(American) National Novel Writing Month or ‘Exploding in a Shower of Blood’

Or NaNoWriMo to its friends. Or ‘disrepectful’ shenanigans to its detractors. (Thanks to Eric von Rothkirch over at Quantum Storytelling for that link.)

What’s NaNoWriMo? Well, for the month of November, would-be writers around the globe – though mostly those charming colonials – will sit down at their computers and write about 1500 words each day. At the end, they’ll have 50,000 words of fiction.

First off, 50 grand of wordage gets you a novella, not a novel. Second, why the hell shouldn’t this be a great idea? Would-be writers can get together and moan and cajole each other until the word count is reached. Seems like normal writing behaviour to me.

Over at MetaxuCafe, one guy (Mark Leahy) is unhappy at the thought of all these amateurs peeing on his territory. OK; that might be an unkind summary of his post. I suggest you read it and come back.

Done that? Leahy makes a the point that most people would be aghast if doctors approached heart surgery the way writers approach writing (through trial and error. This is not a good argument for several reasons, and here is the first: (1) Books don’t explode in a shower of blood if you fuck them up; (2) The heart is a physical system whose properties can be investigated through analytic processes, and these properties can be learned over a number of years’ directed study; (3) The properties of a book cannot be objectified in the same way, therefore cannot be learned through directed study, and therefore must be learned through trial and error – in other words, until you’ve fiddled with your fiction and had it explode in a shower of blood a couple of times, you probably won’t know what you’re doing. Good luck to the heart surgeon in Leahy’s story; he’ll need it.

And as for your NaNoWriMo lingonauts – take an umbrella, and God speed.

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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

8 thoughts on “(American) National Novel Writing Month or ‘Exploding in a Shower of Blood’”

  1. … ‘explode in a shower of blood’?! I love it. I’d write one with that title if I had the time.


  2. Hah, good one.

    Novella? Yeah, I suppose that fits in the grand literary tradition. I’m all for redefining the novel towards people with short attention spans. 120-200 pages seems ideal to me. Economy!

  3. Great dissection of Mark’s post, Doctor Hocking!

    At first I found his post quite snobbish and condescending… Then I saw through it and realised that it was just a writer being horrified at the thought of amateurs stepping into his turf.

    But we’re all amateurs until we get published, aren’t we?

    Writing is a very odd business. I earn my living writing (not novels, unfortunately) but I am aware that:

    1: I got my job by knowing the right person at the right time and having the chutzpah and focus to deliver something by the deadline. Talent and ability wasn’t the major reason I was hired.

    2: Every time I complain about my paycheque, I think of the queue of talented people who’d do my job better, for less pay.

    Anybody who earns a living from writing is very lucky.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Rolski. I think it’s definitely true that we’re all amateurs until we get published. And its so easy to discourage (by coincidence, it seems to be the worst writers who do this discouraging…)

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