It is the first day of December, a day I think of as a sort of literary groundhog day. Each December 1st, a large contingent of aspiring novelists come out of their NaNoWriMo caves, blinking in the sunlight, surprised to find that the world is still there. For many, this is a day in which writers wish that their novel had a snooze button, or their keyboards an ‘Extend Deadline’ key.
As someone who bathes daily in the existential angst of students dragged unwillingly to the keyboard, ordered to write 1,500 words on the American Revolution (or whatever) November is always a refreshing time. To see people who begrudged the time spent at the table on Thanksgiving because they would rather be writing is catnip for this writer’s soul.
As the minutes tick away toward the midnight deadline on November 30th, it’s hard not to get caught up in the crushing weight of your impending loss. I’ve been there. You fume and fuss and curse your blinking cursor and ponder ways to pad your numbers. Do outlines count? Character notes? This old short story that has a character with the same name?
My first published novel, Howard Carter Saves the World, was a NaNoWriMo effort. Without National Novel Writing Month, I never would have written Howard’s story, and I certainly never would have published it. I didn’t get a “Winner” button or tee shirt, though, because I didn’t hit 50,000 words by November 30th.
The NaNoWriMo movement gets a lot of crap, and I’m on record defending it, but that does not mean it is without flaws. I “lost” NaNoWriMo and got a published novel out of it. And that’s my only problem with the whole National Novel Writing Month paradigm.
Anyone who manages to vomit 50,000 words into the word counter — any words will do — is marked a winner and everyone else is, by logical extension, a loser.
I seriously hate that.
If there was one thing I could change about the way we talk about this, it would be to eliminate the word “Winner” from the conversation. If novel writing is a race, it’s a marathon and your reward is completion no matter how long it takes.
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 you look over your shoulder at the imaginary deadline behind you, 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.
Congratulations to those who received your 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 take a day off. God knows you’ve earned it.
Whether you ‘won’ or not, tomorrow it will be another day and you should sit down at the computer — preserve that habit — take a deep breath, and look back at your share of November’s 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, hit that “extend deadline” button and keep writing.
As the header on the NaNoWriMo website says, “The World Needs Your Novel”, but it’s okay, we can wait.