(Or, A Response To NaNoWriMo's Critics)
If you sit around waiting for the right moment to create, you will die waiting.
— Me, in a Scrivener user forum thread, some years ago. It's a long story.
Every so often (that we don't do it regularly is a great irony) I and my friends in comics figure out how much we've written in the past few months and tweet it.
No other medium is measured in pages output. A 300pp novel can easily become a 200pp novel by printing with smaller type; a 100pp screenplay can potentially become a film of between 60-140 minutes in length; a 200pp stage play could be performed in anything from 30 minutes to four hours. For all these media, the script length is agnostic to the final work.
But one comic page is one comic page, no more and no less. We actually write around the page as a unit, and a script for a 20pp comic will always produce a 20pp comic.
So that's one reason. But there is another.
BEING PROLIFIC MATTERS.
I sometimes see People On The Internet decrying work-in-progress tweets and posts as worthless. “Measuring output by quantity rather than quality is dangerous,” they say. “More work doesn't mean better work!”
These same people often dismiss NaNoWriMo as an exercise in futility. “Yeah, so you've written 50,000 words,” they say. “But that doesn't mean it's a good story! You're just hacking it out to meet a word count!”
Here's the thing: none of these people, not one of them, is a working writer. I say that with 100% confidence, for one simple reason — a reason that by definition only working writers truly understand.
WRITING MORE MAKES YOU A BETTER WRITER.
Woah, there. Controversial?!
No, not really.
Look: anyone can sit down and write two pages of a novel, then forget about it, and a week later write five pages of a screenplay, then forget about it, and a week later start another novel... etc, etc.
That shit is easy. Everyone (yes, even working writers) has a ton of projects they've started but never finished.
But writing a whole novel? Or a whole screenplay, or comic book, or stage play, or whatever? Actually seeing it through and finishing it?
Well, now. That shit is hard.
You learn from it. You learn how to sit your arse down and write, even when you don't feel “inspired”. Even when you just want to play Peggle all day. Even when your dog is puking up because he ate something dodgy, and you've got a dentist's appointment this afternoon, and by the way this room could really do with a good dusting couldn't it, and, and, and you write anyway.
You improve. It's impossible not to, because you have something finished, to review and assess in its entirety. And when it's finished, it inevitably comes up wanting. What you write is never as good as what you had in your head when you started — never, ever, ever — so you make a promise to yourself, to do it better next time.
You can't do that if you still haven't finished this time.
Finishing something is the hardest part. You know it's not as good as you hoped. You know there are plot problems. You know that by finishing it, you're saying — even if only to yourself — “This is the best I can do.” And because it's not perfect, that's really hard.
But you do it anyway.
Will most people's NaNoWriMo novels be awful? Sure, maybe. Guess what? Most people's first novels are awful, period. Whether it takes four weeks or four years, it's going to stink.
But that's OK. Knowing it's bad is half the battle.
If you can finish NaNoWriMo, then look back and think, “Wow, I did that... but it could be a lot better,” then as far as I'm concerned you've succeeded. Because that's the point. It's what “sort[s] the wannabes from the gonnabes”, as my friend Andy Diggle once put it.
If you make it through NaNoWriMo, and then later you write another novel because you want to do it better, congratulations: you're already doing more to become a working writer than 99% of people in the world.
DON'T SIT AROUND WAITING FOR INSPIRATION. JUST WRITE.
Originally published October 2013.