everything i do is so fucking amazing that sparks are going to shoot out of your eyes

Tag: nanowrimo

NaNoWriMo: Still not destroying publishing as we know it

This year, the NaNoWriMo haterade has been more delightful than the past few years, much to my overall joy. I’d thought we’d all moved on to “Kindle will ruin the publishing industry, so don’t even bother submitting to agents/editors, kid!” It’s good to see that the classics still exist.  (But, to take a quick break from kicking my feet and giggle-snorting)…

Here’s a link to my blog post from five years ago, (old, old post) which was brought on by various amateur (at the time, some may have successfully sold novels and/or short stories since their days of bitterness, in which case hooray for them!) writers talking about their terror that NaNoWriMo was going to produce too much competition for them, thus preventing them from being published.

(Some parts of that post make me cringe a little, but hey.)

As of last year, the number of participants was about 250,000 and the number of “winning” novels was about 36,000. But 36k is really only the the number of files that had 50,000 words in them that got uploaded to the website, irrespective of quality or actual novel contents. Yeah, that’s a big number, but judging from the people who show up every year, it still consists of a lot of people who heard about this and thought it might be fun, many of whom are teenagers. Most of the people I talk to don’t actually have any publication goals, and are just doing it for the hell of it.

There are two dueling misconceptions at play, I think. The first is the idea that everyone has a novel in them — which N did not start by a long-shot. The second is the idea that putting your time in as a “writer” means anything.

As to the first, long before N was anywhere near as large a thing as it is this year (or last year, or the year before, or five years ago when I wrote that post), I heard people saying that they would write a novel if they only had time. I find ten people who are typing up novels that sound terrible far preferable to one person droning on about what they would write.

As to the second, yes! Working hard for years is how you build up any skills, especially the skills necessary to later create art. But it doesn’t entitle you to anything. If I read two books and I like one more than the other, the amount of time that the two authors spent on their books is meaningless. There will always be someone who shows up with far less experience and does better.

I mean, I have a long and storied history of failing at novels, but I sold the first serious attempt I ever made at a short story to Talebones. I’m certain that there were people who sent stories to Talebones throughout its run and never managed to sell to Patrick. I’m certain that there were people who had been writing short stories since before I’d even learned how to type who hadn’t been able to sell to Patrick. It didn’t matter, and it doesn’t matter. When I read slush at Shimmer and I get the occasional cover letter that says, “I’ve been writing short stories since 1987” or whatever, my response is never “Oh! This person is DUE, I better buy this story.”

Someone who has been writing for fewer years, who spent less time on their project, and who may have even participated in NaNoWriMo could write a book that gets chosen over yours for any number of reasons, none of which have anything to do with how many years they did or didn’t spend writing it.

Tough shit.

Also, who the hell has time to police who does or doesn’t try to write a novel?

On the Occasion of My 10th NaNoVersary

I don’t have much time, but want to blog ON THE DAY damn it, instead of several weeks later when I remember, buried in a post in which I’m trying to do four things at once but fail because I should have been blogging regularly but wasn’t.


I may have actually heard about NaNoWriMo in 2001, but was working on My Grand And Epic Science Fiction Novel That I Had Started At Age 16 In Response To The Fountainhead Being Bullshit. Plus, I thought NaNo sounded stupid, so I didn’t bother.

Regardless, on November 8, 2002, I opened a forum account on the NaNoWriMo forums because some of my friends were doing it (from back in the Elfwood/IRC days, oh my). I wasn’t too excited about it. Actually, I thought it was a terrible idea, and I didn’t want to start anything new anyway, so whatever. I probably TOLD everybody in IRC that NaNoWriMo was the stupidest idea I’d ever heard WHILE I was filling out the account info. I was 18, and it was my freshman year of college, and I was kind of a shit.

(There are people who met me in my late teens/early 20’s and I have no idea why they still acknowledge my existence. Waiting for schadenfreude?)

It’s been ten fucking years, now.

I mean, it’s just this thing that happens one month a year. It’s an event, sure, sometimes little more than a social event. I’ve showed up to meet other people doing NaNo in Bellingham, Helsinki, and Seattle. This year when I stopped at Powell’s during Orycon, I ended up in the middle of a Portland write-in. Every year, I churn out about 50,000 words of shit, usually finishing right at the very last minute so I can get that pixel star or whatever next to my name.

Yeah, none of those books are published. We can argue about whether or not they were ever finished.

I’ve got some short stories, though. And the novel I’m almost-just-so-close-to-done-with now. The thing is, besides being 18 and a disgruntled college student, I was also a procrastinator, and I had no idea how to finish anything.

That novel I mentioned up at the beginning? That I’d started when I was 16? It persisted for a while (even post NaNo, and after I’d started other projects in November). By the time I gave it up, I did have about 40,000-50,000 words of manuscript! Awesome! And I was pretty sure the plot was just… about… to… start. Yeah, so it was kind of a soap opera that was supposed to be science fiction about an active rebellion, but really it was just a lot of people running around and being dramatic at each other. Yet, somehow I had a small fanbase for it even though I would currently title the project, “The Author Desperately Tries To Come Out of the Closet To Himself But Is Persistently Clueless.”

(Actually, that probably explains WHY people sent me folders of fanart…)

In 2003, Cory Skerry and Liz Coleman were doing NaNoWriMo in Bellingham, and they attempted to make contact, but that was during the one time I tried to date someone, and he was pretty much all of my social contact until he dumped me because he found my reluctant blow job unsatisfactory (and I beat him at Risk). Also, I was still working on the terrible novel rather than starting something new, so I still wasn’t too into the whole NaNo culture yet.

But in 2004, I responded to their NaNoLy summons and did something I had not done much at all during my previous two years… I DESCENDED FROM THE CAMPUS ON THE HILL.

The thing is, until I wandered through downtown Bellingham in search of this mythical place named, “The Black Drop,” I was totally and entirely one of those amateurs who is going to finish a story Someday. There was just other shit I needed to do first. Somewhere, there’s an alternate universe in which I’m working a perfectly ordinary job, and getting slowly more and more bitter about how disappointed I am in myself. I mean, more than I am anyway. Like the way I am now, but a thousand times worse. Alternate universe me probably gets paid more, though. Thankfully I was sucked into the weirdo artsy coffeeshop crowd in Bellingham before I turned into someone respectable.

I participate in NaNoWriMo every year and it’s part of my life, but it wasn’t until I sat down and thought about it this morning that I realized just how much it meant to me. Without the relationships I formed through NaNo, I suspect I may never have written short stories, found out I could finish things, had a webcomic, transitioned, gone to Norwescon for the first time, or found out about Clarion. I’d be one of those sad fuckers with a 9 to 5 I hate, a chip on my shoulder, and a sagging pile of overworked mush that I was still calling a novel “in progress” after 12 years.

I see new people show up at write-ins now, people who always wanted to write, but weren’t sure if they could, who aren’t too sure about what this whole nonsense is about and just want something to do in November. Most of them will just have fun and put everything aside for the rest of the year, sure. And there are always plenty of people writing their fanfiction opuses for themselves and their friends.

Still, when I see people joining for the first time, I wonder if what they’re about to start is a novel or something much more profound.

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