This is my first year giving NaNoWriMo a try and one thing that has surprised me is the general chatter out there regarding whether NaNo is for “real” writers or not (by which folks generally seem to mean published pros). My feeling is that every writer, newbie or pro, will benefit from the practice of daily writing, so I’m frankly not sure what the fuss is all about. Nevertheless, here are my thoughts on NaNoWriMo’s pros and cons:
- I’m nearing the end of Week 2 and am several thousand words behind of where I should be to “finish” on time…but, I’ve also written about 15K, thereby kick-starting a novel I might have otherwise never begun (and one I’m really enjoying writing). Whether I reach 50K by the end of the month or not, I’m chalking this up as a win.
- I write, revise, research, or otherwise work on my writing regularly, but the habit of putting down 2000 or so new words every day is a valuable one to develop. NaNo has helped me develop this habit. Again, a win.
- Lets be honest, we all have goals we’d like to meet that fall forgotten into the gutter where they molder and die alone. But when we announce those goals to the world at large, post our progress on a website, and read about the progress of our friends on Twitter, Facebook, and the like…well, the social pressure of something like NaNo can be very motivating (though also occasionally disheartening). It’s a little embarrassing to see your buddies’ word counts grow while your status bar just sits there stagnating. I’d be willing to bet social pressure plays a pretty big a role in how many people “win” NaNo.
And, for the cons:
- The biggest drawback of NaNo, in my view, is that when you’re cranking out 50,000 words in one month and the NaNo cheerleaders are shouting “keep going!” “don’t edit!” “go!”…well, you get a frantic sort of feeling that isn’t conducive to reflection and revision. There’s more to drafting a novel than just word count. Giving yourself time for ideas to percolate, mutate, and grow into something more twisty and gorgeous than you first envisioned is an important part of the drafting process. NaNo might not be the best means to facilitate plot and character development.
Some are quite critical of NaNoWriMo and say it’s a waste of time engaged in by only unprofessional writers who will produce mostly drivel. While I don’t doubt a huge quantity of drivel is produced by writers during the month of November (and could provide whole passages of said drivel from my own manuscript), there are also plenty of examples of novels that go on to be finished after NaNo ends (50K is not really novel length, after all), revised, edited and eventually published (famously, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, but also (for speculative fiction fans) Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal and many others). For many of these authors, the salient point is that NaNo provides a forum for setting a meaningful deadline and getting that first draft (or a big portion of it) down on paper.
NaNoWriMo isn’t really about finishing a novel in a month. It’s about
publicly shaming yourself challenging yourself to internalize what really amounts to a professional writing behavior: getting down a daily word count. This is the advice that EVERYONE gives newbie writers: write, write, write. Try to carve out 30 minutes, an hour, whatever, each day and write. All NaNoWriMo is doing is saying to try this for a whole month. All the rest about finishing a novel and so on and so forth is just window dressing.
So, bottom line. If you struggle with producing a regular, daily word count and you want an external task-master (ah, that ever-helpful social pressure) to assist you in making it a habit, NaNoWriMo is an excellent tool for achieving your goal.
That’s my two and a half cents. What are your thoughts on NaNo?