Today is the last day of November, the last day of National Novel Writing Month, and a day in which thousands of writers wish that their keyboards came with an ‘Extend Deadline’ button. According to the official count, as of this morning, 15.5 million words have been written and verified by NaNoWriMo participants, and over $858,000 were raised to fund the writing outreach programs of the Office of Letters & Light.
There’s no part of that that isn’t awesome.
Every year since I finished Howard Carter Saves the World, I stop at some point in the last week of November to to read through the #NaNoWriMo Twitter feed and inevitably, I find authors boiling with existential angst and self-loathing because they weren’t going to make it.
They weren’t going to win.
And that seems decidedly less awesome.
Most years, I write a pep talk. I didn’t this year because it’s come to my attention that when people need a pep talk most isn’t during, it’s after. Especially if they didn’t hit the 50,000 mark.
The NaNoWriMo movement gets a lot of crap, and I’m on record defending the validity of the idea, but that does not mean it is without flaws. If there was one thing I could change about the way we talk about this effort, it would be to eliminate the word “Winner” from the conversation. Anyone who manages to vomit 50,000 words into the word counter — any words will do — is a winner; everyone else is, by extension, a loser. And that’s a false premise.
Howard Carter didn’t win in November. If winning is, indeed, a Thing, then it won when I signed the publishing contract with Crooked Cat. Two years later. For my money, that losing effort was anything but.
I suspect that we all know this and we just forget it in the heat of the moment, but it doesn’t hurt to pop a reminder out there.
Nevertheless, as the minutes tick away toward the midnight deadline, those who did not complete their 50k will inevitably fume and fuss and glare at their screens and think of ways to pad their numbers. Do outlines count? Character notes? This old short story that has a character with the same name? Some of them will make it across the finish line and some will not.
I want to remind those people that the inability to write a novel in 30 days does not make you less of a writer. It’s entirely possible that it makes you more of one. So as this imaginary deadline approaches I want all of you to promise me not to take this too seriously.
This is a celebration of the novel, not a celebration of the deadline.
Your worth as a writer is not on the line.
Congratulations to those who will receive that postage-stamp sized digital diploma. You wrote quickly, and I hope you wrote well. Post your plaque on Facebook or Twitter, accept the plaudits of your peers and sleep well tonight.
Whether you ‘won’ or not, tomorrow it will be December and you will all sit down at the computer out of habit, take a deep breath, and look back at your share of those nearly 3 billion words, and wonder “What now?”
The answer is the same for all of you, win, lose or draw: Make a fresh cup of your favorite morning beverage, congratulate yourself for surviving, and then hit that extend deadline button and keep writing.