A simple internet search will reveal a wealth of information and an even greater wealth of opinions about the event, some giddy and praise-filled, and some so scathing they could burn the rust off a car's bumper. I'm hoping to provide a middle ground, battle some myths, and have some fun using spiffy statistics. Of course that's a lot to cover so this is going to take more than one blog post. Today I'm focusing on myths surrounding NaNo (the event) and WriMos (the participants).
Myth 1: NaNoWriMo is about writing a lot of crap.
This is a common misconception which I think is made by people who don't understand that giving yourself permission to write a less-than-perfect first draft is not the same thing as aiming for the gutter.
Personally, I choose to write at least 50,000 words of workable fiction. Is it perfect? By no means. But it's also not total crap. Requiring quantity does not preclude quality.
That said, first drafts are first drafts for a reason. More than 99% of them have problems, and often major problems. Stephen King says his first drafts suck, though he may not use that exact term to describe them. In fact I believe his term is rather stronger than mine.
The point of NaNo is not to write crap but to give yourself permission to suck, which you will anyway to start with, so that you can get the first draft written. Once that's done, then you can start editing and turn a jagged, gritty, ugly first draft into a shining gem. Or leave it as is, print it out, and use it as a doorstop. The choice is yours.
Myth 2: You can literally write the word "eyeball" 50,000 times and win.
This is technically correct but I'm classifying as a myth because I don't believe very many people would go to the trouble of signing up, writing or copying one word 50,000 times (or two words 25,000 times), validating their "novel" and printing out their lovely winner's certificate to show off when they'd have to face this: "You wrote a novel? Cool! What's it about?" Seriously, who would do that? The level of "impressed" goes down a great deal when friends, relatives, co-workers, etc., find out you essentially cheated. And how would they get out of that situation? Actually that could get interesting, and I'd probably want front row seats and popcorn.
NaNo does work on the honor system. Nobody checks your writing. No one but you even sees it unless you choose to share it with someone. And I think there is something admirable about trusting people to be on the up and up.
Yes I'm sure there are people out there somewhere who would do this, however, that is not NaNo's fault. Those people are the ones who will cheat at anything. It points to a flaw in them, not in the event.
Small note: there are minor discrepancies between many word processing programs' word counts and the official NaNo word count, so technically they might have to write "eyeball' 50,147 times.
Myth 3: NaNo makes it sound like anybody can write a novel.
Newsflash: anybody CAN write a novel. A novel is defined, not by industry standards mind you but by actual definition, as a work of prose at least 50,000 words in length. That's it. You don't need an MFA, or a background in journalism, you don't need a life of fascinating experiences. There are no qualifications for being a writer other than simply to write. Anybody who thinks otherwise needs to get off their low-horse and take a good look at the world. NaNo is not a good place for snobs, that much is true.
Myth 4: NaNo makes people think they can write a book worthy of publishing in only a month.
If you think this you haven't been to the website. Nowhere does it say you will have a finished final draft, just a first draft that it is then up to you to revise, edit, and otherwise polish. Does the world of agents and publishers issue a collective sigh and rolling of the eyes each December? Possibly. But really all NaNo contributes to that is volume. Every month of the year sees new writers pitching first drafts. The number may go up after November, but that's it. This is not a new thing.
But not everyone who writes a novel wants to publish one. Some people don't write for compensation but for the sheer joy of writing. I don't know whether they are rolling in dough, are true artists who are above such material concerns, or just have a lot of time on their hands, but that really doesn't matter. We should all know by now that people are different. We do not all think the same way. We do not all want the same things.
Myth 5: Nothing good has ever come out of NaNo, and by good I mean traditionally published.
I have twelve words for you: Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen; The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. These are only two of many published books that started as NaNoWriMo novels. Not only were they traditionally published, they're both bestsellers! And they are not alone. There's a list. Here's a link to it: Official List of Published NaNo Novels. And here's another link: Goodreads list of Published NaNoWriMo Books.
Bonus Myth: No real author would participate in something like NaNoWriMo.
The reasoning for this one varies from the idea that "real" authors write a lot all year long, to just a general scorn for the event and by extension any one who would participate. In refutation, please look back at my response to Myth 5. I'm not going to name-drop but there are famous authors, other than those I've already mentioned, who participate in NaNo. They may not make a big deal out of it, but they aren't looking down their noses at the event.
Also consider that there is more to NaNo than just the writing, though that is absolutely the main goal. NaNoWriMo is a community where writers around the world can connect and commiserate on the trials and the joys of the craft. Sure there are people who just write as a hobby, but hobbiests can be every bit as passionate about their hobbies as professionals in the same field are. All writers share certain things: love of stories, frustration with characters, fear of plot holes, and much more. NaNo brings us together and reminds those of us in an often solitary endeavor that we are not really alone.
That's all I have to say for now. I hope you've found some of this instructive, or at least entertaining. Stay tuned for my next post in this special NaNo series as we hurtle toward November.