Reaping the Rewards of Rebelling: Why Being a Rebel is a Good Idea

So NaNoWriMo began today (wait, where did October go?) and like great swaths of the blogosphere, I am once again trying my hand at penning the Great American… Short Story Collection.

Yeah, oops. While I respect those WriMos who personally hold the “novel” part of National Novel Writing Month as sacrosanct, I’ve had fifteen years worth of experience to inform me that, hey, maybe writing a novel just isn’t for me. As someone who both has tastes and talents better suited to shorter fiction, as well as a distaste for the (somewhat elitist) attitude that the novel, as a form, is somehow superior to all other types of writing, I have decided to shirk that particular aspect and focus on just getting to (and hopefully surpassing) 50k of literary short fiction.

If your ambition is to write a novel this month, awesome. If your goal is to challenge yourself to penning an epic work, congrats. But for me, NaNoWriMo is simply the one guaranteed time each year when I am allowed the opportunity to be wholly, self-indulgently creative; it’s the one time each year I find myself actually and reliably producing something. I see no need to miss the opportunity — and the social camaraderie that works so well as a motivator — simply because my 50k is destined to be spread across three or four narrative instead of one.
Plus — and I speak only for myself, but perhaps other rebels will chime in — there are other benefits to rebelling, as well.

1. It’s harder to write yourself into a corner. (Not impossible, but harder).
Long-form fiction generally has multiple narrative threads, and while an ambitious (and talented) short fiction writer may well be able to incorporate numerous plot threads into their story, there seems to be less of an expectation to do so. Short fiction, in general, adheres to a singular theme or event; even when narrative events occur out of chronological order, they still tend to orbit one central theme. It kind of follows naturally that a single plot thread is much harder (though not impossible) to tangle, compared to a novel that must carefully interweave numerous plotlines while reaching a joint and satisfying ending (speaking of endings: I find that ambiguity and ambiguous “resolutions” are much more tolerated in short fiction than in novels, over all. Just saying).

2. You don’t have to make those impossible choices about which plot bunny to chase down the rabbit hole.
I see the complaint on the forums all the time: the minute you sit down to write your NaNoNovel, a hundred other plot bunnies (none of them your wily NaNo Bunny) come hopping out of the forest of your mind, all cute and cuddly and ready to be written. Ugh, did you make the right choice? Should this be the story you should be devoting your time to this month? Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could just write the story that comes to you in the moment? Well, if you opt to rebel, you can. Hell, you can start a new flash fiction story every time you sit at the computer, if you’d like. If you are open to doing something beyond the boundaries of a traditional novel, no plot bunny is every a distraction — they’re just more fodder for your word count.

3. When you hit a block in one story, there’s always another one you can start and/or add to.
Sometimes, it’s not even really about doubting whether or not you chose the wrong plot, or the temptation of a shiny new story idea pulling your away from your novel. Sometimes, things are going well, you’ve got into a groove in your story, pieces are falling into place, and then you just — stop. You reach a sticky bit of plot, or a character just isn’t sounding right, or your outline didn’t cover a particular turn your story organically (but unexpectedly) took. Maybe you step away, take a break, have a snack resolve to look at it with fresh eyes. Maybe you sit there and rewrite sentence ten times before you rage quit for the night. Maybe, you lucky duck, you can just power through it, and if you can, congratulations. But for some of us, hitting that roadblock and having to step away from writing for any significant amount of time means a loss of momentum, especially if you don’t write regularly throughout the year and November is an attempt to build a habit. If you’re writing multiple stories, there’s always one you could start or add to while the one vexing you is sorting itself out in the back of your mind.

4. You’re more likely to emerge with a finished product, even if you don’t hit the 50k.
I look at NaNo,even my NaNo failures, as generally positive experiences. I usually have fun, and I often enjoy looking back and rereading what I’ve written in previous years. But I have to admit, it feels so, so much better to have a completed product at the end of the month, and honestly — and again, I speak only for myself — it doesn’t much matter it that product is a novel or a couple of short stories. The reality is, once the adrenaline of November wears off, once my calendar hasn’t been cleared and I don’t have the camaraderie of my NaNo friends to spur me on, there’s good chance that my project is going to languish in whatever state it’s in on December 1st into perpetuity. I’m not proud of that, but that’s reality, and I know from experience that while NaNo is always fun, it’s far more satisfying to have actually finished something — or a few somethings — in November.

5. You can expand on those half-formed story ideas without having to pad to reach 50k.
Some people get ambitious in November and spend weeks or months planning and plotting epic adventure stories with an A, B, and C plot, a romantic side plot, a massive and eclectic cast of characters, and a fully-fleshed out fantasy world, and to them — I salute you. You are genuinely awesome. But while I have definitely made valiant efforts towards planning over the years — and while I have sometimes even been fairly successful at developing a decent plot and cast of characters — I have a lot of fun ideas that would take a hell of a long time to expand into novels, but would make great little vignettes or free-form poems or flash fiction. Sometimes, I want to use the momentum of November to finally pen those scenes that live in my head, no padding, plotting, or world-building required — just sitting down and writing what’s in my head, just to see how it looks on paper. Just to get it out there.

In the end, I fully believe there is no wrong way to NaNo. If the event moves you to write, then it’s done something wonderful, and I think at this point, we all need something wonderful in our life.