6 Reasons I Never Do NaNoWriMo

Every year, since I was fifteen and learned such a thing existed, I’ve been asked if I’m doing National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo) by enthusiastic annual participants. For those who have never heard of it before, NaNoWriMo is a challenge where thousands of writers across the country attempt to write 50000 words during the month of November. For those interested, that comes out to writing 1667 words every day for 30 days. To put these things in perspective for you, your average academic essay is about 1000 words. So, it’s not an easy task.

Regardless, I have to say, their zeal for the challenge is infectious. For the entire month of October, many of my writer friends, and some of my non-writer friends, get excited about their projects, furiously planning their projects. They keep me updated on their struggles and word count. There’s a real sense of camaraderie which is a part of the allure. Every year, it almost makes me want to join in. Almost.

Why I’ve Never Participated in NaNoWriMo

1 The threat of burn out.

Those who have been reading my blog for a while know of the great four year burn out of 2006 that I experienced after writing WingĂ©d. I burned out after writing about 65000 words in four months. That comes out to about 540 words a day. I can’t imagine what would happen if I had to write three times that amount every single day.

2. I’ve never lacked the discipline to write a novel.

I’m not sure when I fell under this impression, but I have always felt that NaNo was for those who had a difficult time getting words onto paper or felt they never had the time to write a novel. I’ve been told by numerous people (rather emphatically, I might add) that my misguided and insensitive assumption is incorrect. However, I have read a lot of blogs and talked to a lot of people who have said, “I’m always putting off starting this project, so I thought it was a good way to make myself do it.” So, you may understand why I’ve never participated.

Writing comes very naturally to me. There have only been a few years where I didn’t do any writing. Those were the years before I could write and the four years of burn out. And when I decided that it was time to write again, I opened up my files and started again, just like that.

3. I’m too slow.

There is an old proverb… Okay, that’s a lie. To quote the grandfather from 3 Ninjas, “Do not fight unless you think you can win.” When it comes to participating in NaNoWriMo, I happen to know that I could never win. I’ve never really compared myself to other writers in terms of speed, but I’m slow. I’m a speedy typist, but when it comes to writing, I’m really slow. Every time I sit down to write, I get about 1000 words out, and that’s if I work all day. If I’m able to keep up that pace, it leaves me about 20000 words short of the goal. I’ve been told a million times by NaNo participants that “the point is to get it on paper, not to be good.” And I just can’t do that. I can’t throw words onto the page all willy-nilly-like. It’s not who I am.

4. I’m always in the middle of something when it comes around.

I’m also the kind of person who can’t really work on more than one thing at a time. I have an obsessive personality. If I’m working on something, that means I’m obsessed about it; I eat, sleep, and breathe it. It’s the reason that I’m able to finish anything. And I cannot be obsessed about more than one thing. Even thinking about being obsessed about two things creates chaos in my mind. Usually if I suddenly become focused on something else, there is a real chance that I won’t ever pick it back up again.

5. It requires planning.

In my every day life, I am a planner. I like to make plans and when I have to deviate from those plans, it causes me anxiety. However, when it comes to writing, it’s a completely different story. Sure, I make plans. I have a general idea about the plot and everything, but the novel that comes out never (and I mean never, not most of the time, not almost never; I mean never) matches what the original plot was. It would be a NaNo nightmare, because even if I was fast enough and plenty obsessed, something ALWAYS happens that causes me to throw massive amounts of work out and change my mind. I don’t mean just words either. If it was NaNo, I could keep the words, no problem. But we’re talking major plot points get destroyed where I think to myself “now what?”

6. 50000 words isn’t enough, and I hate not finishing things.

So, if I was going to write a novel for NaNoWriMo, I would probably want it to be longer than 50000 words. My novels tend to be around the 80000 word mark. If I was shooting to just get 50000 words done in one month, there’s a real chance of burn out for me, and I wouldn’t even be done.

And yet… every year, I think about it. It can’t be helped.

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Author Intent

Author Intent

“What did the author mean?” my teachers always asked me.

I always hated that question. Year after year, there I was in my English class either enjoying or hating a story or novel that I was forced to read by the orders of the state of California, and my teacher wanted me to take a stab in the dark about what the author meant. I never cared about what the author meant. (I’m sorry!) The story was either interesting or it wasn’t. Pure and simple. Sometimes, I think it’s a miracle that I ended up liking English at all, because discussing the reasoning for the use of color, light and shadow, or other symbolism ad nauseam was not my idea of fun. I understand that they’re trying to develop a student’s critical thinking skills, but to me, someone who believes that author intent is irrelevant, it was nothing but an exercise in futility and tedium. This “attitude” of mine has never been popular with any of my English teachers, except for one who was amused by my pluck, but it usually resulted in a lot of angry phone calls to my mother. But regardless of the number of times that I was lectured on the importance of author intent, I’ve never believed that it was as significant they make it out to be, because meaning is dependent on the reader.

When I write, I do so with the purpose to communicate something to you, the reader, and it comes with a certain amount of responsibility. It is the author’s job to anticipate to the best of his or her ability how the words are going to be received. This can be difficult to do, especially because even the meaning of the words themselves cannot be determined by the author alone. Language is arbitrary, and words only have the meaning that is collectively agreed upon. The author can intend for there to be meaning, but he or she cannot dictate it. If the reader doesn’t understand, it doesn’t matter. For example, if I were to suddenly start writing in German and say, “Ich mag lange Spaziergänge am Strand gehen” to someone who doesn’t speak German, it communicates nothing. If I say, “chibber chibber asschabs finger hwah!” that REALLY communicates nothing. However, if I say, “I like to take long walks on the beach”, suddenly, it becomes clear. If I tell you that all three of those mean the same thing, are you going to suddenly write “chibber chibber asschabs finger hwah!” on your internet dating profile? Obviously not. It’s a shared experience.

As a reader, everything the author has put onto the page is open to my own interpretation of it. It’s also open to the interpretation of my friend, Lindsey, her friend, Jen, and anyone else whose eyes hit that page. It’s personal. My interpretation is very rarely going to perfectly match someone else’s. The author has surrendered these words into my hands, and they’re now being given meaning by me based on what I believe. (Side note: this is why most people like the book better than the movie based off of a book, because the movie is an interpretation. So then, your views of that movie are an interpretation of an interpretation.) This not only includes the definition of a word, but the connotation of the word, how I feel about that word. So, if I put my author hat back on again and wrote, “Daniel was listless”. The word “listless” could imply laziness, depression, lethargy, or any number of other words meant to evaluate Daniel’s disposition. The question is, did I imply those things by telling you that Daniel was listless? It still doesn’t matter, because if you, the reader, believe that I did when you read it, that is your prescribed meaning.

However, I believe nothing illustrates my point better than this lesson I learned at the age of nine. I used to read The American Girl books by Valerie Tripp. In one of the Felicity books, there’s an old proverb which states, “Think ‘ere you speak, for words once flown, once uttered, are no more your own.” This proverb changed my entire outlook on life, because it was true. I realized that no matter what my intentions were when I said something, the message didn’t belong to me anymore. It belonged to them. The effect of my words was still the same whether it was what I meant or not. As an awkward kid who always said the wrong thing, that effect was usually tears (oops), and I was dragged over by my elbows to apologize.

I understand that one day this article may come back to bite me due to an interpretation of what I wrote, and therefore, I can’t disregard the significance of author intent completely. But you can be sure that I don’t expect anyone to dissect my novels for extra special symbolism unless they really want to.