Monday, November 29, 2010

NaNo No-No: A Plea for Quality Over Quantity

NOTE: I kind of feel like an ass for talking about my own writing on a blog about other people's writing. This post, though, is something I've wanted to write all month.

Yesterday, I finished 50,000 words of a project I'd been working on for several weeks. I was happy I finished. It felt good. I also looked back on what I wrote and realized how rushed and inconsistent it was.

I was glad to be done for all the wrong reasons.

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is an Internet movement, much like Talk Like a Pirate Day except propelled with the innocent aspirations of a million would-be writers.

Participants compete to write a novel (or at least 200 pages double-spaced) in a month's time. That month is November, one of the busiest months of the year, full of Thanksgiving road trips, finals, job evaluations, and planning for the holidays. For lovers of NaNo, writing becomes an escape from the flurry of scheduling demands. Other participants who find only frustration in the event endure with masochistic fervor.

NaNoWriMo teaches the discouraged that anyone can write if they push themselves to do it. It's a wonderful confidence high to complete a project like that, one that leaves you happily coasting for months to come.

This writing event teaches pride, though, not eloquence or brevity. Re-reading my own story for the past month has revealed an embarrassing number of errors that could have been avoided with more time and care.

Writing with your gut can be wonderful; re-evaluating it with your brain can be indispensable.

I guess it's not a good thing when writing becomes solely about word counts and pumping out as many adverbs as possible to meet a self-imposed deadline. Unless someone still feels a sense of art to what she's doing––and some NaNo participants do––the whole project can be a mess of empty self-congratulation.

All right, I wrote a novel this November. That's an accomplishment to have started and finished something like that. But is it my best work? Did I do something I was proud of?

Maybe, in some ways. But in others? No. Absolutely not.

Editing is supposed to come at some far flung point in the future for every NaNo project. November is for first drafts and first drafts, as many creative writing teachers have said to discouraged students, are allowed to be terrible.

They are. It's okay.

It's not okay, though, to congratulate one's self for writing 50,000 words without any thought.

Anything worth that much time is meant to be done well, not crammed into a schedule.

All art is, in its way, a little vain and definitely about the artist and her vision, but I don't like patting myself on the back for a long piece that was stressful to write and, at the end of the day, not very good.

I've competed and won NaNo a couple of years in the past, but something's been off since 2008. I've begun to pause and think about getting the best word I can think of rather than the first.

I've been sending short stories to magazines and lit agents for a little while now, and after being published for the first time with a piece that's probably one of my shortest completed to date, I can definitely say editors value quality over quantity.

It's an achievement to finish a goal of 50,000 words––it's a lot and proves dedication––but what is each word worth individually?

I'm afraid NaNoWriMo doesn't teach eloquence or technique, but it does teach confidence in one's craft. It's just the writer's job to make sure that confidence is well-earned.

There's a lot of books out there in the world. It's the responsibility of everyone who produces them that they be the best quality they can be.