Why I Backed Out Of NanoWriMo

NanoWriMo, short for  “National Novel Writing Month” is a popular novel writing contest which takes place each November. The goal of the organization is to encourage writers to complete a solid first draft of a novel within 30 days. The mission behind the organization which started this contest was to encourage writers to just get anything down on the page, without thinking how good it is. In short, write now, edit later. The spirit of the contest is to encourage writing, and while I think that’s a wonderful goal, I ultimately backed out.

Why?

1. Writing Just to Write.

I really believe that just to get something down on paper is not necessarily a very good thing. While the concept of writing a novel in a month is a trendy idea and makes for a good challenge, it doesn’t necessarily result in the best quality. What NanoWriMo is unintentionally advocating for is speed over initial quality. It is encouraging people to just write something, never mind what that something actually says or means, or whatever. You work those details out later — and on that, I couldn’t disagree more. So while it says “write a novel in a month,” what they really are saying is “write a first draft in a month,” and a rushed one at that.

2. Structuring Story in a Month?

Ultimately whether you are writing a script, a novel, short story or whatever, it must have a prevailing structure. The novel I had planned to write for NanoWriMo was being worked from a script I wrote last year. While I have long advertised writing a solid draft of that script in a month, the total process was actually longer than that. I first came up with the idea in December 2012 and spent many weeks writing the entire structure of that script (treatment and outline) by hand as I felt I could more naturally control my thoughts. The final first draft was sent to a producer who offered to read it in February of 2013. If I were to just write that script flat out with limited outlines, it would have been a mess. Every scene has purpose, the same can be said of points in a novel. These beats will often be missed later on and it is very hard to revisit this after you’ve just written something for the sake of writing. It may not be the case with everyone, but I would say it is the case with many.

3. No, Not Everyone Can Write.

NanoWriMo exists to encourage people to write. The problem is, not everyone is a “writer” in the sense that that word comes to suggest. Sure you can speak, read and use a computer, but please do not think that because you can do all of this you can also write. Writing a story does not qualify you as a writer any more than doing a math equation qualifies you as a mathematician. Yet our society thinks that anyone could become a writer, while becoming a mathematician somehow requires greater skill. Both require great skill. Becoming a writer requires a lot more than just putting a story on paper. It requires skillfully doing so in a matter of professional quality.

4. It’s not the Time in Quantity but the Time in Terms of Quality.

Malcom Gladwell refers to 10,000 hours as a hypothetical average to which persons achieve mastery in a given subject. It takes many, many years of crafting and honing skill to become an expert in something. It takes many years to become a “writer” in the sense that that word comes to suggest (as previously alluded to). And Gladwell notes that it very much matters how those 10,000 hours are spent. Just churning out sentences and words in a given period of time may eventually add to “10,000 hours” but it won’t make you a master in the subject of writing. Constantly honing and crafting your skill in the process of 10,000 hours is how you become a master.

And so NanoWriMo seems more concerned with just getting it out there than worrying about quality. This is a misguided approach. We should always be concerned with quality. NanoWriMo is a fun challenge for writers both new and old to quickly conceptualize an idea, but it should really be taken lightly. It is a challenge, not a serious way to improve your actual writing skills. The best way to conceptualize an idea is to work in a time frame that works for you in terms of maintaining quality. And so could I write my script ‘Liberation’ as a novel in one month? Yes, I could. Do I want to? No, I do not. And the reason that is, is because I believe in quality over quantity and one month is simply not going to result in a good product for any writer at any level of skill. You may take my opinion with a grain of salt, and to those who are participating, I hope you still may get something out of it.

We All Want Our Own ‘Vanilla Sky’

The following is my stream of conscious after revisiting the film, ‘Vanilla Sky’. I typed this preface after to best be able to capture my questions as they were upon completion of the film.

…………………………………………….

What is the meaning of life……

What if you could just hit pause. What if you could just hit rewind. What if these keyboard keys you bang on couldn’t keep up with your mind. What if you could live your life with absolute control over everything and everyone in it? What would make someone even want to?

What if you could just make a decision over again? Why do memories form? What do memories say about who we are? Is it true that our memories become distorted over time as experts suggest? Do new memories recreate past experience? Do we just make ideas up in our head? Are memories nothing more than a romanticization of our past?

What is real?

Are we afraid of death because it is the end? Or are we afraid of death because we don’t know what comes next? Did we make up religion to pretend we have the answer?

Is the Singularity and every other form of “cheating death” by way of promised Immortality since the era of Gilgamesh a way for brilliant mortals to scientifically re-create religion?

Scientific prophets promising you your very own ‘Vanilla Sky?’

What if 85 years wasn’t enough for a life to tell its story? Do writers write as a measure of control, knowing beginning, end and middle? Do the worlds we create, the memories we keep have purpose? Are we not all writers of our own life? If we die and our minds are uploaded to computers many millions of years from now, will we be the same person?

What makes someone a person? And not for legal purposes, but for the purpose of saying “I know that person.”

What if life itself was just a dream of sorts — where we take and form experiences, exaggerate them to our own liking in our subconscious not even realizing that we actually all do that to some extent…that we distort our actual memories over time.

” What makes you happy? “

It is such a simple question, but it is also an inherently complex answer to give.

And I think that is the meaning of life, no? The answer to that question. And the only way to answer that question is to best live the life you want to live.

………………………………………

end stream of conscious.

Today I revisited ‘Vanilla Sky’ at a very awkward point in my life – that point where I honestly don’t know what comes next. But as the British ‘tech-support doctor’ in the film says about life, “there are no guarantees.” Furthermore, Sophia says “everyone said don’t go to NY but I just think good things happen if you’re a good person, with a good attitude.”

I think Sophia’s quote near the beginning of the film is perhaps the most important. It is the attitude we have toward life. The way we can presumably control everything in it is to understand that while there are no guarantees, good things happen to good people. The rest is finding the answer to what makes you happy, what makes you smile beneath those vanilla skies. And sometimes in life, questions like the meaning of it perhaps require no answers at all…..