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 Published authors and unpublished writers who have already established a productive routine for themselves.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.