NaNoWriMo, where’s the love?

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:

NaNo’s advantages:

  • 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?

3 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo, where’s the love?

  1. EF Kelley

    I’m in the /rolleyes section of the Nano-detractor crowd. The *only* reason it causes me any consternation is because writing is something that should be done all the time, not just one month a year. But, I admit that I’m persnickety. Friends and colleagues that *should* be writing all year (nudge nudge) spend an amazing amount of energy working just this one month and then finish the remaining 50k and edits in the following year. Writing just 1000 every day (not including weekends) gets you 261,000 a year. That’s a solid two Big Novels or three Mediums.

    Now! Never take this to mean you shouldn’t do it. Or that anyone shouldn’t do it. As you point out: anything that cracks the whip for that 2000 a day is a Good Thing. Right there with you.

    Also, as Scalzi pointed out (http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/11/11/nanowrimo-and-kvetching/) it’s not like this interferes with my work in any way, nor does it prolong the submission process. I can see it now:

    Editor weighs the manuscript.

    “Seems too light.”

    Editor hurls it at the recycling bin.

    “Yep. It passed right over.”

    Regardless of quality 50,000 is just too short for the pro market. This isn’t to say it can’t turn into more, but the majority of participants aren’t going to be wasting just vast amounts of editors’ time. On that front, the detractors are just plain wrong.

  2. mirandasuri

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, guys. The more I read others views about this, the more it seems to me that it really depends who you are and why you’re doing NaNo in the first place. I think Amanda’s right to point out the social networking aspect of it, for instance.

    And I agree, Eric, that if people who want to be professional writers take on NaNo with the idea that after one month they’ll be novelists, well, perhaps they’re buying molding cheese.

    But, if someone has always wanted to write a book and they use NaNo as the reason to finally do it and it gives them a sense of accomplishment, then who cares if that’s the only thing they end up writing or if they only write every November? For them, it’s served its purpose.

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