With just a week of NNWM left I’ve got a Saturday coming up which is set for an all day writing fest. Over the last week I’ve written little, and I’m finding this hard enough having fallen utterly out of the writing habit. I’m feeling tired, cloudy. Much as I was before November gave me a kick in the chops.

The momentum of writing for an hour each day is glorious. It feels so natural, it makes so much sense. The decision is made without there ever being a decision to make. I’m sat in front of the typewriter, Einaudi on and paper spooled, and I’ve not once asked myself whether today is a writing day. Because it is a day, and so I’m writing.

Life isn’t invisible, of course. One of the things that’s irked me so much about the whole concept of NNWM, and about how so many people talk and post about doing it, is in how debauched or Bacchanalian the act of throwing yourself into a writing project is portrayed to be. I’ve done it myself there, ‘throwing yourself’ into it.

It conjures in so many people’s expressions an image of someone sacrificing or choosing to ignore or blinkering themselves from everything else outside of The Writing. Of 1 December being a day of realising how much washing up is left. Or how many takeaways have been consumed. Of how much has been shirked or shied away from.

Now look, fifty thousand words is a cocking huge amount of work to do in 30 days. And anyone who gets there will, undoubtably, at some point have had to make a decision or a conscious choice to ignore this or let that go, to leave something unfinished or not to start something else. I see that.

But what is the idea of the month of writing? Is it to get more people writing? More people taking the plunge? In my case, the month has been undeniably inspiring, in that it gave me an excuse to kickstart something I was wanting to do for so long but felt held back in by my idiot inner worrier asking “Was it worth it?”.

Way back when I first found out about NNWM it had a sister event in the spring (I think) which was a month of editing. A month dedicated to plucking out that bulge of 50k words and scrutinising it, editing it into something which was a better version, a more finished version of your idea. A final, or close to it, draft of your novel.

As far as I can tell the month of editing has been dropped. Admittedly, it’s not as attractive as a month of devil-may-care make-believe. But it’s just as fucking important. In fact it’s far more important, because the act of editing is an act you absolutely must take seriously. You can write bollocks for 30 days, but you can’t edit unless you believe in it.

Because editing is more than creating – it’s returning to what you’ve created with the definite commitment to making it better, to improving and enhancing what you’d created, with the aim of sharing this perfected object with the world, with your friends, with other people. You can’t just rely on a man walking through a door with a gun any more.

And when the forums and website of NNWM encourage people to use pre-cut characters or scenarios in their work, it’s obvious that as I’ve become more interested in writing and being a better writer, I’ve clearly missed the point of NNWM entirely. I thought it was about writing. But, honestly, it’s about having fun.

Not that this is a terrible thing. The problem is that, at least for me, the vulnerable position of being a writer is not about having fun. I’m not writing my novel for shits and giggles. I’m not doing it for a laugh or because it brings me pleasure, I’m doing it to explore and express and, aspirationally, to succeed.

I want to succeed in expressing a cohesive and human atmosphere and narrative. Something that means something, or that at least mirrors the meaningless/meaningful nature of our lives. Something beyond just 50,000 words of making something up as I go along. And although I enjoy it, this is a career choice I’m trying to pursue. Not a hobby.

I’m probably too petulant about this. Because I don’t have to take part in the website side of NNWM, or the forums, or the meet-ups, or read the pep talks. Other people can read these and enjoy them, or honestly enjoy writing them. If I’m going to be truthful, though, I think it’s a shame that NNWM isn’t more ambitious or demanding.

The national editing month was a demanding, serious side of the whole shebang. It demanded that you ruthlessly re-appraise your work and see the weaknesses. It demanded that you work. Work isn’t fun, speaking pedantically. Work is commitment, dedication, thought, concentration. The fun comes from the achievement, from the results.

So, I’m forgetting my word count. This is my only NNWM year. I want to take writing seriously, and I don’t feel that NNWM takes writing seriously. I don’t need a month of fun, of playacting, of make-believe. I don’t need to ‘wake up’ at the end of a month of escaping real life. Writing is a real life, a real choice, a real career.

Po faced, maybe. But if there’s one of me here, someone who was told writing could be a hobby, that I should think about how I could make it a ‘real’ job, that unless I gave up on everything else (family, money, food) I could never achieve anything, then there are a thousand of me out there.

And every single one of them is let down by NNWM portraying writing as fun, as throwaway, as light entertainment. Every single one of them is let down by the loss of a national month of editing, in that it displays a lack of seriousness and respect by NNWM. Because NNWM could be something ambitious, instead of something frivolous.


About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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