I wound up doing NaNoWriMo this year, after some careful thinking about it.
So did a few other friends, and the challenge-aspect of the 50,00-word goal seems to have spilled over into other metrics as well; one woman I know is doing “NaBeAFuAdMo,” or “National Be A Fucking Adult Month,” with a list of real-life tasks laid out one per day for each day in November.
Up to a point I like these sort of adaptations. The spirit of the game is self-improvement and striving to achieve more than you would without the artificial carrot-and-stick motivation, so anything in that general vein seems like fair game.
But I worry that there’s a temptation for fellow-writers especially to water things down a little bit:
Word count is the official metric of NaNoWriMo, and word count is what a lot of us do for a living. In many cases that’s quite literal. I’m paid by the word more often than I am by any other scale, so every word has a real and concrete value (albeit a very, very small one, as far as a single word goes).
So after a day of that it’s easy for your hard-working writer who’s also decided to do NaNoWriMo to say “well, okay, it’s 9:00 PM and I’m just now starting on today’s part of the manuscript, but technically I’m already up 3,500 words from my work, right?”
And I do know people who are doing things that way, keeping track of all words written in the month rather than just the word count of a single comprehensive work.
THE GROCERY LIST COUNTS, DAMMIT!
But I feel like people who really want the novelist-training exercise might be missing out a little by doing it that way.
Very few people are lucky enough to write in a professional vacuum, i.e., sans day job. Being able to make it through the workday and then still pound out a few thousand words on the next novel is a huge, huge part of the authorial skill. And I think it’s a skill that NaNoWriMo is trying pretty deliberately to teach.
So on the one hand I’m all for people taking the idea of NaNoWriMo and adjusting the metric to meet their own motivational needs. It’s basically a self-motivating exercise in the first place, with a little help from our old buddy peer pressure via the internet.
But on the other hand I hope writers are thinking about the benefits of doing the full 50,000 word manuscript on top of all the other written-word projects.
They’d better be there, otherwise I’m losing a lot of sleep this month for nothing.