Interview: Sean Lindsay on NaNoWriMo

Sean Lindsay, an outspoken critic of National Novel Writing Month, is interviewed by Stephen Jayson Harris.

“The concept of NaNo seems to be to give people the feel-good buzz of being a ‘Novelist’, with the barest minimum of work to justify it.”

Completing 50,000 words in 30 days is a challenge for most people.
“Can you hit the spacebar 50,000 times in a month, with some letters in between?” It boils down to finding the time, and nothing more.

50,000 words is a significant portion of a modern novel.
But it’s only a portion of the process. It’s the first draft of half, maybe two thirds of a novel. Imagine if someone announced they were going to build their own house: they purchase some tools, and cut 50,000 pieces of lumber to length. Then they abandon the project, say “Now I’m a carpenter!”, and leave the wood to rot. Read entire enterview.

I am happy to hear Sean Lindsay say what I’ve been saying ever since I heard about NaNoWriMo. It is impossible to write anything but a first draft in one month. And such a draft would be sketchy at best. To pull out a Thanksgiving rerun from a former post, Ignorance may be bliss, but it won’t get you published.

NaNoWriMo plays into the naïvity and ignorance of writers who think they can write a novel in a month. National Novel Writing Year would be a more realistic contest. That way quality wouldn’t be thrown out the window. Writers could revise, edit and polish their novels. It takes time to get to know imperfect characters, to bring out their point of view, to buildup tension toward conflict or danger, and create a sense of place. It takes not only time, but patience, sweat and plain ol’ hard work. We have to get our hands dirty with the messy lives of our characters. Otherwise we are left with a pile of lumber and no carpenter.

It feels good to be writing again. I’ll be posting a progress report on my YA novel. I may not reach my December 31st deadline, but I’m going to start nailing boards together and give it my best shot.

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2 Responses to “Interview: Sean Lindsay on NaNoWriMo”

  1. “It is impossible to write anything but a first draft in one month.”

    While I agree with you on every other point, it is technically possible to write a finished novel in a month, even less, and many successful writers have done it.

    Two of the most prominent examples are Isaac Asimov, and Georges Simenon, both of whom wrote and published over 400 novel-length works. While Simenon’s novels are not widely read today, over a billion copies of his books were sold in his lifetime. And Asimov of course is is considered one of the most important science fiction writers of all time.

    It must be said, though, that both were professionals who dedicated their lives to writing full-time. Asimov is said to have written 12 hours a day, every day. They didn’t need NaNoWriMo to kick themselves along. They also didn’t start at this pace. Both spent years honing their writing skills before publishing novels.

  2. Thank you for the information about Isaac Asimov and Georges Simenon. After reading your comment, I have to agree that it is possible for experienced writers to write a novel in one month. And like you, I put possible in italics.

    What you say about these prolific writers is so important: “They didn’t need NaNoWriMo to kick themselves along. They also didn’t start at this pace. Both spent years honing their writing skills before publishing novels.”

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