I’m back from my month long hiatus for NaNoWriMo. I did, in fact, succeed at writing 50,000 words! And to boot, I almost finished an entire novel, although it’s a very rough draft that would need a lot of work before being publishable. Meanwhile, I also spent most of November and part of December participating in the selection process for the online magazine, Sixfold. If you don’t know what Sixfold is, I wrote a review about it a while back. It’s an online journal that allows writer to submit their work to vote on other people’s submissions to determine who gets published. I’ll soon be back to my regular reviews of literary journals and writing-related websites, but until then, here are my thoughts on NaNoWriMo and the Sixfold voting process.
This was my first year doing NaNoWriMo, and it was definitely a month of learning and growing for me as a writer. I think the best thing you get out of NaNoWriMo, whether you reach 50,000 words or not, is an incredible rush of creative energy. During the first couple of weeks, I wrote for one to two hours every single day, hardly skipping a day. (I might note that I actually only work part-time right now so I had a lot of free time to spare). During the middle of the month, fatigue started to set in, but I had already gotten off to such a good start, that I knew I could finish if I just kept up a steady pace. During the month of November, I lived, breathed, and slept my plot. I dreamed sentences and spent my days at work trying to ignore the characters in my mind who were constantly vying for my attention. And even when I felt like I had hit a wall, I drilled through it with my writing. I just kept on throwing words at it until I carve a way through.
As a result, I think my novel is probably the sloppiest thing I’ve ever written. I took no time to think about whether I sounded cliched or whether the words even made sense. Thus, it needs a lot of reworking. In fact, I’d probably have to write most of the sentences from scratch to fix it. But what I did get out of NaNoWriMo was a plot. I had barely sketched an outline for my novel, and I realized that as I pushed it farther and farther, it started to roll on its own, like a rock falling down a slope. The characters acted in ways that I never expected them to, but in ways that made perfect sense. And complications and developments in the plot that I had never anticipated arose. Now, if I go back and revise it, at least I have a solid, organically grown story to work with, even if the words need fine tuning.
After NaNoWriMo ended, I felt hollow. It was strange. I had been writing so much for the past month that if a day passed by where I didn’t write, I had the same feeling as when you eat a ton of donuts and don’t excercise that same day. It’s like the words that you don’t spill out accumulate like layers of fat. NaNoWriMo gave me a thirst to write, one I already had before, but it’s stronger now. I write almost every day now, because now it’s a habit, an addiction.
But what I learned from NaNoWriMo is that the binge-writing, it’s like eating lots of candy. It makes you super hyper, but leaves you with little nutrition. As much as you need a burst of binge-writing once in a while, for the most part the real work of writing is in the chewing and digesting of minute details, on the level of words and sentences. Nothing is perfect in the first draft. To get to the real vitamins and protein, you have to process writing, work through it, over and over and over again. And that I always dread, because unlike eating candy, it’s not always fun. It takes hard work and nail-biting and screaming into pillows in frustration. And that’s where I’m currently at with some of my writing. But the end product that emerges will hopefully be worth it.
While I was participating in NaNoWriMo, I also was participating in Sixfold’s fall voting process. I submitted one of my stories to Sixfold and paid an entry fee of $3 to have my work considered. As a participant, I read three rounds of six short stories by other writers, voting on them and commenting on them. At the end of the three rounds, the rankings of the short stories were revealed.
I have mixed feelings about my participation in Sixfold. First of all, let me be perfectly honest: my writing didn’t make it past the first round and was ranked something like #127 out of #369 (on the bright side, still in the top half!). And maybe I do feel a little bitter about that, as one always does after rejection. But putting that aside, there were still some larger issues I think the website needs to address.
Honestly, I really enjoyed reading everyone else’s stories, commenting on them, and ranking them. I went into full writing workshop mode, and gave detailed feedback to nearly all eighteen stories that I read. I made sure to give constructive criticism, always pointing out what I liked, and how I thought the stories could be improved, and most of all, I tried to keep a positive, respectful tone, even when I hated the piece or didn’t understand it at all. That’s why when I saw the feedback for my story, I felt rather cheated. Even though I didn’t make it past the first round, I at least expected to find some helpful comments about my work. After all, Sixfold purports itself as being helpful to all the writers who participate. Sadly, this was not the case for me. Most of the comments I received were less than fifty words of writing. A few were very positive, but gave absolutely no suggestions for improvement. Although they helped my wounded ego, they were not really that beneficial to me as a writer. Then there were a couple comments that were negative. I expected negative comments, that’s fine. But they were either extremely short and therefore not helpful, just pointing out what I did wrong, or they elaborated in depth on everything they didn’t like, again not giving any sort of suggestion for how I could improve. Maybe my expectations were too high because I’ve spent a lot of time in writing workshops where everyone gives really thoughtful, constructive feedback. I was disappointed.
I think one way Sixfold could address this problem is to at least make a mandatory minimum word count for how long the comments should be. Because there’s absolutely no way that comments that are three words long can be constructive. They could mandate that during each round, you have to write at least 75 words minimum. If people needed to write more, then maybe they would start to point out more suggestions for improvement. It wouldn’t be a guarantee, but maybe it would help writers like me who do not make it to the top rounds have a better experience with the voting process overall. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will be submitting to Sixfold again, because for the amount of time that I spent reading and editing other people’s work, the payoff that I received was not enough.
Well, those are my thoughts on NaNoWriMo and Sixfold. Check this blog again soon. I’ll be posting more reviews and articles in the next few weeks and months.