As November draws near, so does National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo, as it’s come to be known, is an initiative to encourage would-be writers to complete a short novel of 50,000 words in the space of a month. Media coverage and online chatter about this year’s event has already begun and, as always, there are plenty of people who think it’s a bad idea. But why? What harm can thousands of people having a go at writing fiction do?
The most often expressed opinion is that NaNoWriMo can’t possibly result in a good book in the space of just 30 days. Probably true. Does that matter though? Anyone who expects to write a bestseller in the space of a month is likely to begin December disappointed. However, if they stick at it, what they’ll end up with is a writing habit and a sizeable chunk of a first work to crack on with.
Will it be any good? It doesn’t matter. All writers write bad fiction when they’re starting out. Of course, some get better very quickly and some writers’ early work is still better than anything most of us will ever write. Regardless, you’ll never know how good a writer you are until you write. Writing, as most students of creative writing are told, is a muscle. If you want to get stronger you have to exercise regularly.
Every day for a month is a good start. As November has 30 days, anyone reaching the 50,000 word NaNoWriMo target has to write 1,666 words a day, just to complete a first draft. That’s an achievement in itself.
Then there’s the argument that we don’t all (contrary to the cliché) have a book in us. Rubbish. We all have a book in us; some of our books just won’t be interesting to anyone else. Most of us, in fact, have a bad book in us. Some people, such as insert the name of the successful author you think is crap here have several bad books in them and manage to get them published. If you’ve got a rubbish book in you, get it out. It might be a rubbish book or it might be what’s blocking you from writing a better one. When publishers and agents complain that NaNoWriMo results in an excess of bad fiction all they have to do is not publish it or not represent the writers in question, and the world is safe once more.
A population of readers who also write is no bad thing. Before radio, TV and phonographs people who wanted music made music. They weren’t all great (and most people weren’t anywhere near good enough to make a living out of it) but the act itself gave them pleasure and an understanding of how music worked, making them better listeners in the process. We don’t expect everyone who owns an acoustic guitar to release a major label album so why is it such a bad thing if people have a go at writing for pleasure? A month spent writing a novel, however trite it is, can only create a better appreciation of what goes into making a piece of writing good. I’m all for that.
Finally, pretty much everyone is in agreement that writing is good for you. ‘Therapeutic’ is a word most writers tend to avoid, especially novelists. It does, however, seem an undisputed fact that writing has great benefits in terms of clearing the mind, organising our thoughts and generally helping us deal with our lives and the world around us.
I’m a firm believer that the arts are for all of us and that we should be encouraged to have a go at whichever takes our fancy. Will most of us get to Carnegie Hall/The Booker Prize dinner/Wembley Stadium. No. Does that matter?
Great art changes the life of the audience; bad art can change the life of the artist. That’s enough.
For more information about National Novel Writing Month, including how to register, visit the NaNoWriMo website.