I suspect most writers have at least heard of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – even if they haven’t participated. We’re right in the thick of it now. I took part last year and wrote the first 50,000 words of Resident 619. I had initially planned to do it this year, too, at least in spirit – Stars at Midnight was already partly written but I figured I could just keep working on it instead of starting a new project.

A week and a half in, I’ve changed my mind. And it’s partly due to some re-thinking of my goals, as a result of reading a couple of blog posts on the subject by well-known authors. Naturally, I can’t find the posts now to link to. But in essence, what they amounted to was: "NaNoWriMo may be for many people, but it isn’t for me."

Here’s the thing about NaNo: it primarily serves as a challenge to the writer to achieve an ambitious – but not impossible – writing goal. By participating at the same time as millions of other people, by signing up to a public website, by having the little badges and counters and everything else, it provides a very concrete target with very tangible consequences (I mean, no one’s going to take your writer’s license away, but there will be a much more significant sense of self-disappointment than if you just set the goal for yourself). This is excellent for people who procrastinate, or who struggle to make the time in their schedule to write. It’s a kick in the pants for people who keep saying "I’m going to write a novel one day" or "I’ll start writing this novel just as soon as I get this outline perfect". It’s also great for people who like the fast-paced, goal-oriented, write-or-die competitive writing environment for working.

People who don’t really benefit a great deal from it? Published authors and unpublished writers who have already established a productive routine for themselves. For them, it’s not about the kick in the pants, the motivation to git-‘er-done, because they already know that a) they can write a full novel, and b) they can fit writing into a regular schedule. If they participate, it’s primarily because they find the competition fun (and there’s nothing wrong with that).

So I joined in last year to write my fourth novel. By that point I already knew a) and b). Participating was just for fun, for the competitive challenge of it. This year I was thinking of doing it again, for the same reason… but, perhaps since I wasn’t starting from scratch, just couldn’t get into it. Also, last year I was working from an outline (it’s the only novel I’ve ever done that with); this year I’m pantsing like normal, and because I like to produce clean first drafts I write a bit slower, considering each scene and plot item before it gets written. Not really conducive to NaNo, however. I realized after about a week that I wasn’t keeping up, and that I didn’t really care, so I bailed. Despite that, I’ve written 50k words in roughly five weeks, which included half a week spent away from home when I was unable to get much writing done. So I’m not that far behind NaNo pace anyway.

So, Nano: good for writers who need that extra motivation or like the fun of competition, kinda pointless for writers with established routines and/or who don’t want or enjoy the competition. It works for you, or it doesn’t, and either way is fine.


7 responses to “NaNoWriMo

  1. I have roughly the same feelings about it. While I enjoy the challenge, and the fun community aspect of it (and I do need a major kick in the pants right now), I tend to write slower too. And I edit as I go. Also, last year’s NaNo WIP is a complete mess. I don’t even want to look at it, it’s that bad. Which is sad, because I feel there’s a salvageable story in there.

    I’m trying it this year because of how busy I’ve been. I wish I had more time, or maybe I just need to be more productive with the time I have,

    • Tsk tsk, Caitlin, you know you’re supposed to turn your editor off when you NaNo. ;) But yeah. We’ve all got a process we work best with. The idea of the messy first draft scares me a little because I’m so used to mine being relatively clean. I think if I ended up with a messy draft I probably wouldn’t get back to it, either.

  2. Thanks for the post – I agree that NaNo is not for everyone. I actually found you through a pic of lichen on your nature-oriented site. I too am a nature-lover (altho without the benefit of being a biologist), and an aspiring writer, and a native of the Great Lakes region. (Lots of writing on my blog is about the “special” place dear to my heart, on Grand Traverse Bay). Good luck to you in all your endeavors – I bookmarked your site, will be coming back to visit.

    • Great to have another nature-lover swing by! Thanks for the comment. :) I enjoyed swinging by your blog; you’ve got really strong writing full of great imagery. It sounds like your cottage is a beautiful place. Also, I love your blog name!

  3. Yeah, it’s an interesting phenomenon. My only worry about NanoWrimo is its focus on writing and less on learning how to write. I followed it one year as an exercise to finish an 80k word ms, but I didn’t really know what makes a novel tick. Or a story, for that matter. Now I understand a bit more and so I’m finding it easier not to rely on the social aspect of Nano and more focusing on the project.

    • It’s true, Chris, that that does go overlooked with NaNo. But I suppose for some people (the people NaNo is primarily intended for) worrying about structure/etc is sort of putting the cart before the horse – if you never finish anything, structure is irrelevant.

      I didn’t really understand most of that stuff in my first novel, either. Or my second. I’m one of those people who learn best by doing, rather than reading/researching, so I’ve gradually gotten a better sense of how to write a novel with each attempt. Probably this would apply to some NaNo’ers, too.

      • That’s true. The one time i felt compelled to sort of do Nanowrimo, I hadn’t a clue that I didn’t have a clue. So, learning has tended to give me a drive that I had been missing.

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