As a result of all the arts, only writing could produce a NaNoWriMo. There is no NaSypWriMo, encouraging us all to get out there and write a symphony. Nor is there a NaPortPaiMo, where members of the general public are encouraged to paint portraiture and submit it to galleries, yet that is exactly what we encourage people to believe they can accomplish with schemes like this. Register, have a go and then flood the inboxes of journals, publishers and agents with your 50 000 words of unedited speed writing. As a result December, January and February can only feel like an extended hangover as the rejection slips rain in. You will curse the day you ever tried your hand at writing and possibly never write again.
But does NaNoWriMo help writers? This is a more difficult question. A writer, or a person who self identifies as a writer, is automatically a person who understands that it takes more than a month to produce a novel. They also understand that writing a novel takes more than literacy and a keyboard. As every extension HSC student who decides to write creatively for their major work will tell you, writing is hard. Writing to a deadline with a mandatory word count is even harder. Writing a draft in a short time frame is possible, I wrote a 40 000 word draft in a six week period, and then spent a further ten weeks polishing the first third of it to a reasonable level as part of my Masters degree. I am still working on polishing the remaining two thirds. As a result, I do not believe that NaNoWriMo is directed at writers like myself, who have already developed the discipline to write on a regular basis with a goal in mind.
So what does NaNoWriMo offer writers? For very young writers, those who are now leaving school and looking for something to fill the time between finishing their exams and finding out their results, it is a fun activity to fill the days of waiting. One where they can engage and meet fellow writers and produce work that will build your confidence as a writer, if not provide them with material to develop down the track. For writing students, it offers discipline, without the urgency and fear of grades and tutorial workshopping. For those of us outside educational institutions, it offers us an excuse to stop procrastinating and finally write that draft. But this is not what NaNoWriMo is really designed to encourage.
While ostensibly about writing, the communal nature of the NaNoWriMo events, encourage writers to think of themselves as part of a community, rather than a disparate collection of individuals or a group of competitors. In this way, writers are able to meet and develop bonds through a shared experience. Writing is a lonely business, regardless of experience or success. Writers spend hours alone working on their words, it is easy to forget that others out there are having the same triumphs and the same disappointments that we are in the creation of our works. Writing can make you feel as if it is you and your keyboard against this great monolithic publishing machine. We look to our favourite writers for inspiration, JK Rowling was turned down umpteen times, and other clichés, but these stories are not enough to sustain you through the long hours of revision of the tickertape parade of rejection slips. What gets you through is the friendship and honest critiques of fellow writers. Your friends, who share your experiences, even if they live on the other side of the state, country or even world, the ones who tell you honestly that your character is horrible, but your book is good.
For all the criticisms on an artistic level that can be justifiably levelled, at NaNoWriMo, they do miss the point. NaNoWriMo isn’t about the writing. It is about getting us writers out from behind our keyboards and pens and showing us that while we may very well be the only writer in the village, we may be obsessive and unfathomable and borderline unemployable, but that we are not alone.