoWriMo

This 30 day challenge can oversimplify a much larger writing process.

“I have this idea… What do you think?”

I’ve likely had this conversation a hundred times now, at my local cafes or over Facebook, and always around October. They start around this time of year, well before November. People begin prepping Pinterest boards and stocking up on caffeine. Their social media fills with writing advice, cute blurbs tagged under “#nanowrimo2016”, vague posts about their big project.

National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. The web writing sensation that begins on November 1st, and always comes with the intent to "get people writing." Your goal with NaNoWriMo is simple: reach 50,000 words before the end of the month. For those interested in the numbers, that's around 1,500 words a day, every day, for 30 days. Some amazing novels have actually come out of the NaNoWriMo scene: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern were both penned in 30 November days, YA author Marissa Meyer has used the month to start novels and novellas for her Lunar Chronicles series. Hundreds of great stories have made it to market, indie or otherwise, with the help of this challenge.

I love all of these books so much.

I still dislike NaNoWriMo.

I really dislike NaNoWriMo.

I dislike NaNo in the way American retail workers dislike Christmas.

For a while, I couldn’t figure out what exactly it was that irked me about the writing challenge, since I had actually done it once or twice. Not in November, though: I had been in the middle of two different novels, in the middle of two different summers. I hit a point with every project where the momentum picks up the right way and I fly with the book, clipping through 1, 500-2,000 words a day. Each time is a delightful, restless, tea-fueled journey where I would write until dawn and exist almost solely on creative energy. Surely something like NaNoWriMo would be up my alley, given my own habits?

But I’ve never joined in on NaNoWriMo or planned a new project around it, mostly because of the things I see NaNoWriMo evolve into, and some of the bad habits I see it create for fledgling authors. I’ve dissected some of these on my personal blog, but I think it’s time we dig into the issue of NaNoWriMo with a little more depth.

So, back to the "I have an idea" part of NaNo. Because ideas are great: ideas are the seeds of good writing. Ideas are not books though, and it’s often difficult to gauge a project’s worth of time based on a few rough character descriptions and a summary you have pulled from an online prompt. Not dogging either (since I use them both, too), but these things do not a book make. These things can lead to a draft though, if you can sit down and write it.

I find the “ass-in-chair-and-fingers-to-keys” part is where a lot of people trip up because they learn very quickly that writing 1,500 words a day isn’t easy as it looks, and it rarely looks that easy to begin with. I know authors that can churn out 2,000 words every day that they write: I know authors who put down 200 words once and awhile. Writing is as personal in pace as it is in style, so the techniques that work for some may not work for all. 1,500 words a day is a skill you learn with time, and not a needed skill for finishing a novel.

“Writing books is easy. It’s only 50,000 words and I have the time.” To which I always sigh. These words always undercut two big parts about the novel.

1. Writing books is the most artistic form of torturing yourself over imaginary people and situations. There are easier ways to entertain yourself, I'll be honest with you.

2. Most books aren’t 50,000 words. We can talk about The Great Gatsby and minimal novel length all we want, but modern novels, especially in fantasy and science fiction, tend to go over the 100,000 word mark and well beyond it. Also, novels do not end after you put “The End” on your first draft. Editing can (and will) take up time.

One of the biggest issues I take with the NaNo mindset is that it’s used as a springboard to “get people writing” without giving people the proper disclaimer that writing doesn’t end or begin with writing itself. Between the planning, drafting, editing, and beta-reading, it’s taken near three years to finish my first novel and draft a second. A month of work stops being a meaningful thing when a project begins to span over years. That doesn’t discount the amazing free-fall of one month, but most writing projects expand well beyond that point, and I’ve watched so many new writers miss that.

“I don’t need to make a plan though. I can wing it.” To which I will tell you no, no you can’t. Some of us can fly by the seat of our pants, but but most of us aren’t organized enough to finish a draft, much less in a month. This is the very mindset that fuels the essays written the night before their deadline, or the millions of half-baked romance e-novellas on Kindle: minimal effort for the same expected payoff. Prep and planning and time can mean the difference between dropping a draft at 5,000 words and pushing over 150,000 words (as much of a pain as the latter is to edit- better to have more than less). When we talk about these successful authors like Rowell or Meyer, who use NaNo to complete drafts, we should also recall that Rowell and Meyer are authors with previous experience. Authors who had several novels under their belt and a grasp of their style/voice. It almost sounds discouraging to use their works as banners for a project that’s targeted at fresh-faced writers. It sells and simplifies a process so much bigger than 50,000 words and a few nightly writing binges. A process that is rarely ever as rewarding or glamorous as the Rowlings and Martins of the world make it out to be. Most all of us can create, but being an actual author is a very different skill.

So, to you all out there, as prepare your outlines, make character sheets, and finalize those writing playlists, you have my best regards for your November drafts. Remember though, that all books are much bigger than NaNoWriMo. If writing novels were as simple as 30 days of work, it would be a much less demanding, selfish, and beautiful act.

Cover Image Credit: NaNoWriMo

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The Hello Walk is a serene view at dusk.


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3 Reasons 'Black Panther' Is A Black Cultural Icon

The cultural significance behind the celebration of blackness

Nobody ever denied the Marvel Cinematic Universe's influence over the masses, and one could look no further than the box office to understand that. Eighteen films in a franchise, though, and you'd be remiss if you thought superhero fatigue would've settled in by now.

Enter 2018, and this most recent "superhero flick" prioritizes political intrigue, race relations, and moral ambiguity in Ryan Coogler's Black Panther film, the highest-grossing film of 2018, seventh in the United States, and twentieth of all time.

The biggest debut by an African American director boasts a predominantly black cast, the best reviews (beating out both Nolan's The Dark Knight and Iron Man) for a superhero movie, and yet still garners the question: What makes Black Panther so engaging to audiences? First, let's start with

1. The Director

Ryan Coogler is a well-renowned film director, similar in vein to Quentin Tarantino only in the fact that both produce, comparatively to other high-demand filmmakers, very few but powerfully-influential works.

His first feature film, Fruitvale Station, gathered acclaim and the majority of audience/grand jury awards in 2013's Sundance Film Festival, a feat he built upon when co-writing and directing Creed, the seventh installment in the Rocky film franchise, and from both films a collaboration with actor Michael B/ Jordan further flourished.

The fact that Black Panther's director who, since the age of twenty-one served as a counselor for the incarcerated youth in San Francisco's Juvenile Hall, has very much so lived out the same life he so often realizes in his films, only further adds to why Marvel's latest feature film rings truer to its audiences.

Coogler is a founding member and avid supporter of Blackout For Human Rights, a campaign designed for the specific purpose of addressing racial and human rights violations in America.

Not simply a film director making a "quick buck" or even just passionate about filmmaking as an art form, Coogler has time and again used his cinematic voice to convey the thoughts and feelings of people of color across the silver screen for all to see. Secondly, we must consider

2. The Ethnocentric Emphasis

While many filmgoers are no stranger to race relations being confronted in a film, this was a case wherein a major company, Disney/Marvel, took it upon themselves to challenge the status quo for mainstream audiences.

This wasn't BET(Black Entertainment Television), a rap video, or a stand-up comedy routine, all of which are tried-and-true methods for people of color to communicate to a wider audience; this was Marvel, the biggest name in movies today, and they were making a move.

For a time, myself included, there was fear the message would become misconstrued or miss the mark entirely, what with impeding studio interference already having plagued prior Marvel movies.

Luckily, the black representation allowed for a rare opportunity for young black children to have a superhero they could not only empathize with, but physically resembled family they already idolized.

This in no way takes away from the many fan-favorite white superheroes, but does provide a comic book character for a subdivision of audiences marginalized on a national and even global scale.

Linking back to Coogler, the director set his sights on the advanced sciences, heightened technologies, and rich cultures envisioned within Wakanda's waterfalls and warring tribes, in contrast to other films centered around black pain and suffering.

The piece handles the racial identity of itself was dignity and pride, a welcome step forward in cinema that highlights the positive blackness can offer. Last, one cannot disregard the impact that came from

3. The Control of Characters

Think back to any Marvel movie, and you can name the Chosen One protagonist, Supportive Sidekick, and Snarky, Smarmy Love Interest-type caricatures with ease, but Coogler's sense of pride and admiration for blackness with a focus on the ethnocentric vision for Wakanda brings the people of his fictional place to life.

All these fully-realized characters make for an exciting, engaging film phenomenon where, as critics have pointed out, even central antagonist Killmonger (Erik Stevens, portrayed by Michael B. Jordan) is cast in a sympathetic light.

It is not hero v. villain(again), but a dueling of two ideologies colliding in a struggle that transgresses the physical combat and becomes a philosophically-intriguing debate that, by the film's conclusion, makes for two sides forever changed.

No one character is painted in a negative fashion, or without redeemable qualities, and again creates persons both for and against immigration, in favor of and against union between "people that look like us across the globe"(black) and "colonizers" (white).

Black Panther is a monumental movie with ties to other racially-motivated pieces, a la A Raisin in the Sun, that posits African-Americans in a heroic scene. It is personal favorite of mine, and hopefully, this helps you understand exactly.

Cover Image Credit: flickr

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