If you’ve been in the writing world longer than a millisecond, you’ve probably heard of NaNoWriMo. For those of you who are readers and not writers, it’s short for National Novel Writing Month. Essentially the goal is to write a short novel (50,000 words) in the month of November. That breaks down to writing about 1667 words (about 5 double-spaced pages) every day for the entire month. (Obviously whoever created this event did not have to host Thanksgiving at their house.) To participate, you register yourself at the NaNoWriMo website, do your writing, and then upload your 50,000+ words to prove you’ve “won.” The event is popular enough now that there are some nice discounts/ prizes for succeeding. There’s also the camaraderie, induced by mutual insanity, to be found all over social media.
I’ve never participated. In all honesty, I’ve never even been tempted to, until this year. My laptop tells me it’s October 24, which means NaNoWriMo officially starts in eight days. That gives me a little over a week to decide if I’ll participate, and minor details like what story I’ll pour my blood, sweat, and 50,000 words into. Knowing the way I operate, it’ll be a last minute decision–say, after the kids are done trick-or-treating–since that’s my kind of crazy. (Like that time I agreed at the last minute to be my husband’s teammate in the Columbus Marathon…without training…because his other options all backed out.)
But, it’s always wise to take stock of one’s situation and be realistic. That time I ran the half-marathon, I was in reasonably good shape. I’d run at least five miles in a single shot…how much harder could thirteen be? Turns out it wasn’t that hard, until after the race when I couldn’t lift my legs for a week. Writing 1667 words a day might not be that hard if you don’t have anything else to do, but that’s not the case for most (any?) of us. I’ve got three school-aged kids to teach and shuttle around, one Mischief Maker 3000 (aka baby), and plenty of other commitments.
So is it worth the huge investment of my time, or not? Time for pros and cons!
Pros: Why I Should NaNo
- Learn to write faster – This is a biggie for me. I am not a fast writer. I can type at the speed of light (almost), but my brain doesn’t usually keep up. I spend too long evaluating my words and deliberating over exactly how to say things. Now that I’ve completed a few projects and seen the magic of editing, I can safely say a lot of my first draft over-thinking could be saved for the revising/ editing process. There’s nothing like the pressure of a deadline to keep a person on track!
- Get a lot done on that first draft – One of the reasons NaNo is tempting me this year is because I’m right at the beginning of a new first draft. Actually, truth be told, I have two projects sitting in my head waiting to come out. One is “Dusk for Dreams,” and the other is a new secret project that’s more of a YA magical realism story. Cranking out 50,000 words on either one would be a huge accomplishment. Even if I didn’t make the goal, I’d still jump way ahead in my efforts to write a first draft.
- Give the gift of priority – Between real life and the myriad of writing tasks I have, it’s incredibly easy to find my attention so divided I never make much headway on anything. What appeals to me most about NaNo is the idea that if you’re going to reach such insanely high word counts in such a short span of time, you have to give yourself permission to focus on that draft instead of other things. I’d have to set aside my other editing projects, and some peripheral real life matters (I’ll still feed the kids, promise), to even have a shot at reaching the goal. But how refreshing would it feel to be able to dive exclusively into one project without having to debate what deserves my attention the most at any given moment?
- Camaraderie – Having never participated before, I can’t help but be lured in by all the buzz already building on Twitter. How fun would it be to join in the madness? I’d get to make some new writing friends and strengthen connections with old ones.
- Pressure and stress – My advisor in grad school always said, “Deadlines are our friends.” But while they help us get a lot done, ridiculous and over-ambitious deadlines can be destructive, especially in our fast-paced society. My kids can’t teach themselves for a month. I wish the baby could change his own diaper, but it’s not gonna happen. People will want to eat, stuff will break, and well-meaning friends will want to get together. Writing is what I do for fun, but it won’t be fun if it turns into a pressure cooker.
- Winning and losing – NaNoWriMo is set up so that you win if you reach the goal, and you lose if you don’t. For achievement-oriented people (me, for example), it can be a real downer to fall behind and know you’re going to lose. The key here is creating your own definition of winning and losing. For me, if I write a big chunk of my draft (more than I would’ve otherwise), that would be a win, even if I technically “lose.”
- Priorities – I’m talking writing priorities here. Can I set aside my other projects for a month? Will I lose the gains I’ve made elsewhere if I focus instead on drafting? I’m about one third of the way through my edits for FLASHBACK. Ideally I’d finish that before starting my first draft. Maybe I can get it done in a week, but I’m not sure that’s possible. And what about my blog posts? Could I spare the time to write them?
- The social media black hole – Camaraderie sounds great until I imagine all the pressure to use every spare second to write. How, exactly, will I have time to get on Twitter and chat with my new crazy friends about our NaNo drafts? Twitter sucks away time like a vacuum cleaner does to my kids’ Legos. I’d have to swear it off for most of the month if I wanted to actually get anything done.
How’s that for some things to think about? The most compelling item on either list for me is the idea of giving myself permission to pour my efforts into a new project. It’s easy for me to always push the new draft aside, thinking other things deserve my attention first. But, given there’s a time limit, would it hurt to dive into a new draft for a month? Would my kids mind a giant jam sandwich instead of a turkey for Thanksgiving? 🙂
I guess if you don’t hear from me for a month, you’ll know what I decided. How about you, writer friends? Will you NaNo?
Image credit: Pexels.com, CC0 license.
6 thoughts on “To NaNo or Not to NaNo? That Is the Question.”
I’ve done three times already, along with Camp NaNo and I’m trying again. The first time I only got up to a little past 7k, the second time a little past 6k, and last year, I made it to 25k. I’m going to rewrite that one this year and hopefully, I’ll make it, but even if I don’t, I’m never gonna give up on this story. I’ll just keep writing it until it’s finished!
(And now I have that song stuck in my head…)
6k is still a win in my book, but that’s awesome you’ve made it farther each year! Good luck to you, and thanks for sharing.
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I’ve done it several times as well as Camp NaNo, and I’m planning to do it again this year. Even though it’s set up to say that you win if you get to a certain amount of words, that doesn’t really matter. What really matters is that you write. I feel like NaNoWriMo has helped me to realize that I can actually get quite a bit of writing done quickly.
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I agree completely! The real benefit seems to be forming good writing habits and learning to write faster. You guys might be talking me into it… 🙂
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I started doing NaNo in 2015, and it was the best decision I ever made. Up until then, I’d never actually finished a story, but gotten far in one and then waffled over to another, with ideas flinging themselves at me all the time.
But with the pressure and the idea of winning, something finally clicked and I was able to do it. It was, and remains, a terrible story, but it was done. I got to “The End,” and that heady feeling was enough. I had done it. I think the problem is people think they have to write a full novel FOR PUBLICATION, as in, fully edited and perfect, in one month, and that’s not true. You just need to write the first 50k. Many stories will be more than that, so you might not even finish the novel you set out to write. And editing and revision is all later on.
I personally love it for the dedicated focus time, the fun, the prepping beforehand, and the idea of so many writers buckling down with tea and scarves and typing out story after story. It is hard to find time, but so, so worth it.
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Thanks so much for sharing, Audra! You make excellent points.