So we’ve been told
And some choose to believe it
I know they’re wrong, wait and see
Some day we’ll find it
The rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers, and me
Thirteen years ago today I was sitting in my flat in Manchester, frantically typing away on my debut NaNoWriMo attempt on an even-then ancient laptop which resembled nothing much else than a breeze block. I still have that laptop, and amazingly, it still works.
Ten years ago today I was sitting in my rented room in Wimbledon, not too many miles from here, frantically typing away on my first NaNoWriMo attempt that would actually cross the 50k line.
Four years ago today I was embarking on my first year as ML (basically regional organiser) for the London chapter of NaNoWriMo.
… and so on. You get the picture. Except something’s changed. This year I haven’t even attempted to pick up my laptop and start writing. I’ve been working on and off on one of my long-running projects, but not to the extent that I’ll set myself any kind of goals. I want to write, but I don’t really feel like NaNoWriMo is the right place for me any more. Absolutely, there are still plenty of people I know doing it, but every year I check back into the forums and it feels like everything’s just a little bit safer, a little bit less of the counterculture sort of vibe that there was there in the beginning.
I look at NaNoWriMo right now with detached bemusement; I wouldn’t say that I regret the time I put into any of it, not the writing half a million words of stuff desperately needing a polish, and definitely not the volunteering- the organising meet ups, managing the hectic London calendar or the time spent writing pep talks for the London crowd. But the culture has shifted as years have gone by. Once upon a time, the ML guide to life was written by Chris Baty, the man who founded NaNoWriMo (and an excellent fellow). It had loads of useful advice and wasn’t afraid to leave things to the reader’s best judgement. It was possible to tailor the NaNoWriMo experience to the audience.
Then Chris left and not much later, the guide was rewritten by no doubt well-meaning people, the upshot of which was that much of the nuance was lost. It now reflected a much more North American-centric and specific way of thinking about NaNoWriMo. One in which meant writing means coffee shops, timed writing sprints and word wars. And enforced sobriety. I got the impression that those regions who organised meet ups in pubs were mostly tolerated through some sort of grandfathering-in.
Anyway, this weekend I happened to watch The Muppets. It struck a chord with me. A world that had moved away from the titular characters felt somehow familiar. NaNoWriMo has moved away from me. I don’t want to sit in a coffee shop with numerous others. I want to sit wherever takes my fancy with the beverage of my choice. I don’t want to write as fast as humanly possible, competing to see who can throw out the biggest word count in the shortest amount of time. I want to spend my allotted time crafting if not a good sentence then at least a decent enough one to get me to an initial draft. There might be a target per day but I don’t want to care how long it takes for me to get there.
I want to agonise over my choice of words, struggle to cross the finish line and then spend about fifteen times longer agonising over whether I’ve put things together correctly as I edit. I don’t want achievement badges. I want a sense of genuine achievement in having written something I can take pride in. The world may need your novel but what it doesn’t need is your fifty thousand hastily scrawled words that were written because you couldn’t think of anything better to do.
One day the NaNo community may shift back. And on that November 1st, I’ll be opening up scrivener to a new blank document. Until then, if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, good luck. It isn’t for me right now. I’m not trying to detract from anything anyone else might get from it as it is now. I hope you get as much out of it as I did back in the day.