For many college students, I think, November is a particularly wretched month: walks across campus in cold drizzle, flus and watery eyes, cumulative exams and weighty group projects, and, if you’re like me, you’ve probably used up all of your excused absences and have created a situation in which you need to ace all of your last assignments and exams in order to maintain a quasi-reasonable GPA. On top of this, too, you might be working twenty hours a week at Chick-Fil-A, or organizing fundraisers for the Horticulture Club, or trying to get more than five hours of sleep per night. You know what you should do this month, though? Write 1,667 words per day with the end goal of producing a 50,000-word novel in four weeks.
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a baffling cultural phenomenon which sees a huge number of participants dump confused, hectic narratives into Google docs against a 50,000-word goal and a November 30th deadline. If both of these are met, the participant will have “won” NaNoWriMo, and can enter December as an Author of a Novel. All easier said than done, and, even when done, what’s the real payoff? The feeling of being able to introduce oneself as a writer at holiday mixers, the evidence of this claim being a 50,000-word document collecting virtual dust in some intangible Cloud? Hardly any NaNoWriMo manuscripts (read: unedited garbage narratives) become anything more than just… justification.
Alright, call me bitter. I won’t argue with you. You’ve seen the title of this blog post.
But isn’t there a better way for aspiring writers to hone their craft? If annually one dips her toe into writerly waters, churns out her 50,000 words, and doesn’t write another sentence until the following November, what lasting progress has she made as a writer? If, perhaps, a college student finds the pressures of NaNoWriMo overwhelming, potentially associates the act of creative writing with stress, obligation, exhaustion, frustration—what good does all that do? I’ve only ever attempted NaNoWriMo as a student, every November from my junior year of high school to my sophomore year of college; and I’ve only ever abandoned my writing maybe two weeks and 10,000 words in, always feeling like a failure.
That’s where the troubling language of the whole production factors in—if those participants who’ve reached 50,000 words by November 30th are “winners” of NaNoWriMo, doesn’t that make the rest of us losers? If they’re all Real Writers, now, with their Real Novels—well, maybe I’m being overdramatic, but each of the four times I’ve thrown in the NaNoWriMo towel has been a blow to my confidence. In my nascent yen to claim writing as a factor in my identity, I interpreted NaNoWriMo as a kind of quick scheme toward being able to feel like a writer, even though I hardly ever put the proverbial pencil to the proverbial paper the rest of the year ‘round.
Listen: a novel in a month, even a short novel, is an unrealistic goal for anyone, especially college students. 1,667 words/day for thirty days does not a writer make. Two hundred words every few days for thirty weeks, though? I feel like that’s the kind of lasting progress that a lot of so-inclined students could manage.
One day, a few months ago, I felt like writing and I wrote some. Then I didn’t for a few days, and then I did again. I didn’t feel like writing yesterday, and I’m writing today. And I feel more like a writer now than I did as I suffered and seized over an arbitrary word count and an arbitrary deadline. However, I don’t feel like I’ve “won” writing, and, honestly, I hope that I never feel that way. Let’s all just keep practicing forever, and if we write some dope shit while we’re at it, that’s awesome. But let’s all just be writers at our own pace, yeah? Where it fits in our class schedules, when we’re not sapped from on-demand essays, when we want. Let’s just… write, without worrying about any rules. Let’s just do it, and keep doing it. Let’s do it consistently, and comfortably, and with care—and let’s never be done. (Let’s still call ourselves writers at those holiday mixers, too. Screw it.)
Author: Martha Spall, Red Cedar Review Assistant Managing Editor