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It's November again, the month when half my social circle decide they're going to write novels, whether or not they're normally given to auctorial pursuits.

You see, November is National Novel-Writing Month, affectionately (and sometimes less so) referred to as NaNoWriMo or simply NaNo for short. The idea is to write an entire novel in a month, from start to finish. Complete that task and you're said to have "won" NaNoWriMo. 50,000 words in 30 days, or 1,667 per day. It seems so... arbitrary. I'm all in favor of motivation and measurable progress, and having deadlines can be helpful in these areas. Still, there are things that cannot be rushed, or at least that perhaps shouldn't be. High on this list, at least by my lights, is the creative process.

Now, I've been writing novel-length fiction for a few years. Quite a few. (All right, since the Carter administration. Happy now?) Under a full head of steam, I can generate a couple of thousand words in an hour or two. But whenever I've focused more on wordcount than on form and content, it hasn't taken too long for the quality of my output to fall off dramatically.

For me, that's the biggest problem with NaNoWriMo. I tried it once. Somewhere around the 18,000-word mark I found myself writing in circles, just trying to make wordcount. What I'd lost sight of was how to make my words count.

I didn't "win" NaNo that year, and I haven't played since. For one thing, I'm old-school enough to regard 50k words as pretty slim -- in fact, for my money that's a novella, not a full-blown novel. If I'm going to write a novel, the story will be complex enough to require at least 80k to 90k words to really tell it properly. That's more than I'm likely to churn out in a month's time, however, unless I have virtually nothing else that requires my attention during that month -- no job, no freelance work, no other responsibilities, and enough money on-hand to not waste time worrying about how to pay the bills. Suffice it to say I've never been in that situation. At best, I've had the free time OR the money, but not both, and certainly not the lack of other responsibilities.

Writing fiction takes work. It takes thought, and the freedom to indulge one's imagination. Some days are better spent just figuring out how some new element that's presented itself can be made useful to the story than in pounding out another thousand or so words. I outline my work, but my Muse always surprises me with something I hadn't planned on, or else my characters take on lives of their own and insist on doing things I hadn't anticipated. I've learned the hard way to let them, because if they're fully-formed enough to be doing that in the first place, it usually means they have a better idea of what's going on in the story than I do. If an author is God in relation to his or her fictional world, then I am an absolute pushover of a deity 90% of the time. My characters tend to exercise enormous amounts of free will. Of course, this may also explain why so many of them can be best described as agnostic...

All this is in aid of saying that while I am indeed in the process of writing a novel, I'm not doing NaNoWriMo. I began this project a bit before November, and I'm sure I won't finish it before Christmas. And that's all right. My characters don't feel rushed, the plot isn't slapped together with chewing gum and baling twine, and I'm not as likely to lose whatever sanity I may have before the denouement. Mind, I'm not saying that any of these things are the case with all NaNo novels. I'm quite sure there are some good ones out there. Even so, I have to wonder whether they'd perhaps be even better for having being written in a slightly more relaxed manner, with the author taking his or her time at crafting them.

They say you can't hurry Art, much like you can't hurry love, or the perfect wine. Things take time, and that's fine by me.

July 2017


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