Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Nobody's going to do it for you

So as I come up for air, on my last free day this week (because tomorrow is Faerie's first day at nursery, and I will be holed up here on the couch finishing The Demon Inside, which I expect to have done by the time I go to bed Friday night pleasegods), I wander around the internets. (In between bouts of inspecting my daughters' hair. She's home again today for a final delousing.)

Everyone and their brothers are gearing up for NaNoWriMo, something I've never done or cared about, and actually think can be counterproductive (yes, Anton, I'm running with it). I mean, if you want to do it and enjoy it, that's fine. But you shouldn't need that kind of encouragement to write a book. You shouldn't need bells and whistles and pistols firing at the starting line and constant vigilance to get your book done. You should have the discipline to do it no matter what month it is, and you should remember that NaNo? Not a prerequisite to writing. So many people seem to have it in their head that NaNo is some kind of official thing. It's not. There's no prize for the winner (No, don't use "NaNo winner" on your queries). It's just a website, just an idea some guy came up with. You don't need to come up with the idea for your book in July and wait until November to start because that's the time to write.

I'm just very uncomfortable with the idea of encouraging people to think certain conditions need to be in place before you can write, that it has to be a particular time of year or you need to chart your progress or whatever. You know what you need in order to write?

*an idea
*a writing implement

That's it.

So don't get the idea in your head that NaNo is the only time you can write a book, because that's preposterous (see? I can use big words).

I don't think NaNo is necessarily a bad program. But I don't think it's the be-all end-all either, and I think it can harm new writers. (Also, 50k words is not a novel.)

You know what else you need? A sense of your own story and what you want. I've been having some issues with this lately. You know that as a rule I don't give writing advice. I certainly don't think I've reached the level of skill and fame that means people would want to take my words to heart.

But you know what? There's another reason I don't give a lot of advice, and it's this: Nobody can do it for you. Nobody can give you the secret of writing good characters or strong stories. Nobody can tell you how to make your story work. Nobody can tell you what story you should be writing (obviously, with some exceptions, because your editors can tell you whatever they want, but we're talking about other writers.) Show up somewhere--a writer's forum, an email loop, a blog, and start saying things like, "How do I make this character work?" or "How do I get people to want to read my book?" and expect that you'll get an answer like, "Write it well."

There is no magic bullet for writing. There's no puzzle box or computer that will spit the words out in perfect order and create sympathetic, quirky, adorable characters who also do martial arts or whatever it is you want. That's not going to happen. You have to do it yourself. And I'm tired of seeing people give that advice--or giving it myself--and getting pissy replies in return, like "But that doesn't help me. I want to know HOW."

The answer to that is the same as it is for every other writing question. Read a lot. Write a lot. Write the story you want to write. repeat quite a few times. Nobody is going to hand you the golden key, you need to work hard and find it yourself. So if you're going to ask other people to basically do your work for you and then get pissy with them when they take time away from their own work to try and help you, bugger off and stop wasting both of our time.

Damn, I'm grumpy today, what's up with that?


Rebecca said...

here here! (or should that be hear hear??)

more grumpy please - it's very entertaining! :)

Vicki said...

I'm with you all the way. Wouldn't be great if it was that simple. Someone hands you the key or the magic box or whatever and poof you've got a NYT best seller. Yeah, right. Doesn't Ever Happen That Way!

I've not done the Nano thing and I know there are plenty of people who love it but thoughts are do it if it makes you happy but don't do it if you think that's going to give you your book.

Oh, and I'm with rebecca, grumpy can be very good and entertaining. :)

Can't wait till you finish your book and it's out there on the shelves.

December/Stacia said...

It's "hear hear" Rebecca, and I'm glad my misery is so entertaining for you. (JK! :-) )

Oh, I agree Vicki, I don't think it's flat-out terrible, and I don't think nobody ever benefits from it. But I do see a lot of this "I'm waiting for NaNo" or "Can't do it till NaNo" attitude, and that bugs me. It should be a fun exercise, and that's fine if people see it and participate in it with that in mind. But it isn't Your Only Chance To Write A Book. And I don't know that it's the best way to write a book either. It's easy to get attached to all those words you spilled out, or be reluctant to cut them if they were part of a goal.

And no, no magic bullet, sadly. And if I had one, sorry, but I probably wouldn't be sharing it with strangers, I'd be in Tahiti living off my royalties.

Bernita said...

Thank you, December.
I so agree.

Anonymous said...

I agree also, DQ. It's called "over thinking". -V95

BernardL said...

Yea, a reporter once asked Louis Armstrong what Jazz was, and Louis told him 'If you have to ask, you'll never know'. Creativity is a tough one to teach.

Anna J. Evans said...

Amen! I'm grumpy today too and yesterday and perhaps tomorrow....we'll have to see.

I did Nanowrimo with my first novel and ended up writing 80,000 words in a month. The novel sucked ass, but it was good for me to do that, to see that I could string that many words together and make some sort of story. Then I started working on making those words better, lol.

And yeah, 50k isn't a novel, and I write 50k almost every month, assuming I have help from the hubs a couple of weekends and the kids aren't all home for summer vacation.

anna j evans

Gabriele C. said...

I like Nano. It's fun. :)
I never managed to get 50K because I'm so not a fast writer, and I have enough NiPs already, but I'm going to do it again. There's no harm working on a more or less new project in November and that way get a first grip on it.

I think it's the forums, the people one meets, and the comraderie.

But I stay away from the Whine I'm Behind My Wordcount threads. ;)

Charles Gramlich said...

A very good point, well made. Although I do give advice sometimes, and on my blog, I'm aware most of the time that the advice is really for "me." It helps me state clearly to myself what I'm trying to do. I often tell people too that there is no "easy" button for writing. You just have to keep hammering until it's done.

bettie said...

Joining NaNoWriMo is like buying a gym membership. Carrying the card in your wallet won't make you lose weight. And frantically exercising for a month won't turn you into a marathoner. You need a little natural talent and a whole hell of a lot of discipline and practice.

But maybe you try the gym for a month, and find out it's not so bad. Maybe you discover that you like the gym, and wouldn't mind going every day. Maybe you decide to train for a marathon.

I see NaNo as an attempt to demystify novel writing. Even though it doesn't work so well for me, I appreciate its good intentions.

Anonymous said...

Last year my CP and I used Nano as a bit of an exercise. We spent October plotting a novel and split it out scene by scene. We divvied up the work based on scene content and our individual strengths. It was a blast to have that kind of internal competition as we worked on the same project.

We still haven't put it together into a final story, but it sure was fun.

I'm using Nano as a goal to finish my current story. I have my next two in mind and plotted out, but won't let myself start them until I finish this one. If I get my shit together I'll have three stories (one novel, one short, one novella) by the end of the year.

Maybe then we'll finish our first Nano project. lol

Robyn said...

I did NaNo a couple of times, mostly as a practice in discipline. It was fun, but certainly not my only time to write!

I don't want anyone to tell me how to write. I grit my teeth when I read about tsk-tsking over info-dumping or head-hopping or OHGODNO! adverbs. I happen to like adverbs.

cyn said...

hey december! i was in your neck of the woods recently! =D anyway, i used nano to develop a good writing routine last year, and it worked for me. it gave me the kick in the butt i needed to sit down and write four days a week, maybe five. and i've kept that habit (mostly) since then.

Anonymous said...

I've gotten a huge amount of pressure to do NaNo. I tried NaWriYe, which is a yearly word count goal. I still call it NaWriYe, but I haven't been part of the community since Feb. It was just a drain on my time and in the end all the help and all the motivation (and all the good feeling reward) came from me, not other people. Plus I had a bit of a problem with restrictions (poetry, plays and RPG writing, even if it's fiction and original, doesn't count. Neither do non fiction essays, even if you're a freelancer. But a large chunk of the people are writing fanfiction to fill their goal. I've never been good with people telling me what to do to that extent.)

Mostly, I dislike how easily the pressure can go from motive to making you feel like crap if you can't do it even if it's for good reasons. November is a busy month for us, on top of all our other family obligations. People shouldn't be pressured into writing how someone else thinks they should. They should be encouraged to find what works for them.

The hype around Nano, and the pressure people have tried to put on me to join the club like them makes me grumpy too.

kirsten saell said...

To be honest, I've never been much of a joiner. I have a hard time in groups--I've quit every union job I ever had because I couldn't stand the politics. In fact, I don't even have a beta reader or CP. The first person other than me to lay eyes on my novella was an editor at Samhain.

I know this flies in the face of traditional wisdom, but I understand myself and the way I write. I will probably proofread this comment at least three times. I will edit, revise, rearrange sentences and delete things I feel add nothing of real relevance to the discussion. I may agonize for five minutes over the proper word to use in a given situation. All this for a freaking comment on a blog.

If I participated in NaNoWriMo, or any other organized writing exercise, I'd be a basket case.

If I want to write 50k in a month, I'll do it. I don't need a cheerleader. I have my own pom-pons, and a little pleated skirt.

(now here I go to an internet dictionary to make sure I spelled pom-pons correctly. see ya in a minute)

NaNo--it might work for some, but it ain't for me.


December/Stacia said...

Exactly, Bernita and V95. It's so much pressure, and for not much, it seems to me.

That's a great quote, Bernard! Thanks!

Again, exactly, Anna. With all of my projects combined I did about 55-60k this last month (too tired to add it up.) It's pretty much par for the course, when you actually write books.

Very true, Gabriele, there's no harm in it if you enjoy it. But I don't like he emphasis on word count so much, and I think it can be discouraging for new writers too.

Yep, that's it, Charles. It's all trial and error, and stuff that needs to be figured out on one's own.

December/Stacia said...

That's a great analogy, Bettie!
I do think it's good to demystify the process, but I also think it can put the wrong impression in people's minds. If you can write a novel in a month, why are so many writers always sweating and working so hard? It's easy! Anyone can do it!
But like you I do appreciate the good intentions.

See, Seeley, I think that works really well. I think it's fine to use it to help motivate you. But NaNo isn't law, you know? I just think so much gets made of it that maybe shouldn't be.

Lol Robyn, that kind of stuff bugs me too. I use adverbs sparingly but I do use them, and some of those "rules" get on my nerves.

Hey, Cyn! Sorry I missed you!
See, I think that's great that it served that purpose for you. And for some people it works that way. But I think it becomes a crutch for others.

I always wondered about November too, Michele. It's busy for us as well, with Thanksgiving and everything, and yes, I worry it can become very discouraging for some people. If the encouragement helps people, that's great, but...maybe I'm just grumpy because I get sick of reading about it all the time, lol.

Lol, kis, you and me both on the joining. I can join promo groups where I do my little part, but it's not like we sit around sharing feelings and doing everything the same way either.

I do like having a CP, though, but that's because I just love making people read mt stuff, lol.